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A Quarter of a Century After Education Reform ‘Call to Arms,’ Democrats Stubbornly Refuse to Pass Legislation to Improve our Schools
The last month has brought a growing buzz about the need to improve our nation’s schools as education reformers all around the country prepare to mark the 25th anniversary of the landmark report, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” That report, issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education on April 26, 1983, warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity” in American schools and offered a stark assessment of the nation’s educational system, arguing that, “We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”
Twenty-five years later, experts agree that although some progress has been made, the need for education reform persists. America is facing increased competition abroad, and the jobs of the 21st century are requiring ever-higher levels of education and technological know-how. The anniversary of “A Nation at Risk” underscores the need for continuing education reform. Yet congressional Democrats have all but abandoned any effort to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) despite widespread agreement on the need to renew and update the law.
It has been more than six years since NCLB was signed into law. In that time, NCLB has made significant progress in demanding that all children be given the opportunity to learn and succeed. Student achievement is on the rise, and achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers are narrowing.
However, as with any law, NCLB is not perfect. Education stakeholders from across the political spectrum have agreed that key updates are needed to ensure NCLB continues to work well for students and schools. For example, a consensus has emerged in support of efforts to make NCLB’s accountability system more nuanced and reflective of student achievement gains over time through use of well-designed growth models.
Republicans began laying the groundwork to strengthen NCLB in 2006, with a series of bipartisan hearings on how the law could be improved. In 2007, in an effort to spur action on the law’s renewal, Republicans outlined their Top Ten Priorities for Reauthorizing NCLB. And Republicans have offered multiple pieces of legislation aimed at addressing key opportunities for reform such as expanded tutoring and parental options, uniform graduation rates, enhanced support for charter schools, innovative strategies to improve teacher quality, and greater state and local flexibility.
In contrast, the Democratic majority in Congress has failed to even introduce legislation to reauthorize NCLB, much less allow for a full legislative debate. Democrats have attempted to blame the Administration for their own failure to advance meaningful education reforms, despite the fact that they control both houses of Congress. In reality, progress has stalled because of an unwillingness or inability to stand up to the entrenched special interests that continue to block innovative reforms for our nation’s schools.
Democrats promised to take America in a New Direction. But when it comes to education reform, they’ve simply stalled.