It’s time to reform our school systems

Published 8:46 am Thursday, February 19, 2015

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

Back in December, President Obama gave a major speech regarding the United States policy toward Cuba. The president said, “I do not believe we can continue doing the same thing for five decades and expect a different result.” In other words, the president is saying that when something isn’t working, we need to try a new approach.

I think the president and members of Congress should apply that same standard to our nation’s education policy, which clearly isn’t working.

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For the last 50 years, federal education policy has failed our students. Just look at the statistics. Only 38 percent of high school seniors can read at grade level and just 26 percent are proficient in math. Survey after survey shows that the United States is lagging behind other countries.

For too long, the focus has been on the needs and wishes of Washington bureaucrats and special interest groups instead of on the needs of those who matter most: the students. It’s time we change that and take a new approach.

I can immediately think of three major flaws with “No Child Left Behind,” which is the current policy governing our K-12 education system. First, our local teachers and administrators are drowning in paperwork and mandates. While only 10 percent of the funding for K-12 education comes from the federal level, the Government Accountability Office found that 41 percent of the paperwork comes from the federal level.

Second, Title I funds, which are intended to support our nation’s most vulnerable, are picking and choosing winners by forcing money to some schools and not to others. The money should follow the student. We shouldn’t allow students to remain stuck in failing schools. Every child deserves a fair chance.

Third, the current education policy gives federal bureaucrats in Washington the power to say how our children should be educated. The federal government uses grants and funding streams to coerce states into adopting certain standards and curriculum. This one-size-fits all strategy is entirely the wrong approach. What works best for our students in Alabama may be different than what works best for students in New York or Idaho.

This top-down, heavy-handed federal approach to education is outdated and not working. Instead of focusing on bureaucrats and special interest groups, let’s turn the focus to the students, parents and local leaders.

That’s where H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, comes in. I am proud to support this commonsense legislation, which restores local control over education and empowers students and parents. The bill removes unnecessary federal mandates and ends duplicative programs, which are burdening our local schools.

Just as important, the Student Success Act protects state and local control over decisions in the classroom by preventing the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting Common Core or any other common standards. Along those same lines, the Student Success Act reforms a patchwork of narrowly scoped grant programs and instead creates a Local Academic Flexible Grant to allow local schools to spark innovation.

Faceless Washington bureaucrats don’t know how to educate our children, but our local superintendents, school boards, teachers and principals do. It’s time for the federal government to get some humility and give power over education back to the states — where it belongs.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Bryne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.