A Blueprint For Raising Student Achievement

May 4, 2011

by Margaret Spellings

Today the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is stepping out in a vigorous way on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (otherwise known as NCLB). We recognize changes to the law are in order, but we can’t lose the fundamental focus on raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap. I speak from experience in emphasizing how important the business community can be in pushing for reform. Ten years ago, the business and civil rights communities joined together to create a unique coalition to fight the status quo in education and to enact NCLB. Again, the Chamber aims to be a constructive voice in the debate —one that is focused on a commitment to the success of every child.

While we have made a lot of progress, we still have a long way to go. We’ve seen increases in student achievement in our elementary grades, especially for disadvantaged students. In 2008, African-American and Hispanic nine-year-olds made double-digit gains in both reading and math compared to 1999. This focus on subgroups of students has resulted in significant gains on the Nation’s Report Card. And as the United States becomes even more diverse, we all have an interest in ensuring that our students are graduating from high school prepared to enter college or the workforce. 

The principles that the Chamber is releasing today build on what we’ve learned and recognize that there is an important federal role in education. It’s right to lay out broad goals and ask states, districts, and schools to work toward those goals. It’s right to ensure states and districts are using federal education dollars to provide options to parents. And it’s right to ask states, in exchange for federal funding, to have teacher evaluation systems based on effectiveness in raising achievement. The business community understands that we must demand results in exchange for the taxpayer’s investment.

As this reauthorization has been debated, some have proposed limiting accountability to just a handful of schools. We cannot substitute transparency for accountability or focus just on our worst performing schools, as it would halt progress for millions of students across the country who attend schools that aren’t the worst of the worst but still have significant numbers of students not yet on grade level. While the lowest-performing schools are in desperate need of action, ignoring the vast majority means ignoring, black, Hispanic, low-income, and limited English proficient students, and students with disabilities all across the country that aren’t even close to getting the education they deserve. We must strike the right balance between flexibility and accountability, and that’s what the Chamber has offered today. 

We’re ready to get to work to better our children’s future. As Tom Donohue said today, “For all those willing to work toward additional and accelerated reform, you have a partner in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. To those who seek to undermine, delay, or obstruct reform, I say your time is over. You are on the wrong side of history. The status quo cannot be defended—it is indefensible. Parents, businesses, and more and more teachers reach that conclusion every single day. So it's time to get real, get serious, and get busy."

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