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Harkin Statement on Committee Passage of the Strengthening America's Schools Act

WASHINGTON--Chairman Tom Harkin released the following statement after the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee today approved Harkin's Strengthening America's Schools Act (SASA), a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is long overdue. As a result of Congress’ delay, 37 states—plus the District of Columbia—have received waivers from No Child Left Behind requirements, issued by the Secretary of Education. While these waivers have granted states necessary flexibility, they are no substitute for a new law.

“I am pleased that the HELP Committee has passed this critical bill to replace the failed tenets of NCLB and give states the flexibility to institute their own college- and career-ready standards, performance targets, academic assessments, and accountability models that will improve our schools. This bill builds on the important progress that states have already made under NCLB waivers, while strengthening federal and state partnerships to achieve these goals. We have a responsibility to ensure that all of our students are educated to high standards, and to tackle achievement gaps that leave disadvantaged students less prepared for post-secondary education and their careers.

“As we move forward, I hope that our Republican colleagues in both the Senate and House will work with us to finally accomplish a reauthorization of ESEA, and give states, schools, teachers, and students the certainty, support, and flexibility they need to improve our schools."

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act seeks to ensure that all of America’s children graduate college- and career-ready.  No Child Left Behind provided important information about student performance and accountability, but it also unintentionally led to lower standards, a narrowing of curriculum and a “one-size-fits-all” approach to school improvement.  The Strengthening America’s Schools Act would replace NCLB with a law that is fair to students and teachers, and provides states and districts with the certainty, support, and freedom they need to prepare all children for success in the 21st century. 

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act provides a framework to have all children graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills needed for success in college and a career. It does this by:

  • Supporting teachers and principals to help provide high-quality instruction;
  • Ensuring disadvantaged students get the supports they need to succeed; and
  • Focusing federal attention on supporting states and districts in turning around low-performing schools and closing achievement gaps.

No Child Left Behind presented a host of problems for schools, students, and educators, including: setting inflexible benchmarks without taking into consideration the different needs of schools and without recognizing student progress; mandating the same federal sanctions for all schools that created a pressure to “teach to the test;” requiring states and schools to adhere to prescriptive, Washington-generated accountability models; and forcing school districts to spend money on activities that did not make sense for all students or schools. 

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act will establish a partnership of “shared responsibility” that recognizes the flexibility that states and districts need to implement their own accountability systems and interventions to improve schools, and enables states and districts to focus on turning around chronically struggling schools and those with significant achievement gaps.

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013will:

Focus greater attention on children in their early years to ensure they come to school ready to learn by:

  • Directing states to develop state guidelines for what children should know and how they should develop prior to kindergarten entry to reduce gaps in school readiness; 
  • Providing greater access to high-quality literacy instruction for children in early childhood education programs;
  • Encouraging states to provide full-day kindergarten if they do not currently provide that service; and
  • Asking elementary schools that are among the lowest-achieving to develop or expand early childhood education to children so they can enter school ready to learn.

Encourage equity through greater transparency and fair distribution of resources by:

  • Continuing the practice of disaggregating student achievement data across subgroups to highlight any potential disparities, and expand the categories of disaggregation to include gender and English proficiency;
  • Disseminating an equity score card to provide school-level information to parents on the school’s climate, the school’s educational opportunity offerings (such as AP, full-day kindergarten, or gifted programming), the number of assessments required, and the school’s funding by source (state, local, and federal); and
  • Ensuring that local and state resources per-pupil for Title I schools are equal to or greater than the average combined local and state funds per pupil in non-Title I schools.

Sustain current state reform efforts and provide them the flexibility they need to improve their schools:

  • If a state has an accountability system approved by the Secretary, it can continue to use their approved accountability system.  If not, a state will adopt an accountability system that is equally ambitious and holds all students to high expectations of student achievement.
  • All accountability systems will include student academic achievement and growth, English language proficiency for English Learners and, for high schools, graduation rates for all students; systems will also include accountability for all subgroups. This accountability system asks states to identify and support –
    • Priority schools - The lowest-achieving 5 percent of each elementary schools and secondary schools, and secondary schools with a graduation rate lower than 60 percent.
    • Focus Schools - Ten percent of schools with the greatest achievement gaps and secondary schools with the greatest graduation rate gaps between subgroups.
    • For all other schools, districts will identify schools experiencing achievement gaps across subgroups and will develop and implement a locally-designed intervention for that school based on input from the community.

Support great teachers and principals and ensure that all children receive the best instruction, by:

  • Helping to ensure there are great teachers and principals in every school by supporting evaluations that will inform professional development to help promote school success.
  • Recruiting and training teachers in high-need subjects like math and science.
  • Providing incentives to ensure that the most effective teachers and leaders serve the most vulnerable children.
  • Helping more schools provide a well-rounded education with time for the arts and physical activity.
  • Supporting student success by promoting safe and healthy schools.
  • Preparing more teachers to teach the diverse learners in America’s schools including students with disabilities and English learners.