Spellings: School Accountability Exemptions Hurt Student Performance

Image: Spellings: School Accountability Exemptions Hurt Student Performance Margaret Spellings

Friday, 27 Dec 2013 08:20 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Today's schoolchildren are falling behind in global school surveys, which would not be happening had the country kept to the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act, says former President George W. Bush's secretary of education.

"Sadly, federal policymakers have loosened standards since 2009," writes Margaret Spellings in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post.

During the former president's second term, Spellings was responsible for implementing the law's reporting and evaluating protocols.

"I witnessed firsthand how clearly defined, high-achievement standards fueled student improvement," writes Spellings, now president of the George W. Bush Foundation. "Effective teachers and administrators were rewarded. Stagnating schools were pressed to change. Importantly, parents were empowered to hold educators accountable. The law explicitly allowed parents to send their children to other schools or utilize tutors if their children attended a school that was persistently in need of improvement."

But the program ended in 2009, and Spellings says education scores have stagnated as a result.

The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, a review of global educational achievement released this month by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, shows a chilling trend in U.S. education, writes Spellings.

The surveys assess a half-million 15- and 16-year-olds every three years. The current survey, with results for 2012, show that U.S. student scores were almost exactly the same as they were at the start of 2000, meaning that they have not improved beyond an average or below-average rate.

"Students in China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong made steady gains," Spellings points out.

Had students continued improving in 2012 like they did in 2009, the results would have been much different, Spellings says.

"In 2009, U.S. PISA scores improved notably in math and science, increasing by 13 points in each area. But they then fell back in 2012. Had U.S. students’ math scores made another 13-point gain in 2012, our students would now be well above the PISA average and even with Denmark and New Zealand, having passed Norway, Luxemburg, France and the United Kingdom. The same is true for science."
Other scores are slowing dramatically while schools are exempted from the No Child Left Behind act, but Spellings says that precisely identifying what accounted for improvements during the 2000s is not easy. But gains through 2009 coincided with states adopting accountability policies, which were expanded nationally behind Bush's landmark education legislation passed in 2001 with the help of Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The government has loosened its education standards since 2009, exempting schools from the federal accountability requirements and curtailing parental choice, Spellings writes.

"Student gains have stalled just as policymakers have scaled back the key policies that had begun to lift student achievement. Accountability works. We either keep the policies that drive improvement in student achievement or there will be further losses ahead."

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