By James Hall
Increased government control has once again failed to improve the quality of education for America’s minority students.
According to Charles Rose, general counsel at the Department of Education who testified at a recent Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing, Native American students are the country’s most underserved. Rose went on to say at the hearing, during which revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act were being considered, that this act had succeeded only at exposing the poor performance of disadvantaged and minority students.
The statistics for Native American students support their statements. Only 50 percent of Native American students graduate from high school each year, compared to 75 percent of white students. In 2007, Native American fourth-graders scored 11 points lower than their white peers in math. This spread was even wider for eighth-grade students at 17 points.
These unacceptable scores are prompting tribal leaders to call for more educational options for their students. Evidence suggests that such options can lessen the achievement gap for the nation’s minority students. Florida is a great example of such successes.
In 1999, Florida Governor Jeb Bush undertook a sweeping education reform initiative: the “A+ Accountability Plan.” The plan brought more effective standards and accountability to Florida’s education system. Schools were given letter grades, making it easier for parents to assess the quality of schools their children attended. Special-needs students in the Sunshine State also have access to scholarships to attend a private school of their choice. The plan also implemented performance pay for teachers in order to promote higher student achievement.
All of Florida’s students have benefited from these reforms, but minority students have taken the most dramatic steps forward. Florida’s fourth-grade reading levels have exceeded national averages among Hispanics, African-Americans, and low-income children. On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, Florida’s Hispanic fourth-graders tied or outperformed all students in 31 states on reading, and African-American children tied or outpaced the average reading score of all students in eight states. Moreover, the pass rate on advanced placement tests more than tripled for Hispanic and African-American children in 2009 as well.
Education reforms, like those in the Sunshine State, have narrowed the achievement gap and improved learning opportunities for minority students. Such success provides an example of how flexibility in education can lead to higher academic achievement for all students, including those most in need.
However, such reforms are threatened by increased government control. The federal government’s efforts have failed to considerably improve the quality of education for minorities. American students of all races benefit more from flexibility and innovation than from increased government intervention.
But, unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s “blueprint” to reauthorize NCLB further centralizes federal control over education. The blueprint removes the limited school choice provisions that currently exists within NCLB, leaves states with just four options for turning around underperforming schools, and lays the groundwork for national education standards and tests.
There is a better blueprint for reform that includes increasing flexibility for states, ensuring that states retain their educational decision-making authority, and putting parents in control of their child’s educational needs.