A Better Alternative to No Child Left Behind: A-PLUS

My daughter-in-law is a hard-working and talented public school educator who has experienced first-hand the problems the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) act creates for teachers, parents and students.

As a teacher forced to teach according to tests required by NCLB, she has struggled to find the time to give enough individual attention to her "special needs" students.

She actually considered quitting due to the massive amount of paperwork required and the "teach to the test" mentality she was forced to adopt.

My daughter-in-law obtained her teaching position due to her performance the year prior as a permanent substitute teacher in a classroom. Because she was not consumed by the time it took to fill out all the forms required by NCLB, she excelled, and the school offered her a permanent position.

The original purpose of NCLB was to return some education policymaking authority to the states. Unfortunately, during the process of crafting, passing and enacting the legislation, NCLB took the form of a massive spending bill filled with mandates that increased the federal government’s presence in our classrooms.

Because I believe each child’s educational path should be determined by a child’s parents, and not limited by governmental red tape, I am an original co-sponsor of the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act (A-PLUS).

My fellow Michigander Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who has been committed to improving our children’s education since he entered Congress in 1993, introduced the A-PLUS Act last month in the House as a remedy to many of the problems with NCLB.

The A-PLUS Act gives states the ability to consolidate federal education programs and funding so they can redirect these resources to state education reform initiatives that raise standards, increase accountability and give more control to parents and educators.

There are four main reasons I believe A-PLUS is a common sense alternative that is more effective and accountable to parents and taxpayers than NCLB.

1. A-PLUS provides teachers and schools with greater and much-needed flexibility.

The Detroit News stated in a December 22, 2006 editorial, ‘What our federal legislators come up with in the nation’s capital doesn’t always translate well into the classroom…Michigan should have the flexibility to decide how and when to measure student progress."

Under NCLB, states are forced by the Department of Education to use federal education funding only on specific programs.

The A-PLUS Act will foster an educational climate where local leaders, not the federal government, distribute the resources to meet local school needs and hold them accountable without a federally-mandated one-size-fits-all policy.

States are laboratories for innovative ideas. With the freedom and tools to implement sound educational policies and new approaches, our students will learn more so they can achieve and prosper in life.

Under A-PLUS, states can bypass onerous federal mandates, and state leaders can decide how to use federal education funds to improve student achievement.

State officials must declare how the funds are implemented and be transparent in the implementation process.

2. A-PLUS fulfills the federal government’s proper role in educational policy.

The10th Amendment provides "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people." Federal control of education is listed nowhere in the Constitution, and in accordance with the 10th Amendment, education should be left to state and local governments.

The A-PLUS Act would give states, teachers and parents the freedom and authority to determine what educational path is best for each student.

3. A-PLUS empowers parents and teachers instead of government bureaucracy.

NCLB empowers Washington officials and bureaucrats, not parents and teachers.

It has been estimated that teachers and school officials have spent an additional 6.7 million hours completing the cumbersome paperwork required by NCLB — valuable hours that hinder them from spending time with students.

We need an education policy that allows those closest to the student to make the important decisions about their education. A-PLUS would use state testing systems already in place and require states to submit annual reports to taxpayers on student progress.

A-PLUS would also allow educators to teach for progress and meet the expectations of parents, rather than teaching only so students can obtain a passing mark on a high stakes test.

4. A-PLUS is the best investment of taxpayer dollars.

In years past, Congress has attempted to solve problems in education by simply throwing piles of federal money and mandates into the education system and burdening educators with unnecessary paperwork.

A recent report by the Heritage Foundation revealed that since 1965, taxpayers across our country have invested more than $778 billion on Washington directed programs for elementary and secondary education. In fact between 2001 and 2004 funding for the Department of Education increased 54%, without a noticeable increase in results.

With so much federal money being invested into public education, our schools should be seeing top results under NCLB. Yet college admission scores across the country are dropping.

A recent study revealed that 15-year-old American students rank 21st out of 28 major countries in mathematical aptitude and 16th in science aptitude. We must do better as a nation to successfully compete in the global economy and ensure our students show results and have the necessary skills to compete in the 21st century.

America expects and demands better results, and A-PLUS is is a far better investment of taxpayer dollars.

After NCLB was signed into law, Senator Edward Kennedy famously said, "We are giving assurance to the American families that help is on its way."

NCLB attempted to provide greater school choice, but instead delivered legislation which broadened the scope of the federal government’s role and dramatically increased the bureaucratic paperwork in education.

Legislation that gives states and local communities the ability to produce academic achievement — legislation like the A-PLUS Act — is the way to bring educational excellence and start lifelong learning for the leaders of tomorrow.