At less than one-fifth the length of Mr. Harkin’s bill, Mr. Alexander’s legislation would allow states to devise curriculum standards, tests, school rating systems and consequences for schools that fail to meet state goals with far fewer guidelines than are included in the Harkin bill.The bill would require states to set standards that would allow students to be ready for college or a job “without the need for remediation.”
The bill also encourages states to set up teacher evaluation systems, and continues NCLB’s requirement to regularly test students—though it imposes no consequences on schools for poor performance. But the most interesting aspect of the law isn’t even in the bill yet—vouchers:
Mr. Alexander said he wanted to include a provision allowing parents to take public money and put it toward any public school or accredited private school of their choice. He said that he and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky would be introducing an amendment to the bill once it reached the Senate floor to give vouchers to families to use federal dollars to attend private schools.
We sincerely hope this vouchers proposal makes it into the final bill. As it stands now, Sen. Alexander’s proposal is a strong step in the right direction—we’d prefer to see responsibility for public schools devolved to the state level rather than the federal level—but it still stops short of putting decisions directly in the hands of parents.The core challenge of all education reform efforts is striking the proper balance between flexibility and accountability, and we believe that parents, who know more about their children’s needs than anyone else, are best equipped to make the decision about how that balance should be struck. By forcing schools to compete for students by appealing to parents, voucher programs could go a long way towards creating accountable schools that aren’t straitjacketed by federal requirements. If this amendment becomes a part of the bill, we should be taking it seriously.[Kids marching up a hill image courtesy of Shutterstock]