Dear Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray:
On behalf of Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies, I am writing to offer our views on The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which will reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Business Roundtable CEOs are very supportive of your efforts to reauthorize ESEA. We have advocated for reauthorization for many years and remain committed to working with you and your colleagues in Congress to ensure this legislation becomes law as soon as possible. Clearly, ESEA must attract broad bipartisan support to be signed into law. This bill meets that test, and we are pleased to lend our support to your efforts to pass this important legislation.
Our CEO members believe that Congress must focus on ensuring all students graduate from high school with the tools necessary to succeed in college and careers. To accomplish this, we have urged Congress to use the following principles to guide the reauthorization of ESEA. While there are certainly more improvements to be made as the bill moves forward in the legislative process, we are pleased that this bill aligns well with many of our principles. Below, please find more specific comments on key provisions of The Every Child Achieves Act.
Set Clear Expectations: States must take the lead in setting clear expectations for what students in each grade need to know in order to graduate from high school ready for a career and college, without the need for remediation. These expectations, reflected in challenging academic standards, must build upon those required under current law – which include standards for math, reading and science – that are internationally benchmarked and aligned with both college entrance requirements and the skills employers need.
We strongly support language in the bill that maintains the current law’s requirement that states set challenging academic standards. Business Roundtable is a strong advocate of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which have been adopted by most states. However, we strongly support language in the bill that state participation in CCSS must remain voluntary and that the federal government should not be allowed to dictate or coerce states into adopting such standards.
Define Goals for Success: States must establish rigorous, realistic, annual goals to ensure all students – regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, first language, disability or community in which they live – are meeting the state-established challenging academic standards and graduate from high school. States must also analyze school progress annually toward meeting those goals. Current law requires schools to ensure 100 percent of students are proficient in math and reading by 2014. Although a laudable aim, many believe this unrealistic target has resulted in states lowering their standards to demonstrate progress toward this goal. Setting goals is critical toward both short- and long-term success, but a single federally defined target must be replaced with measures that allow states to establish rigorous goals that focus on raising academic performance and closing the achievement gaps among groups of students.
We are pleased this legislation establishes statewide accountability systems that, at a minimum, require states to establish achievement and graduation-rate goals for all students and groups of students and that such indicators must be used by states as “substantial factors” in annual identification and differentiation of schools. This is a significant improvement upon earlier drafts of the bill. However, this language can and should be improved. The academic indicators including assessment and graduation rates must clearly represent a vast majority of the weighting to identify schools.
Business Roundtable strongly supports new language in the bill that provides dedicated funding for school improvement activities and directs local educational agencies to develop and implement evidence-based interventions and support strategies for schools identified by the state, with priority given to those schools identified as the lowest-performing. However, the bill should require that local educational agencies also take action to assist chronically low-performing schools and in cases where subgroups within schools are not meeting state-established goals.
We are also pleased the bill includes an important role for states to monitor the implementation of school interventions and requires states to take steps when such interventions are not working.
Measure Progress: States must understand where they are today regarding the performance of all students. States should measure progress toward meeting their education goals by assessing all students. These statewide assessments should be conducted, at a minimum, annually in grades three through eight and at least once in high school for math and reading; as well as once per grade span (elementary school, middle school and high school) in science. These assessments must be state-led, valid, reliable and aligned to the state’s academic standards. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) must continue to serve as a gauge to determine the relative rigor of individual state assessments.
We are very pleased to see this legislation retains the statewide annual testing provisions in current law and continues to provide the level of information necessary to show student progress and hold schools accountable for results. We are also very supportive of the bill’s provision to ensure that all states continue to participate in NAEP.
Ensure Reliable Data Are Available for Parents, Teachers, and State and Local Policymakers: The federal government has a role in ensuring that states make their data widely available through school, district and state report cards that clearly define progress toward meeting state-established goals. States must also build accountability systems that reward schools and districts that successfully meet their improvement targets by providing them with increased flexibility from regulations and expanding proven practices that: ensure districts and states take action in schools that consistently miss improvement targets for any group of students, including expanding options for students to attend higher-performing public schools of their choice – including public charter schools; and incorporate student assessment data as one of several measures to evaluate teacher effectiveness, while ensuring data for individual students remain appropriately protected.
We are pleased that this bill maintains and strengthens current law provisions that ensure schools, districts and states provide parents and the public annual report cards on student academic performance. This information is critical to help parents get answers to straightforward questions, such as, “Is my child on track to graduate from high school ready for college, without needing remediation when he/she gets there?” Given the rising cost of college, it is essential that students not find themselves using limited resources to enroll in remedial courses for skills they should have mastered in high school.
School report cards are critical for parents to make informed decisions on selecting schools that best meet the needs of their children. However, in too many cases, parents do not have an option on where to send their child to school. Although this bill includes additional educational options for parents, such as through the expansion of charter schools and allowing districts to use a small percentage of their Title 1 funds for public school choice transportation costs, it should go much further. Specifically, the bill should include provisions dropped in the prior draft, which encourage states to develop robust public school choice programs.
Although several issues remain which we believe need to be addressed as the process moves forward, Business Roundtable is pleased to support efforts in the Senate to move forward on this important bipartisan effort to reauthorize ESEA. We look forward to working closely with you and your staffs as this work continues.