NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

America's Education Still at Risk

February 11, 2013

Though many attempts at reform have been made since the 1983 report "A Nation at Risk" revealed the dire state of American education, student performance has made little progress.  While many initiatives have failed, several free market reforms have succeeded, says Casey Given of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

  • Despite education being a power reserved to the states, the federal government bypasses this constitutional restriction by allocating funds to states with regulatory stipulations that guide behavior.
  • Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the federal government began disbursing Title I funds with attached performance requirements following "A Nation at Risk."
  • The trend toward standards-based education culminated in the No Child Left Behind of 2001 (NCLB), which established a system of standardized tests that measure student progress based on predetermined proficiency benchmarks.

Despite failures of the federal NCLB mandate initiated under President Bush, President Obama has continued to push for standards-based reform initiatives like Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, both of which require states to improve their educational standards to receive funds or leniency.

Given the failures of standards-based mandates like NCLB and the more recent Common Core initiative, Given suggests that more free market based reforms with proven track records should be emphasized.

  • Charter schools foster competition between public and non-traditional schools. Two decades of empirical and anecdotal evidence suggest competition helps charter school students outperform public school students.
  • Vouchers are another school choice reform that, despite significant opposition, continues to provide evidence that fostering competition in the market for schooling incentivizes underperforming institutions to shape up.
  • Merit pay is another reform that will improve the quality of teachers by linking teacher salaries to their students' performance.
  • The newest reform that will foster student growth is the parent trigger, which aims to bring greater transparency to public schools by allowing parents to petition to restructure their child's school after it fails proficiency for three years in a row.

States must stand up to Washington's one-size-fits-all failures like NCLB and begin implementing reforms that have already achieved considerable success.

Source: "A Nation Still at Risk: The Continuing Crisis of American Education and Its State Solution," Americans for Prosperity Foundation, January 2013.


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