No Child Left Behind demands we employ every option for poor children

In his Washington Post commentary today on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is still offering a narrow definition of flexibility and an unnecessarily limited set of options to reduce the achievement gap.

Duncan lauded the bipartisan support in Congress for “providing more flexibility to schools, districts and states,” but failed to mention the importance of providing more flexibility for teachers and parents.  We are over-regulating our classroom teachers and undermining their ability to innovative and be entrepreneurial.  Empowering teachers to create and manage their own schools will give them the same opportunities as professionals in law, medicine, accounting and architecture, and the diverse schooling options they will create will provide more schooling options for parents and other teachers to choose from.  Unfortunately, when Secretary Duncan writes of greater local control, he means more power for school boards and not for teachers or parents.

Duncan also applauds the progress states and local communities are making in reducing the achievement gap, writing that, “School districts and their local partners in inner cities and rural communities are overcoming poverty and family breakdown to create high-performing schools, including charters and traditional public schools.” But this statement ignores the tremendous contributions being made in high-poverty communities by other publicly-funded education institutions, including private schools serving students on publicly-funded scholarships.

Today in Jacksonville, Florida, a district with 124,000 students, there are a total of eight charter schools and not all of them in high-poverty neighborhood. By comparison, there are 91 private schools serving more than 3,000 low-income students who attend these schools with the assistance of tax credit scholarships.  That Secretary Duncan insists on ignoring the contributions these schools, and others like them across the country, are making in our inner cities is disappointing.  The secretary needs to move beyond the old public-versus-private school mindset and understand that public education today is expanding to embrace diverse schooling options, including contracting with private providers through charter laws, tax credit programs, Milwaukee-type voucher programs and virtual programs.  Low-income families want more learning options and Secretary Duncan would do well to stop resisting their demands.

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BY Doug Tuthill

A lifelong educator and former teacher union president, Tuthill has been president of Step Up For Students since August 2008.

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