March 2 2010

Right Ends, Wrong Means: The Problem with the All Students Achieving through Reform Act

Vicki E. Alger

Right Ends, Wrong Means-The Problem with the All Students Achieving through Reform Act

Last month the All Students Achieving through Reform Act (H.R. 4330) was introduced in the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor to expand and replicate high-quality charter schools, especially those that would serve students currently in schools with low graduation rates. The bill calls for $500 million in the first year, and "sums as may be necessary for each of the 5 succeeding fiscal years," to fund competitive grants for "eligible entities to make sub-grants to eligible public charter schools." In his opening statement, Chairman George Miller (D-California) said:

It's time to realize our vision for world-class schools that prepare every student to compete in our global economy. To get there, we need to be open to bold ideas that "disrupt" our current system. We have to pay attention to what is working in our schools and give other schools the tools to learn from their successes. Time and again, we have seen this approach work. Innovation and creativity lead to effective reforms.

Effective reforms transform schools and communities. One of the best examples of this is our high-performing charter schools. The opportunity promised by a quality charter school was their only chance at a better education. Take the Green Dot Public Charter schools. Green Dot schools serve students with the highest need in Los Angeles and the South Bronx, areas where only about 4 percent of kids graduate from college. Eighty percent of Green Dot students graduate and 80 percent of their graduates are accepted to four-year colleges.

The genuine concern with at-risk students is admirable; however, this "solution" is symptomatic of a system-centered approach to education. And after all, why should the system that bears heavy responsibility for putting students at risk of not succeeding in the first place be entrusted with billions more education dollars? The Los Angeles Unified School District is a textbook case of how innovation-averse monolithic education bureaucracies are. Better to put parents in charge. After all, they're the ones that have their children's best interests at heart.

Rather than have education bureaucracies chase after federal funding, education dollars should follow students in the form of grants to schools of their parents' choosing, forcing schools to compete for students. That way, schools have more flexibility to implement programs that meet the unique needs of the students in their communities-not one-size-fits-all federal mandates.

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