Cham­ber pushes GOP-backed re­forms for nation’s schools

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce on May 4 called on Congress to speed up its ef­forts to re­form fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy and re­leased a broad out­line of pri­or­i­ties it says are cru­cial to stu­dent suc­cess across the coun­try.

To turn around fail­ing schools and re­verse dis­turb­ing trends - one-third of high school stu­dents don’t grad­u­ate in four years, for ex­am­ple — cham­ber Pres­i­dent and CEO Thomas J. Dono­hue said politi­cians, par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors must re­mem­ber who is at the heart of the de­bate.

“This is not about school su­per­in­ten­dents. This is not about [Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary] Arne Dun­can or [for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary] Mar­garet Spellings. This is about kids that are get­ting screwed in the sys­tem,” Mr. Dono­hue said at a news con­fer­ence at the cham­ber’s Wash­ing­ton, D.C. head­quar­ters.

Just as sev­eral newly elected Repub­li­can gov­er­nors have pro­posed, the cham­ber wants to over­haul the teacher ten­ure sys­tem and tie in­struc­tors’ pay to how their stu­dents per­form in the class­room.

“By re­ward­ing longevity over per­for­mance, ten­ure poli­cies of­ten ham­string lo­cal of­fi­cials’ abil­ity to en­sure that stu­dents have ac­cess to the most ef­fec­tive teach­ers,” reads a por­tion of the cham­ber’s out­line. “Fed­eral law should en­cour­age, not in­hibit, state and lo­cal ef­forts to make changes in their ten­ure poli­cies.”

He was joined by Mrs. Spellings, who serves as pres­i­dent of the cham­ber’s Fo­rum for Pol­icy In­no­va­tion, and David Ad­kisson, pres­i­dent of the Ken­tucky Cham­ber of Com­merce.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is push­ing Congress to over­haul the 2001 No Child Left Be­hind Act be­fore the start of the next school year, though it is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­likely that will hap­pen de­spite Mr. Dun­can’s grim warn­ing that more than 80 per­cent of schools will not meet NCLB guide­lines this year.

The Se­nate Health, Ed­uca- tion, La­bor and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee plans to in­tro­duce a bill be­fore sum­mer. Rep. John Kline, Min­nesota Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force Com­mit­tee, has said he won’t con­form to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s time­line but ex­pects the com­mit­tee to be­gin its work on the re­form bill soon.

The cham­ber is urg­ing House and Se­nate lead­ers to be sure when craft­ing their re­spec­tive bills that the leg­is­la­tion main­tains “rig­or­ous accountability pro­vi­sions,” pro­vides choices for par­ents such as free tu­tor­ing and more ac­cess to charter schools and makes ma­jor changes to how teach­ers and school ad­min­is­tra­tors are paid.

De­spite NCLB com­ing un­der in­creas­ing fire from both sides of the aisle, Mrs. Spellings stood by it, ar­gu­ing it has helped hold schools ac­count­able and al­lows state lead­ers to more eas­ily iden­tify schools that aren’t get­ting the job done.

“We’ve learned a lot in the last 10 years, and we ought to act on what we’ve learned,” she said.

The cham­ber also wants states and school dis­tricts to have greater au­thor­ity to in­ter­vene in low-per­form­ing schools, in­clud­ing more power to close them as a last re­sort.

Such dras­tic steps may be nec­es­sary, Mr. Dono­hue said, be­cause many schools sim­ply aren’t pro­duc­ing stu­dents ca­pa­ble of fill­ing po­si­tions in to­day’s job mar­ket.

“Ed­u­ca­tion, by far, is the No. 1 is­sue in the busi­ness com­mu­nity in Ken­tucky,” Mr. Ad­kisson said, ex­plain­ing why the cham­ber is pay­ing great at­ten­tion to the is­sue and will ag­gres­sively lobby Congress dur­ing the re­form process.

U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce Pres­i­dent and CEO Thomas Dono­hue

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