Though many of us are still in the midst of completing our own educations, Millennials are engaged with education policy and dedicated to ensuring quality through accountability for all. In an era where employment opportunities and the vitality of the nation depend on access to quality education, schools cannot be left to chance, nor can just a few be burdened with the responsibility of high performance. Rather, a diversity of stakeholders must be held accountable for ensuring improvements in educational opportunity and access.
Even with loud calls for educational reform, we've seen few improvements at the federal level. Perhaps the most influential initiative in the past few decades was No Child Left Behind. It introduced accountability based on student performance on standardized tests, with corresponding repercussions for schools including school choice provisions and restructuring models that require actions like firing half the staff or closing the school entirely, even in the face of parent protest.
The Obama administration has released its proposal for reforming No Child Left Behind, but no forward progress has been made on the legislative level. In the interim, the Department of Education offered waivers from performance standards in exchange for enacting prescribed reforms, such as lifting limits on the number of charter schools and instituting teacher evaluations based at least in part on student test scores. This action echoed Race to the Top, a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided money in exchange for reforms. Yet Race to the Top and the waiver program were both criticized for their lack of research justification and adoption of special interest driven ideas.
Equity, in addition to quality, has also come under attack in recent years, with Supreme Court decisions prohibiting race-based desegregation efforts, effectively undoing the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. In the process, courts have been stripped of the power to desegregate their schools. Without the protections of the Brown decision, and with local school elections that are increasingly dominated by special interests but garner low voter turnout, there has been a resurgence of segregation in American cities.
Meanwhile, our education system is threatened by slashed state budgets, requiring teacher layoffs and cuts to programs like guidance counselors and public higher education. Quick action is needed to prevent a deterioration in the quality of education that America currently enjoys while simultaneously building accountability, the impetus to sustain and continuously improve.
The Campus Network has re-defined educational accountability in our 10 ideas for Education, going beyond the simple set of sticks and carrots for teachers and schools to also focus on college students, elected officials, and higher education institutions as driving forces in educational improvement and opportunity. Reflecting our belief that education is a local issue (even with its national implications), most proposed accountability measures are targeted at engaging local stakeholders, rather than federally mandated measures. This year's 10 Ideas for Education represents the thought leadership of our organization on the future of education. This week, on New Deal 2.0 the authors of three of our most forward thinking pieces will offer an inside look at their ideas.
Seth Taylor, a student at the University of Georgia, challenges Georgia lawmakers to look beyond test scores in evaluating teachers. By creating an independent body of teacher evaluators, Seth aims to simultaneously improve teacher quality, meet the requirements of Georgia's Federal Race to the Top Grant, and preserve teaching as a profession.
Angela Choi, a student at CUNY City College, describes a plan to engage college students in work-study outside of the university in a service-learning program that provides mentoring high school students. Her mentoring program leverages federal student aid to increase high school completion and college attendance.
Jessica Morris, a student at Mount Holyoke College, proposes sexual orientation sensitivity workshops for high schools across the country, as well as a national bill to protect LGBT students at school, to make sure that students don't have to wait for their lives to get better. Her suggestions create a comprehensive response to the recent rash of suicides among gay teens.
These state and local solutions sustainably protect the progress of education improvement efforts by reinvesting power at the local level. They target those most affected by educational quality and those most empowered to improve it. Rather than reforming from the top down, an approach dominated by special interests, these students have identified implementable reforms.
Grayson Cooper is the Senior Fellow for Education Policy at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a graduating senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.