By Richard Barth, Chief Executive Officer, KIPP Foundation
American lawmakers are on the cusp of a big decision. As I write this, Congress is preparing to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the most recent version of which is commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There is vigorous and healthy debate going on around what to keep in the law, what to revise, and what to remove. As the CEO of a network of 162 schools, I celebrate this debate, and want to share my thoughts.
While NCLB was by no means a perfect law, it has made a valuable contribution to public education in America: increasing accountability and transparency around school performance. This has increased openness and clarity not only at the federal and state levels, but also on the ground for families.
From our unique vantage point at KIPP, we have seen how this plays out across the country. As a network of schools in educationally underserved communities, we have dedicated ourselves to preparing every student we serve for a life filled with choices. We’ve found that this requires an unwavering commitment to accountability, and a willingness to be open with families and supporters.
At KIPP, we keep meticulous track of our students’ performance, and make it public in our annual Report Card. Sometimes the data prompts us to celebrate our students’ success and growth; sometimes it forces us to grapple with results that aren’t where we want them to be. But it’s all necessary as we work to prepare students for success in college and the world beyond.
Every child deserves a great education, and families need a clear, honest picture of where they’re going to get it. This commitment can’t be a school-by-school initiative; it has to be system-wide. We need states to assess school performance fairly, accurately, and consistently every year – every public school student should be tested annually in math and reading in grades 3-8 and once in high school. We also support each child taking a science assessment three points during those years. Having these systems in place:
- Makes clear that every student in America matters—a message that too many children, particularly those in underserved communities, don’t hear enough.
- Pushes us to keep track of all our students’ progress, so that we’re not surprised when they outperform or taken aback when they struggle.
- Ensures that all children are held to the same college- and career-ready standards and take the same challenging tests regardless of their race, their background, or where they live.
- Provides us with the information we need to tailor our approaches to address the areas where students need support.
- Empowers families with the information they need to make decisions about their children’s education, and to advocate for change as needed.
- Gives us the tools to assess student achievement and growth, so that we can give schools and educators who are producing results the credit they deserve, and identify areas where schools can improve.
- Forces us to confront achievement gaps that persist between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and motivates us to find new methods and models for addressing these gaps.
- Shines a light on the schools and educators who are successfully closing these gaps, so that we can support their approaches and help expand them to reach more children.
As Congress considers the next form that ESEA will take, I urge them to keep transparency and accountability in mind. It’s a vital piece of the puzzle that we are trying to solve, as we work to improve education outcomes for all children in America.
I also urge you to write to your representative in Congress and tell them you want to keep transparency and accountability in all schools across the country by having annual statewide student performance data.