VA Lawmakers Weigh in on Changing Education Standards

Aug 25, 2014

This summer there's been a big push by the nation's powerful teacher unions to completely revamp the nation's standardized tests mandated under No Child Left Behind and then revamped with the new Common Core standards. 

Teacher unions everywhere are mad. Educators say after 12 years of implementing standardized tests nationwide those assessments have proved to be impediments to teachers - and if they don't get the reforms they’re demanding they say the president should oust his secretary of education, Arne Duncan. Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott is the only Virginia lawmaker who serves on the education committee. He understands the frustration from teachers unions but says Congress shares the blame.  

“People are willing to kind of limp along with waivers and back-and-forth without doing anything. As long as the funding continues, which it has, people will just let the status quo continue.”

Scott’s committee is looking at how to maintain a national education standard, while also freeing teachers from what many say are onerous requirements. There’s broad bipartisan support to reform the No Child Left Behind law - but the question is how? The debate over standardized tests often cuts across party lines. Northern Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly isn’t a big fan of the law.

“The No Child Left Behind law was written by people with great intentions, I think, but I don’t think any of them ever ran a school district.”

Before coming to Congress Connolly was chairman of the Fairfax Country Board of Supervisors, which impacted his views on national education policy.  

“You know, as a local-government guy coming here I have never been enamored with No Child Left Behind because it’s way too rigid. It’s one-size-fits-all. It puts a scarlet letter on schools for a very small subset of a school population not meeting artificially high metrics set forth by the federal government. It’s also an unfunded mandate. Other than that it’s a great law.” Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith echoes the same frustration.

“Not every school is exactly the same. And while we don’t want to leave any child behind and we don’t want to say, well, that – those kids can’t perform, you also need to recognize that there are going to be some differences.”

Griffith says this is also a rare issue where he’s actually pretty close to President Obama.

“It’s actually been one of my criticisms of the president because I think that our positions are not that far apart. But because he never talks to anybody in Congress – and I don’t expect him to call me – but a staffer come by and find out where we stand on things – he doesn’t know that we’re in agreement.”

Virginia is one of just seven states that haven’t adopted the president’s new Common Core standard, which attempts to set new benchmarks for schools and students. It’s voluntary because Congress never passed it. Congressman Connolly says he’s glad the administration has given state’s a way out from No Child Left Behind.  

“I’m glad the administration has diluted it, has provided waivers and is showing the flexibility the previous administration sadly did not. And if we’re going to reauthorize No Child Left Behind it’s got to be a radically different approach.”

As for the voices calling for scrapping standardized tests? Congressman Scott says their calls ring hollow.  

“Well, you have to have some assessment. It’s not whether they’re a standardized test, but you have to have some assessment to ascertain which schools are doing well and which are, frankly, not. And some are by any measure failing schools.”

But Scott says there’s another step the law left out.  

“Once you find it out then you have to do something about it.”

Scott also says there’s another problem.

“Funding is important. I mean, you can’t get higher-quality teachers without paying higher-quality salaries, and that would mean that the better students are attracted to teaching, and you’d be able to get and retain the best teachers. You’ve got to deal with the salaries. By any assessment teachers are not being paid as well as they should be paid.”

Lawmakers aren’t expected to touch the nation’s education policy ahead of November, so local educators are once again left waiting to see if Washington will throw them a lifeline or just another hurdle to try and jump.