Recently it was reported that not a single northwest suburban high school met adequate yearly progress this year under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), even in the face of extraordinary successes at local schools. This dichotomy represents a failure of our federal school assessment system, not a failure of our local schools.
The genesis of the federal assessment problem is that for years, Congress has failed to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind. The bi-partisan NCLB legislation had some positive results, such as encouraging schools to recognize whether some groups of students were falling through the cracks of our educational system, but it also created several critical problems that have only gotten worse since Congress initially failed to replace the law in 2008.
Fortunately, there appears to be new interest in both Congressional chambers and in both political parties to write a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) law that will replace NCLB. I support replacing NCLB and look forward to a time when schools in our area will be heralded as models of success rather than mislabeled as failures.
The 10th District is home to some of the most successful schools in our nation, but we are not without our challenges which is why I have made it a priority in my 11-months in office to give our region a voice in Washington on education reform issues. I formed an Education Advisory Board composed of local teachers, administrators and policy experts, and named as its head one of the most innovative high school administrators in the country, Wheeling High School principal Dr. Lazaro Lopez. I charged this group with identifying legislative and community efforts we should undertake to ensure that we are doing everything possible to prepare students for the college and career demands of the 21st Century.
In my meetings with leaders of the Congressional Education and Workforce Committee I proposed any reauthorization of NCLB must include a rational assessment system that is aligned from pre-school through college and values individualized student growth, as opposed to the current narrowly focused testing models. It must allow greater spending flexibility for local school districts to give them more freedom to develop innovative teaching methods inside their classrooms. We must also bring an end to unfunded and underfunded federal mandates that force local school districts to spend locally generated revenues to satisfy federal law, rather than the needs inside the classroom. Lastly, I urged Congressional policy makers to listen closely to the teachers, administrators and parents who will be asked to implement any new policies.
In the District, an overwhelming number of local employers have told me that there is a shortage of students prepared to work in high-demand fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM subjects). So, we are working to make STEM subjects more accessible and interesting to all students. This generally requires bridging the divide between our schools and the industries that will be hiring their graduates so that students better understand the relevance of their education. Too many young women and students in economically distressed areas are not pursuing STEM subjects and so we will make a special effort in this region to make STEM accessible to them.
Improvements and changes are necessary, but as I travel the district it is clear to me the schools in our region are ready to rise and meet these challenges. It is easy for me to be hopeful for our future after meeting a Stevenson High School student excited about energy science because of her school’s green building initiative, a recent graduate of Wheeling High School talking about how his STEM education prepared him for an engineering career in advanced manufacturing, and a high school drop out personifying perseverance by restarting her career focused education at Youth Build Lake County in North Chicago. Our community has much to be proud of, and while much works lies ahead, I know that we will work together to make every school a success in our region.