INNOVATIVE IDEAS FOR IMPROVING EDUCATION:
IDEAS DERIVED FROM REAL-LIFE EDUCATION EXPERIENCE
By Thomas G. Tancredo
Despite the increase in federal spending on education over the last several decades, students are clearly not learning at their greatest potential. Today, the federal government spends billions of dollars on over 800 education programs administered by 39 federal agencies. The increase in bureaucracy that has accompanied this growth has resulted in burdensome paperwork and reporting requirements (over 48.6 million pages are produced each year to comply with federal regulations), leaving as little as 80 cents of every education dollar for the classroom. As we all know, what might work for the kids in Colorado is very different from what might be needed in New York, Mississippi, or Montana. Yet the current system of federal grants-in-aid to the schools insists on a one-size-fits-all approach to education -- an approach that is not working. We can and must do better.
The No Child Left Behind Act, while heavily touted by supporters, does little to embrace state and local level educational needs. In fact, the act has proved next to impossible to implement -- as well as to fund -- and places unnecessary stress on local school districts, as it fails to take into account the needs of individual schools. Instead, Congress should pass legislation that would give local schools and school districts more flexibility in spending education dollars as they see fit, giving states like Colorado the option of establishing a performance agreement with the U.S. Secretary of Education. States or school districts which have their agreement approved would be able to combine funds from a few or all of the federal K-12 education programs they administer at the state level and use those funds as they see fit. In exchange for this flexibility, participating states would be held to strict accountability standards.
This freedom would allow states and local school districts to use federal education dollars to advance their own priorities, such as reducing class sizes, hiring new teachers, or buying new textbooks and computers, as long as they meet the goals spelled out under their performance agreement. State and local education leaders know better how to tailor their education programs to meet the unique needs of their students than Washington bureaucrats who have never visited the school or the state.
Congress and state and local governments must also help the limited and zero English proficient children of immigrants to learn English as soon as possible, thereby enabling them to achieve the same high level of academic success as their English-speaking peers. We should also provide parents the right to choose whether or not their children participate in bilingual education programs and allow states and local governments, along with parents, to choose the types of English language instruction provided to limited and zero English proficient children.
With the controversy over bilingual education between the Denver Public School (DPS) system and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), we learned that there were some cases where Hispanic students were enrolled in bilingual classes for the entire twelve years of their schooling. Unfortunately, some students graduating from high school still did not have a full grasp of the English language.
It is for this reason that I strongly support efforts to reform the bilingual education system in this country. While I understand and fully support efforts to encourage our children to become multilingual, the system that is currently in place is clearly not working. We need to implement programs that have certain standard criteria in place for the entrance and exit from bilingual education programs, criteria based on whether a student has the English skills necessary for success in the mainstream classrooms. We also need to include instructional components that will ensure that students can learn English using the most efficient and effective approaches as possible. Finally, we must limit the amount of time that students are enrolled in such programs. A three-year program has been deemed by the U.S. Department of Education and most experts as adequate time for a student to be in such a program.
Most importantly our nationís education policy must stress the importance of parental involvement. Involved parents, after all, can hold our schools accountable, ensuring that our kids come first.
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Thomas G. Tancredo is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Sixth Congressional District
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