'Incentives' should not be used to advance national curriculum

The Department of Education, through its much-ballyhooed Race to the Top program, has taken the first steps toward coercing the states to adopt a set of national education standards known as the Common Core Standards.

Unfortunately, anxious to try new ways of improving unsatisfactory public schools, some “conservative” commentators have failed to grasp the coercive nature of what DOE is doing – and how it could ultimately lead to imposition of essentially a national curriculum, in violation of federal law.


New child nutrition law strikes a healthy balance

Given the sky-high rates of childhood obesity, it's hard to believe that some are pondering overturning the common-sense provisions passed by the previous Congress and being implemented by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve children’s access to healthy school meals.

A recent House Education and Workforce subcommittee hearing examined the “regulatory overreach” of the new child nutrition law. But the new law does not extend federal reach, nor is it an unfunded mandate for states and localities.


Common sense needed in childhood nutrition guidelines

We can all agree that childhood obesity in America is a serious problem, and I commend the First Lady for addressing it directly in her “Let’s Move!” campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. It is a worthwhile and attainable goal and one that I support.

However, lima beans, peas, corn and potatoes predate any kind of childhood obesity epidemic and needlessly attacking them gets us no closer to fixing the issue. What we need is a solution, not a scapegoat.


A surmountable challenge

President Obama recently described the achievement gap between middle-income and low-income children as the "civil rights issue of our time."

"That’s not a white, black or brown problem," the president said. "That’s everybody's problem."

We couldn't agree more. Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of high school. The disparity in positive education outcomes is trapping more and more young children into intergenerational poverty.

Fortunately, we now we know where the education gap begins.


Reauthorize ESEA, help revitalize the economy

The nation’s op-ed pages are filled with passionate voices advocating for one cause or another, representing the many challenges we face: the economy, national security, gas prices and healthcare to just name a few. It’s hard to imagine one issue transcending or touching all others, but there is such an issue: The education of our young people.

With the end of the school year near, I hope all Americans, especially members of Congress, will reflect on the role education plays in this country. We must pay special attention to the 1.3 million students who will not graduate this year because they dropped out of high school, along with the 2.1 million students that haven’t yet left, but attend low-performing schools where their chance of graduating is practically a coin toss. It’s estimated that one class of dropouts costs the nation $337 billion in lost lifetime earnings and subsequent taxes. Revenue we can hardly afford to turn away.


Bullying in schools can have long-term impact

Our children can’t learn or thrive in unsafe schools that tolerate bullying or harassing. As President Obama pointed out at the White House Conference on Bullying we must: “dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept.”
Among those destructive consequences of bullying are lowered academic achievement and aspirations, increased anxiety, loss of self-esteem and confidence, depression and post-traumatic stress, general deterioration in physical health, self-harm and suicidal thinking, feelings of alienation in the school environment, such as fear of other children, and absenteeism from school.


Legitimate backlash to the DoEs 'gainful employment' rule

It has to be difficult for policy makers to admit failure, especially when Congress has soundly rejected misguided proposed regulation.    

But when a group of 118 lawmakers of both parties urge you to re-evaluate your policy; when leading advocacy groups and Members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses voice their opposition; when your department is investigated by the inspector general for possible corruption; and when you are forced to make statements correcting erroneous data – maybe, it’s time to admit your blunder and start again. 

So what policy could be so ill conceived as to warrant such a backlash?  


Provide financial support to historically black colleges and universities

Challenging financial times such as these require difficult funding choices. That is why the members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have seized the mantle of leadership and provided financial support in recent spending bills for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and primarily black institutions (PBIs). 

The FY2010-enacted budget included $85 million in funding, and the FY2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) included a similar level of funding. And even as our nation faced its worst recession since the Great Depression, the CBC pressed President Obama to include comparable prior-year funding in his FY2012 budget request.

It is important to note that the members of the CBC have never wavered in its support of HBCUs and has sought to ensure that they will remain financially viable and able to provide the highest quality of education for the next generation. As members of Congress, we believe it is vital to invest in education and to help all children receive an early, healthy head start in order for them to thrive and grow to their full capacity. We believe it is critical to invest in human capital and to support those programs and institutions that spur and sustain it. 


Education hornets’ nest: Creating a national K-12 curriculum

The U.S. Department of Education has, since September of 2010, been financing the work of two testing groups to create a national K-12 curriculum for English and mathematics. But in launching this new initiative, Education Department officials seem to be acting at crosspurposes with existing federal statutes, and, as their initiative becomes better known, it may bring out a multitude of opponents.

The new national curriculum is designed to complement a federally-funded national testing system that will test every public school student in America. Left unchallenged, this federal effort will establish for America a new system of national tests, national academic content standards, and a national curriculum.


Why charter schools deserve our support

Many students get trapped in failing schools and need a way out and public charter schools offer that opportunity. Charter schools serve as a consistently high-quality alternative to some failing public schools. They put a real premium on quality education and are often held to a higher standard of accountability for student achievement.

Charter schools offer parents the choice and flexibility to escape struggling schools and the education bureaucracy that surrounds them. I believe parents are best equipped to make decisions for their children, including the educational setting that will best serve the interests and educational needs of their child.

It is for that reason that I believe states should lift caps on the number of charter schools that can exist and the number of students these schools can serve. Charter schools have made great strides in raising achievement and tackling unique educational challenges from urban centers to rural areas. But despite their many successes, charter schools are not growing as they should. They face overwhelming barriers to expansion, from arbitrary state caps to hostile state legislatures.