When an experiment fails, it’s time to begin experimenting anew until a successful outcome is produced.
The federal education law titled No Child Left Behind — championed by President George W. Bush and enacted in 2001 — largely has failed.
President Barack Obama last week announced states may apply to the U.S. Department of Education to be exempted from some of the federal law’s provisions.
The exemption is not unconditional; states must enact standards to prepare students for college and careers, as well as accountability standards for teachers and administrators.
A number of states already have signaled they will seek exemptions. Missouri officials are studying their options.
We believe multiple state experiments in education are preferable to a single national mandate.
And we believe constitutional instructions support our belief.
The U.S. Constitution — as we have noted in the past — does not mention education. The nearest reference perhaps is the Preamble citation to “promote the general welfare.”
In contrast, education is a priority in Missouri’s constitution. Education is the subject of Article IX. The document also lists education as the legislature’s second priority for appropriations, after satisfying outstanding debts.
Developing workable education standards, admittedly, is a difficult task.
Students’ abilities and interests vary widely. And, despite teaching standards, instructors range from engaged to incompetent. Add diverse facilities, materials and curriculum to the mix, and it becomes readily apparent why an effective education standard is elusive.
We believe local standards devised by local school boards with input from local patrons offer the best opportunity to achieve educational excellence.
In Missouri, the state has created local public school districts to pursue that goal.
Obama’s exemption policy will challenge states to develop criteria that empower local school districts to excel.
The challenge is daunting, but Missouri will be remiss if it chooses to remain under the constraints of a flawed, one-size-fits-all federal mandate.
Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission.