U.S. Chamber Wants Grades for Schools in Reauthorization

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The nation’s largest business federation intends to have a say in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and used a press conference today to enumerate its ideas for new legislation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s priorities include establishing a standard method of computing a school’s graduation rate, and creating a publicly reported rating system that would assign each school an A to F grade.

“We need to create 20 million jobs, but if we made them all today, we couldn’t fill them,” said Chamber CEO Tom Donohue. The chamber says it represents “the interests of more than three million businesses.”

By 2020 there will be 123 million high skills jobs in the United States, Donohue said, but at the current pace there will be just 50 million Americans who are qualified to perform them.

Margaret Spellings – education secretary for George W. Bush during the previous rewrite of ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 – expressed concern that the Obama administration’s proposals for new legislation focus too much on the worst performing schools and not enough on the big picture.

“Demanding action from just the bottom 5 percent of schools” will ignore most students, said Spellings, who now serves as president of the Chamber’s Forum for Policy Innovation. “We are not clear on what the administration would do about the other 95 percent of schools.”

It doesn’t follow logically, Spellings said, “that half of minority kids are not getting out of high school and most of the schools are doing great.”

Although generally an ally of the Republican education platform, the Chamber appears more in line with Democrats on the looming reform of education policy. Donohue praised  President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative as an effort to “get bang for the buck” during a tough time for domestic spending.

He also stressed the Chamber’s position that the federal government must play a large role in education, even as some Republicans push to abolish the federal Education Department. “With no federal role,” he cautioned, America could see big businesses abandon states with poor schools.

“Businesses go where there are quality people to work for them,” Donohue said.

John Kline (R-Minn.), who will play a major part in the ESEA reauthorization as  Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, supports increased local control and  has criticized Race to the Top’s connection to national standards.

Click here to read the Chamber’s full statement on ESEA reauthorization.