For a mother of three children and former college instructor, the beginning of a new school year was always a busy time in my household. While the end of summer break always seemed to come too soon for our children, and-here's a little secret-for us teachers as well, the first day back in the classroom always carried the exciting promise of a new year.
We all know that education is key to achieving higher earnings, better job stability, and achieving one's fullest potential, but for me the value of education has always been deeply personal. My loving parents worked tirelessly to provide for their four children but, having no more than a ninth grade education, struggled to make each paycheck last. That is why, with the encouragement of a devoted teacher named Mr. Richard Whiting and the help of a scholarship from the Boys and Girls Club, I became the first person in my family to earn a college degree and then went on to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse.
Here in Tennessee, we have made important gains in education over recent years. For example, our high school graduation rate has reached over 80 percent- that is higher than the national average and a dramatic improvement over our 2002 graduation rate of just 59.6 percent. And yet, there remains much room for improvement. As I meet with educators across our district, one of the barriers to education improvement that I hear about most often is the one-size-fits-all federal mandate in the No Child Left Behind Act. The more than 80 programs included in this law have resulted in tremendous red tape and regulatory burdens for local school districts and force many educators to "teach to the test" instead of addressing the unique needs of their classroom.
This is why my House colleagues and I passed the Student Success Act last month -- sweeping legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind based on four principles: 1) Reducing the federal footprint 2) Empowering parents 3) Restoring local control, and, 4) Supporting effective teachers.
Specifically, this bill returns the authority for measuring student performance to state and local school districts; reauthorizes and expands the Charter School Program; streamlines our education system by eliminating 70 ineffective, duplicative K-12 programs; and prohibits the Obama administration from forcing states to enact specific academic standards like Common Core in order to receive funds for school improvement.
I firmly believe that states, school boards, principals and teachers-not Washington bureaucrats-are best equipped to determine the policies and curriculum suited to their students' unique needs. By returning these decisions to their proper place at the local level we can ensure that every child has an opportunity to succeed.
Congressman Diane Black represents Tennessee's 6th Congressional District. She is a former instructor at Volunteer State Community College and has been a registered nurse for more than 40 years. Black serves on the House Ways and Means and Budget Committees.