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Paperwork Doesn't Help Students Learn, Officials Tell Congress

The federal government is asking school districts for too much paperwork and it is taking time from instruction and costing precious and scarce dollars, witnesses told lawmakers on a House education subcommittee today.

Recent case in point? The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which required a lot of extra reporting from districts to track the dollars, one witness said.

"The elaborate reporting requirements associated with [the stimulus] represent a classic example of overly burdensome federal regulations," said Robert Grimesey, the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, in Virginia, in a prepared statement. "They promulugate a culture of compliance that distracts local focus away from student learning."

Charles Grable, the assistant superintendent for instruction in Huntington, Ind., agreed that federal requirements could be streamlined, but said data collection is important to gauging success.

"What gets measured gets done," he said, channeling former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who served under President George W. Bush. (Interestingly, Grable was the witness picked by Democrats.)

It all made for a pretty friction-free hearing. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.,the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing K-12 policy, criticized the federal regulatory burden on schools. "Regulations are usually costly, intrusive, redundant, and can create unnecessary hurdles for K-12 schools," he said in a prepared statement.

The top Democrat, Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, didn't disagree.

"It is important to look at the requirements we are placing on states and districts through federal law and regulations. If we can streamline program administration and better align programs and data to reduce burdens, we should do that as long as we are maintaining our core goals," he said in a prepared statement.

But another part of the story here is ... paperwork burdens as a hearing topic? Really?

There are so many other issues that really get to the heart of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including what the federal role should be, that it's sort of surprising in some ways that members of Congress would spend time on this, instead of teacher effectiveness, or turnarounds, standards, or whether Race to the Top has worked. (To be fair, the committee didn't bill this as an ESEA reauthorization hearing.)

Of course, this is one topic that's bound to be bipartisan (no one is pro-paperwork.) And it goes with the overall message that the new, more conservative Congress wants to get the federal government out of people's lives.

But it also shows the committee has a long way to go in examining the trickiest issues surrounding renewal of the law, making it that much harder for Congress to meet the timetable set by the president yesterday, of reauthorization by the start of the next school year.

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