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House Backs Compromise on 'Opportunity' Standards

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The House last week added compromise language on "opportunity to learn'' standards to legislation that would reauthorize the $12.4 billion Elementary and Secondary Education Act, generating the bipartisan support that had previously been elusive.

By a vote of 422 to 1, the House added a group of amendments to the bill, HR 6, that are mostly technical in nature.

But among those amendments is a provision that may help resolve one of the biggest controversies associated with the bill.

The version of HR 6 reported by the Education and Labor Committee would have required states to establish three sets of standards in order to receive Chapter 1 funds. They are standards for student performance and curriculum content, as well as the controversial opportunity standards, which are to measure school services and resources.

The compromise adopted last week would make establishing opportunity standards voluntary--a blow to liberal House members who view them as a way to promote equity as well as excellence.

However, while a final vote on HR 6 will not occur until this week, the agreement likely means that many Republicans will support the bill. When it was considered in committee, Republican members opposed it because they thought the opportunity standards were too prescriptive.

Administration officials, who had not included the opportunity-standards requirement in their E.S.E.A. proposal, brokered the deal.

"The Secretary said, 'Look, we really want a bipartisan compromise,''' Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said. "There's not much more magic to it than that.''

A Diagnostic Tool

The compromise would make opportunity standards voluntary, but would also urge states to use them as a diagnostic tool.

The standards would center on the quality of teaching and the quality and availability of curriculum materials, and would be used to gauge schools where Chapter 1 students fail to show academic improvement.

Moreover, the language states that opportunity standards are not meant to provide ammunition for lawsuits, to set national school-building standards, or to force school-finance equalization.

The compromise was reached on the eve of floor debate when proponents of opportunity standards recognized that they did not have the votes to defeat an expected amendment to strip the requirement from the measure, and opponents conceded that they could be a useful tool.

"It was a legitimate compromise in that Bill Goodling was willing to look at the issue and see the value of these standards when schools are failing,'' said John F. Jennings, the chief legal counsel for the Education and Labor Committee.

Representative Goodling, the Pennsylvanian who is the committee's ranking Republican, was prepared to offer an amendment striking the opportunity language.

The House also approved two amendments that seek to mollify home-school advocates and private school officials. They had feared that a provision that would have required all school districts to insure that teachers are certified to teach in their subject areas would lead to federal oversight of their schools.

One amendment, which was passed by a vote of 424 to 1, struck the offending language. The other, approved on a 374-to-53 vote, states that nothing in HR 6 is to be construed to permit federal control of home, private, or religious schools.

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