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Miller Outlines Proposed Changes for NCLB

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The chairman of the House education committee said today that the No Child Left Behind Act is not working as well as it should, and that there was no support among lawmakers for continuing the law without significant revisions.

“Throughout our schools and communities, the American people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair, not flexible, and is not funded. And they are not wrong,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said in remarks at the National Press Club to outline his priorities for reauthorizing the law.

Rep. Miller said that both Democrats and Republicans on the Education and Labor Committee had listened closely to various critiques of the law and were working toward ironing out a bipartisan reauthorization bill that he hopes the House could pass early this fall.

“I can tell you that there are no votes in the U.S. House of Representatives for continuing the No Child Left Behind Act without making serious changes to it,” Mr. Miller said. “It is my intention as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee to pass a bill in September, both in committee and on the floor of the House.”

The NCLB act passed Congress with broad bipartisan support and was signed into law in early 2002 by President Bush as a five-year reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Its centerpiece is a requirement that schools test students annually in reading and math in grades 3-8, and once in high school. Schools that fail to meet performance benchmarks face a series of consequences.

Adjusting Accountability

Rep. Miller said his first goal for the next version of the law will be to provide schools with more flexibility and fairness. His bill will introduce so-called growth models, accountability approaches that give schools credit for the progress that students make over time instead of just comparing one cohort of a grade of students with its predecessor.

The U.S. Department of Education is conducting a growth-model pilot program in which 12 states have been approved to use the method for complying with the NCLB law.

See Also
For more discussion on this topic, see our blog NCLB: Act II.

Mr. Miller said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings deserved credit for her leadership on making the law more flexible and for the growth-model pilot.

Meanwhile, another change in the law’s accountability framework that Rep. Miller plans to propose is the use of so-called multiple measures to determine whether a school is achieving adequate yearly progress under the law. He said the law would continue to include annual tests of reading and mathematics in most grades.

“We will allow the use of additional valid and reliable measures to assess student learning and school performance more fairly, comprehensive, and accurately,” Mr. Miller said. “One such measure for high schools must be graduation rates.”

Pressed about the extent of relief from test scores that such other measures might provide schools, Mr. Miller said students would have to be close to scoring proficient on math and reading tests for such measures to play a role.

“This is not an escape hatch,” he said.

Performance Pay

Rep. Miller said his bill would provide for performance pay for principals and teachers “based on fair and proven models.”

Joel Packer, the director of education policy and practice for the National Education Association, said the teachers’ union would oppose the inclusion of performance pay as a requirement for schools and districts to receive funding under the reauthorized NCLB.

“We are opposed to, in this bill, for the federal government to tell schools and school districts that if you take this pot of money you must include test scores as one of the measures of evaluating or compensating teachers,” Mr. Packer said. “The other thing with linking evaluations to test scores is that there is not much of a track record to see where it works. So if it is relatively unproven, why would the federal government require it?”

Mr. Miller’s bill will also include more emphasis on improving U.S. high schools.

“The bill will include comprehensive steps to turn around low-performing high schools,” he said, including uniform standards for measuring graduation rates.

Rep. Miller declined to put a specific price tag on his bill, but he called for “a greater and sustained investment in American education.”

Warning on Veto

He swung a minor political jab at President Bush by saying that the president’s legacy on education “cannot be established if he vetoes the education funding in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.”

The White House has threatened a veto for the fiscal year 2008 bill that covers Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education department programs. The measure has passed the House with a nearly 8 percent increase in Education Department spending.

But Rep. Miller praised the administration’s input on reauthorizing the law and stressed that his committee had a tradition of bipartisanship.

“There are differences between us,” he said, in reference to Democrats and Republicans on the education committee. “We’re trying to iron them out. We’re trying to not let any of them be a deal breaker.”

Steve Forde, a spokesman for Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the ranking Republican on the House education committee, agreed in a phone interview that Rep. Miller has included Republicans in the process.

“It’s been a bipartisan process,” Mr. Forde said. “Will it be a bipartisan product? That’s debatable. The devil is in the details.”

A statement by Rep. McKeon said he was “disappointed by the pace of negotiations” over the reauthorization.

“The content of the legislation is far more important than the calendar,” Rep. McKeon said, “and any attempts to weaken the law will be met with stiff resistance from House Republicans who have already joined with the civil rights community and business leaders in expressing concerns that some of the Democrat proposals will undermine transparency for parents and the ability to hold schools accountable for student performance.”

Change of Outlook?

William L. Taylor, the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington watchdog group that has been a strong supporter of the NCLB law’s accountability measures, praised Mr. Miller’s priorities for reauthorization.

“It’s clear that whatever adjustments are made” to the law, “we’re going to have accountability remain the key,” said Mr. Taylor, who attended the National Press Club event.

Mr. Packer of the NEA, who was also present, said he noticed a change in tone on Rep. Miller’s part with regard to reauthorization of the school law.

“He has been much more of a defender of the existing law,” said Mr. Packer, who is the NEA’s chief lobbyist on NCLB. “But I think he is changing his view based on what he is hearing from educators, and based on what he is hearing from his fellow members, especially House freshmen.”

Vol. 26

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An earlier version of this story misstated the severity of the consequences for schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

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