Dueling Visions in Congress on NCLB Renewal
Almost no one expects Congress to finish the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act this year, but there has been some important—although partisan—action in both chambers over the past month on the long-overdue overhaul. The recent discussion, debate, and policy proposals give education advocates and school district officials a sense of where Congress may eventually end up when it comes to the nation's landmark education law.
In June, for example, the U.S. Senate education committee approved its version of a bill to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the NCLB law is the current iteration. The Senate panel's vision shares many similarities with the policies pushed by the Obama administration through its NCLB waivers to states.
The measure, written by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the committee's chairman, would direct nonwaiver states to submit an ambitious accountability plan to the Department of Education. It would also ask states to develop teacher-evaluation systems that take student-achievement data into account—but schools would not have to use the data for personnel decisions, only for professional development and to ensure that highly qualified teachers are equally distributed.
"This is not the heavy hand of the federal government telling you this is exactly what you have to do," Sen. Harkin said during committee consideration. "We're saying ... let's work together to make sure we have access and equity for our kids."
Meanwhile, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved its own radically different vision for reauthorization.
The panel's bill would largely dismantle the federal accountability requirements at the center of the NCLB law, maintaining the legislation's testing schedule, but getting rid of the federal responsibility for school improvement. And it would jettison maintenance of effort, which requires states and school districts to keep up their own spending at a certain level in order to tap federal funds.
"The legislation will reduce the federal footprint," said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the bill's author, during committee consideration.
The House bill which garnered only GOP support could be on the floor this month.
Vol. 32, Issue 36, Page 27