Congress may not be making adequately yearly progress towards the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but that doesn’t mean it’s not on the minds of lawmakers who are locked in tight races for re-election.
Case in point? Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who has long been a critic of the current version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. He introduced a whopping three ESEA-related bills over a two-day period. Feingold is fending off a tough re-election challenge from three GOP opponents, including plastics manufacturer Ron Johnson. (This poll has Feingold just 1 point ahead of Johnson.) So he may see this as a good time to remind people of his independence on ideas like education.
One of the bills seeks to give parents and community members a bigger role in determining how their schools use money provided under the School Improvement Grant program, which is aimed at turning around the bottom 5 percent of schools. It would require parents to be notified that their school is getting SIG money, and must choose from one of four school improvement models. Schools would have to get “meaningful” feedback from families before picking a model. And they would have to involve families in implementation.
Another Feingold bill, the Flexibility and Innovation in Education Act, was introduced with fellow NCLB detractor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. That bill would allow schools to use measures other than standardized tests to demonstrate student achievement and allow states to use alternative accountability models, such as growth models (which are a pretty much a given at this point anyway).
Another bill also co-sponsored by Leahy, the Improving Student Testing Act, would provide competitive grants to help school districts improve assessments. It would encourage states to consider computer-adaptive tests, and performance-based assessments.
Interestingly, that doesn’t sound so terribly different to me from the changes the U.S. Department of Education was trying to champion through its Race to the Top assessment pilot project. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is hoping the program will mean that states will move away from fill-in-the-bubble tests.