Six Questions About NCLB’s Future

January 08, 2008 3 min read

On the 6th anniversary of NCLB’s enactment, here are six questions to consider over the next year.

Will the Senate unify around an NCLB bill?
The House took small steps toward reauthorizing NCLB in 2007. It became evident quickly that the early drafts create intraparty splits among Republicans and Democrats, raising questions about whether that chamber could create a bill that would garner a consensus.

Yesterday, two key players in the Senate sent important signals on NCLB. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., argued that the law has many flaws; one of them is the failure to recognize “incremental progress.” As chairman of the Senate’s education committee, he promised to work for a bill to fix the law’s problems. Later in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a statement saying the law’s accountability measures have been “far too punitive” and mentioning that the law doesn’t reward “incremental progress” in schools.

Although the rhetoric is similar, will these two agree on the details, and will they be able to create a consensus among their Democratic colleagues and the Bush administration?

What will Margaret Spellings do?
In a briefing yesterday, the Secretary of Education said she would make administrative changes to the law if Congress doesn’t make legislative ones. She’s already invited states to propose growth models. What’s next? She’s dropped hints about standardizing the way states calculate high school graduation rates. Will she set a maximum ‘n’ size? Will she allow additional states to switch the sequence of offering school choice and tutoring when intervening in schools failing to make AYP? What other options might she have?

What will the Detroit judge say?
Eduwonk pooh-poohs yesterday’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling to reopen a lawsuit claiming states and districts don’t need to comply with NCLB because it is an unfunded mandate. Yes, courts often pass cases back and forth. But yesterday’s decision revives an issue once thought to be dead. And the majority’s decision suggests they’re buying the plaintiffs’ argument. If the district judge issues a decision in favor of the plaintiffs, that would dramatically bolster states’ and districts’ complaints about funding.

Will Congress come up with money to satisfy districts complaining about the law?
Both Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Reid believe NCLB is inadequately funded. They probably won’t find the money to fully fund the law; the NEA estimates that would take $14.8 billion. Getting that kind of money is unlikely, especially with a president willing to use his veto pen. But how much will they get?

Will the next NEA president maintain a hard-line stance against NCLB?
Just as George Bush must leave the White House in January, Reg Weaver must pack up his office at 1201 16th Street NW. Dennis Van Roekel, the union’s vice president, is running for the job. Given the NEA’s history of promoting vice presidents to the presidency, he must be a favorite to win. His campaign Web site doesn’t mention his stance on NCLB. The election is in July. Maybe we’ll know more by then.

How long will the Hollywood writers’ strike go on?
With the writers on the picket lines, they aren’t available to dream up plot lines that reinforce the common perception that NCLB is punitive and inflexible, as they did in “Family Guy” and “Boston Legal” last month. When the writers return, will they go after the law again?

Right now, I have no answer to these questions. I pose them (to you and to myself) as a way to keep track of the major issues. If anyone has questions to add, send them along.

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.