Bipartisan Panel to Study Changes for NCLB

By David J. Hoff — February 21, 2006 3 min read
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Two former governors announced last week that they will lead a bipartisan panel that will recommend changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act before Congress starts work on reauthorizing it next year.

“No Child Left Behind represents a historic opportunity to close the achievement gap and improve achievement for all of our nation’s students,” Roy E. Barnes, Georgia’s governor from 1999 to 2003, said at a news conference in Washington announcing the panel he will lead with Tommy G. Thompson, a former governor of Wisconsin.

“However, this law has become a political lightning rod, receiving both unending criticism and unyielding praise,” added Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, who is an attorney in Atlanta. “Governor Thompson and I are coming together today with the hope of bringing the debate over education reform back to a bipartisan and shared agenda that can build upon the successes of the law and remedy its shortcomings.”

The project will include hearings in which educators and parents can tell the panel, called the Commission on No Child Left Behind, what they like about the law and how they think it should be changed. The panel, which is backed with money from several prominent foundations, will have a staff of four that will conduct what Mr. Barnes called a “rigorous analysis” of data on student achievement and teacher quality.

The 4-year-old No Child Left Behind law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act containing Title I and other federal programs, requires states to assess students in reading and mathematics annually in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school. States must determine whether schools are making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, toward ensuring that all students are proficient in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year.

The law has prompted complaints that its AYP rules unfairly label schools as needing of improvement. The law requires schools to break down achievement data by racial, demographic, and socioeconomic subgroups in every grade, and show progress for each group.

Foundation Support

But the law’s defenders—starting with President Bush, who made it one of his top domestic priorities—say such stringent accountability requirements are necessary to ensure that schools are providing a good education for all students.

“We want to hear about the successes, and failures, of the law so that we can determine what needs to be maintained, reformed, improved, or eliminated,” said Mr. Thompson, a Republican who was Wisconsin’s governor from 1987 to 2001 and the U.S. secretary of health and human services during Mr. Bush’s first term.

“We will also keep an open mind,” he said, “about new concepts that might need to be added to the law to make it work more effectively.”

The commission plans to make its recommendations by early 2007. Congress is scheduled to complete the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind next year, but federal lawmakers routinely fail to meet deadlines for finishing such work, sometimes by more than a year.

The panel “will play a valuable role in the public discussion of how to improve the law,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a statement. Sen. Alexander, a former secretary of education, chairs the Senate education committee’s Education and Early Childhood Development Subcommittee, which will oversee the reauthorization.

The Aspen Institute, a Washington think tank that promotes nonpartisan dialogue on public policy, will administer the Commission on No Child Left Behind. Mr. Thompson and Mr. Barnes are the only members so far.

Financial support will come from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation. The project will have a budget of $2.5 million, said Jennifer Adams, a spokeswoman for the commission.

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2006 edition of Education Week as Bipartisan Panel to Study Changes for NCLB


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