In the politics of the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress’ new members are the wild card.
Will they listen to local educators’ complaints about the 5-year-old law’s testing-and-accountability rules? Or will they buy into a commitment on the part of many national policymakers to raising student achievement so all students are proficient in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year?
The answers to those questions won’t be known until Congress starts debating a specific bill to reauthorize the NCLB law. Meanwhile, the newly elected members will be hearing what their local educators say.
Working with the teachers’ unions and other education groups, the first-term members are participating in telephone “town hall” meetings where their constituents can air their grievances against or support for the federal education law.
“They are a key voting block,” Greg Speed, a spokesman for Communities for Quality Education, the group organizing the events, said of the first-term members of Congress.
“They didn’t have the opportunity to vote on No Child Left Behind,” Mr. Speed said. “We felt it was important to talk with those members about what’s happening in their districts.”
So far, four such “town hall” phone calls have occurred, with one more set for this week. Another 12 events have been scheduled, Mr. Speed said. The Washington-based CQE hopes to organize an event for all 56 freshmen in the House of Representatives.
To help organize the calls, CQE is relying on statewide education groups. In most states, that includes the state teachers’ union.
The unions have criticized the NCLB law’s ambitious achievement goals and have joined with other education groups to seek major changes to its accountability measures. (“Views of AFT, NEA on Reauthorization Getting Closer,” March 21, 2007.)
Rep. Timothy J. Walz, D-Minn., a former high school teacher and union member, was scheduled to hear from voters about the NCLB law on April 23.
“He’s supportive of the fact that [the law] has started a dialogue on accountability,” said Meredith A. Salsbery, a spokeswoman for Rep. Walz. “But he obviously has concerns about its punitive measures.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007 edition of Education Week