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Department Kicks Off NCLB Discussion at Packed Forum

By Alyson Klein — September 24, 2009 2 min read
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More than 200 advocates from a wide range of groups packed the U.S. Department of Education today to hear Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outline his priorities for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- better known over the last eight years as the No Child Left Behind Act.

Duncan didn’t say anything he hasn’t said before, but he used the high-profile forum to stress some priorities, including extended learning time, using data to track student and teacher effectiveness, and systems to better measure individual student progress. (That’s code for growth models, which are expected to be a given in this reauthorization.)

Two assistant secretaries - Carmel Martin and Thelma Melendez - also outlined the department’s extensive process for getting feedback from stakeholders, including education associations, the business community, practitioners and parents, to help inform the development of the department’s legislative draft. Apparently, there will be five more meetings this fall in Washington, including two next month, two in November and one in December. And the department is seeking written comments at

After the kick-off, the department got right to the feedback, hearing from about two dozen different advocates, including school superintendents, representatives of community organizations, the business community, and unions, as well as proponents of arts education and public school facilities.

No major surprises from those comments, though they were a good sampling of the broad range of opinions the department is likely to hear as it gets going on what is sure to be a pretty tricky reauthorization.

Charles Weis, a superintendent from California said he was worried that the assessments used in the current NCLB law don’t do a good enough job of measuring skills like critical thinking - a perennial, but important, criticism of NCLB. And lots of folks brought up the importance of making sure that schools don’t focus too heavily on math and reading - the subjects students are tested in annually - to the exclusion of social studies, arts, and other subjects. Others voiced support for making prekindergarten a key part of reauthorization. And community-based organizations made it clear that they want their voices to be heard along with national groups.

Reginald Felton, the director of federal relations at the National School Boards Association, asked the $64 question: When does the department actually expect to get its draft together? He said a new law is urgent because school districts around the country are currently subject to the sanctions in the original law, which Felton described as “costly and severe.”

Martin, who worked on the 2002 authorization of NCLB as a top staffer on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said that the department doesn’t have a specific time line yet for releasing a draft, but is hoping to move quickly. Melendez suggested that districts look into some of the waivers the department has proposed.

Much more on the speech and the comments to come, so keep checking back at

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