Federal

House Freshmen Could Be Pivotal on NCLB Renewal

By Alyson Klein — May 15, 2007 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last fall, when New Hampshire social worker Carol Shea-Porter was a long-shot candidate for Congress, she told voters she wanted to scrap the No Child Left Behind Act and get the federal government largely out of the business of school accountability.

Now, U.S. Rep. Shea-Porter, a Democrat who pulled off an upset victory in November, says she’s willing to give a second look to the federal education law that she once referred to as an attempt by right-wing Republicans to “undermine our confidence in our public schools.”

But in taking that second look, she and other freshmen seem likely to have the leverage to help reshape some provisions that concern them. And they’re signaling that their support can’t be taken for granted.

Many of the other 41 freshman Demo-crats in the U.S. House of Representatives criticized the 5-year-old No Child Left Behind law while on the campaign trail as an unfunded federal mandate that forces schools to narrow their instruction so that students can pass standardized tests.

But like their New Hampshire colleague, many of those members are now seeking common ground with key Democratic architects of the NCLB law, most notably Rep. George Miller of California, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. For his part, Rep. Miller must build support among the newest members of his caucus, particularly the 10 freshman Democrats on the education committee, including Rep. Shea-Porter.

The law, which passed Congress with big, bipartisan majorities in late 2001, is up for reauthorization this year.

“I think they’re a key group that he will have to accommodate,” Jack Jennings, a former Democratic counsel to the House education committee, said of Chairman Miller and his new members. “They’re large; they’re the reason the Democrats are in the majority.”

Ear to the Ground

Mr. Jennings, who is now the president of the Center on Education Policy, a research and advocacy group in Washington, said the need to work with freshmen might be part of the reason Rep. Miller has yet to introduce a comprehensive NCLB reauthorization measure.

“I think he would have charged ahead” otherwise, he said.

Freshman members say Rep. Miller is open to their views.

“George Miller has said that at one point he was very resistant to [making] many changes” to the law, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., an education committee member, said in an interview. “But in our discussions with him, he understands that there are things that need to be fixed, and he’s open to a thorough discussion and any ideas” the newcomers present, the freshman congressman said.

Rep. Shea-Porter, who won with 51 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Rep. Jeb Bradley, said she’s had frank conversations with Rep. Miller about her concerns over the NCLB law. He even visited her district last month and met with educators and state lawmakers there.

The congresswoman says she’s willing to see what sort of reauthorization proposals the education committee puts forth before deciding whether to support renewing the law at all.

“I’m in a holding pattern,” she said in an interview last month.

There are nine newly elected U.S. sensators who caucus with the Democrats, but most of them weren’t as critical of the NCLB law during the 2006 campaigns as some House Democrats were.

Despite their desire to reach accord on renewing the NCLB law, many freshman Democrats in the House continue to use heated rhetoric to describe the law. And a few haven’t completely given up on the idea of repealing many of its provisions.

“Reform is definitely on the agenda. Repeal probably is not, but could be if we mount a strong enough effort,” Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said during a conference call last month with voters in his district. The call was sponsored by Communities for Quality Education, a Washington-based education advocacy group.

Other new members expect the law to be reauthorized, but they appear to favor significant changes to it.

Under the law, English-language learners are counted toward a school’s annual achievement targets after they’ve been in U.S. schools for one year. Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, a freshman member of the education committee, said in an interview that she wants to consider giving such students at least three years to learn English before they must be counted for AYP.

Rep. Hirono, who immigrated to the United States from Japan as a child, said she would have “been deemed a dummy” if she had been tested within a year of her arrival.

United Front

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a teacher on leave from Mankato, Minn., said his Democratic colleagues in the freshman class generally feel a “greater sense of urgency” to address issues such as the narrowing of the curriculum and an overemphasis on testing.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. on Jan. 3 in Washington, is a teacher on leave and a House freshman. He said he would vote against renewing the No Child Left Behind Act in its current form.

“Most of them came through really tough elections,” he said. “Many of them very, very much had their ear to the ground for these issues, so they seem to get it.”

Rep. Walz said he would vote against renewing the law in its current form. Among other changes, he would like to see schools be permitted to use multiple measures, including portfolios of student work, to demonstrate learning outcomes.

See Also

Read an interview, view a photo gallery, and watch video of Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn from Teacher Magazine‘s March issue.

But other freshman Democrats were more muted in their comments.

“We can’t afford to return to the status quo that existed before NCLB, but we do have to make improvements to the law that will help us move forward,” Rep. Dave Loebsack of Iowa said during a recent conference call with his constituents.

New members of Congress interested in amending the law may be satisfied by some of the proposals for change that Rep. Miller appears likely to favor anyway, said Cynthia G. Brown, the director of education policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.

Such ideas could include permitting states to use growth models and establishing separate tiers of consequences for schools that miss AYP solely because of a subgroup and those whose student populations as a whole are struggling.

“I think they’ll be a few folks [for whom] that’s not enough,” Ms. Brown said. “But I basically think new members will follow the lead of their chairman.”

Rep. Miller is proposing incentives for schools to improve teacher quality, as well as pushing for more money for Title I. Those moves will help address a major criticism by Democrats that NCLB is underfunded, Ms. Brown said.

Rep. Miller will need to garner as many votes as possible from within his own party, in part because 60 GOP members—including at least four of the 13 freshman Republicans—have signed onto a bill sponsored by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., that would allow states to opt out of NCLB’S accountability requirements.

Rep. Miller was unavailable to comment for this story, his spokesman, Aaron K. Albright, said last week.

House freshmen have their own incentives to work with Rep. Miller, since he is a leading adviser to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. But perhaps more importantly, after more than a decade in the minority, Democrats believe they must present a united front, now that they’re again in control, Mr. Jennings of the Center on Education Policy said.

“They got the message, being out of power, that they can’t fight among themselves,” Mr. Jennings said.

Some opposed the law on campaign trail, but have refined their views

A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2007 edition of Education Week as House Freshmen Could Be Pivotal on NCLB Renewal

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal What’s Behind the Push for a $60K Base Teacher Salary
When reintroduced in Congress, a bill to raise teacher salaries will include money to account for regional cost differences.
5 min read
Teachers from Seattle Public Schools picket outside Roosevelt High School on what was supposed to be the first day of classes, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Seattle. The first day of classes at Seattle Public Schools was cancelled and teachers are on strike over issues that include pay, mental health support, and staffing ratios for special education and multilingual students.
Teachers from Seattle Public Schools picket outside Roosevelt High School on what was supposed to be the first day of classes, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Seattle. The first day of classes at Seattle Public Schools was cancelled and teachers are on strike over issues that include pay, mental health support, and staffing ratios for special education and multilingual students.
Jason Redmond/AP
Federal Teachers Shouldn't Have to Drive Ubers on the Side, Education Secretary Says
In a speech on priorities for the year, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said teachers should be paid competitive salaries.
5 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivers a speech during the “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivers a speech during the “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Federal A Chaotic Start to a New Congress: What Educators Need to Know
A new slate of lawmakers will have the chance to influence federal education policy in the 118th Congress.
4 min read
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks on the House floor after the first vote for House Speaker when he did not receive enough votes to be elected during opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan 3, 2023, in Washington.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 3 following the first round of voting for House Speaker. McCarthy fell short of enough votes to be elected speaker in three rounds of voting on opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Historic Changes to Title IX and School Safety Funding: How 2022 Shaped K-12 Policy
Federal lawmakers sought to make Title IX more inclusive, respond to school shootings, and crack down on corrupt charter schools.
6 min read
Revelers march down Fifth Avenue during the annual NYC Pride March, Sunday, June 26, 2022, in New York.
Revelers march down Fifth Avenue during New York City's annual Pride March in June. Proposed changes to Title IX would explicitly protect students from discrimination based on their gender identity or sexuality.
Mary Altaffer/AP