Federal

House Panel Considers Federal Role in Standards

By Alyson Klein — April 29, 2009 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

Key state officials, congressional leaders, and the president of the one of the national teachers’ unions all agreed at a hearing today that the United States needs to move toward common academic standards to stay competitive in an increasingly globalized economy—and that states must be the vehicle for the change.

What was not as clear is what the federal role should be in adding momentum to the effort already under way in about 40 states to move toward a set of standards that is more uniform and rigorous.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, which held the hearing on the topic, said he thinks states should take primary responsibility for moving the ball forward, but emphasized that they have an important task on their hands.

“We’re placing a very big bet on the states,” Mr. Miller said at the hearing, the first held by the new Congress to examine the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. “My sense is that we’re placing the bet in the right place to get this done.”

In contrast, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the top Republican on the committee, was much more explicit in saying that the federal government should step back from work already progressing in the states.

“There’s no reason why states can’t work together to create their own common academic standards,” he said. “In fact, states have already begun.” He mentioned recent major developments, including a meeting earlier this month in Chicago, led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, in which state education leaders discussed moving toward such standards.

“As far as I know, the federal government didn’t initiate these meetings, nor dictate their outcome,” Mr. McKeon said. “And they didn’t need to. The states took care of it all by themselves. … That’s how it should be, and I urge members of this committee to encourage these efforts—by staying out of their way.”

Who’s ‘Driving the Train?’

The No Child Left Behind Act was due for reauthorization in 2007. Under the law, which passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support before before it took effect in early 2002, states must set their own standards and test students in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

In many states, a high number of students score at the “proficient” level on state tests, but perform poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, known as “the nation’s report card.” That has led some policymakers to suggest that states should adopt a common, rigorous set of standards, and that Congress should encourage the move as it works to renew the law.

During the hearing, one state leader saw an important, albeit limited, role for the federal government. T. Kenneth James, the commissioner of education in Arkansas and the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, agreed with Rep. McKeon that state leaders are likely to be much more wary about a movement toward common standards, if it appears to come with a federal mandate attached.

But he said Congress and the U.S. Department of Education should focus on using the “bully pulpit” to help bolster the movement and consider providing federal resources, particularly for assessments. “I think it can be done without the perception that the federal government is driving the train,” Mr. James said.

But James B. Hunt Jr., a former governor of North Carolina who is now foundation chairman of the Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy in Durham, N.C., said getting states to agree on a set of national standards is going to be an uphill battle. He said the federal government should provide structure, continuing to check in with states to ensure that the process is running smoothly, and perhaps set a timeline for fitting certain pieces of the puzzle in place.

Rep. Miller said states that aren’t interested in getting on board shouldn’t be allowed to water down the endeavor.

“My concern is that the Chicago meeting really mature into an effort of the willing. States [would be better off] deciding not to participate than to drag this process down,” he said.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, left, testifies before the House Committee on Education and Labor during a hearing on common academic standards in Washington on April 29.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a 1.3 million-member union, was supportive of the idea of more common standards, saying a student’s educational prospects shouldn’t be dependent on his or her ZIP Code. But she emphasized that teachers should play a role in the process of crafting standards.

A Divided GOP

Despite the broad agreement among the panelists, the hearing hinted at some of the political difficulty in getting the federal government involved in the common-standards movement. Committee Republicans, for instance, seem sharply divided on the issue.

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., said he was worried that the undertaking could lead to a national curriculum and ultimately put states and districts in “a straitjacket.” If the effort proceeds with significant leadership from Washington, “everything is going to be run out of the all-knowing, all-wise” federal government, he said.

But other GOP leaders appeared much more receptive to the idea.

Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, a former governor, said more uniform standards could act as a competitive tool for states. And Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers of Michigan, a scientist, touted a piece of legislation he introduced with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., to produce voluntary national standards for mathematics and science.

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2009 edition of Education Week as House Panel Considers Federal Role in Standards

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

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 Lawmakers Press CDC About Teachers' Union Influence on School Reopening Guidance
Republican senators asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky about reports a teachers' union had input on guidance for schools on COVID-19.
3 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce then-President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Biden Taps Ex-Obama Aide Roberto Rodriguez for Key Education Department Job
Rodriguez served as a top education staffer to President Barack Obama and currently leads a teacher-advocacy organization.
3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
Getty
Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP
Federal Education Department Kicks Off Summer Learning Collaborative
The Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative will boost programs for students acutely affected by COVID-19 in 46 states.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 3, 2021.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via TNS