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Miller: Stimulus Changes the Conversation on NCLB

By Alyson Klein — February 13, 2009 2 min read

The $100 billion for education programs in the federal economic-stimulus bill gives the new administration and the secretary of education “credibility” with the public and with educators, just as Congress is gearing up to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told me today.

“I really think this changes the conversation dramatically,” Miller said. “I think it makes things a lot easier.” Miller said he’d like to reauthorize the law, which many educators have criticized as underfunded, this calendar year.

The unprecedented boost for education in the stimulus “tells the country and the education world where the administration would like to go” on K-12 policy, he said. “They would really like to make a substantial change.”

During last year’s presidential election, education was largely drowned out on the campaign trail by such issues as the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and health care.

But Miller said the stimulus shows that President Barack Obama sees schools as a top priority.

“From the first time I met Barack Obama he made it clear that education was a very, very important part of his growing up and that [he appreciated] the opportunity it provided for him,” the committee chairman said.

Miller ran into a brick wall the last time he took a stab at renewing the No Child Left Behind Act. Back in August 2007, he introduced a discussion draft that drew criticism from all parts of the education spectrum, for being too complicated, too tough on schools, or not tough enough, and for including teacher incentive pay.

The draft never even became an official bill and progress on overhauling the law has been stalled ever since.

But Miller thinks that the education world may have become more accepting of policies that helped doom his past effort.

He acknowledged that the controversy’s not over on issues like incentive pay. “There are still plenty of people who are skeptical of these things,” he said, but added, “It’s pretty clear there’s a national conversation in support of changing the workplace” for teachers that includes performance pay and new strategies for recruitment and retention.

And Miller said that, during often tense negotiations over the stimulus, Arne Duncan, the incoming Secretary of Education, had plenty of chances to jettison the “reform” oriented pieces from the bill, but stuck by his guns.

“People knew what it would mean if these were accounts were funded” and appropriated money for them anyway, he said.

That sounded to me like Miller fully expects Congress to continue increased support for programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund, state data systems, and probably even Secretary Duncan’s new “race to the top fund,” which is aimed at rewarding states and districts who are boosting student achievement.

And, in our brief conversation, Miller really stressed the importance of state data systems, and emphasized that they’re also a big priority for Duncan. Some educators, including in Miller’s home state of California, are wary that state data systems could be used to tie teacher pay to student progress, but it sounds like the education chairman views them as a good way to measure student learning and wants to press full steam ahead.