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NCLB Panel Calls for Federal Role in Setting National Standards

By David J. Hoff — February 13, 2007 3 min read
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Congress should set up a process to establish national academic standards and tests that states could adopt as their own or use as a model for improving their current standards, a high-profile bipartisan panel says in a report released today.

Lawmakers also should appropriate $400 million over four years for states to create data systems to track individual students’ academic growth from year to year and determine the effectiveness of individual teachers, the Commission on No Child Left Behind urges in its final report.

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The complete report is available to download.

Watch a Webcast of the commission’s release of final recommendations for the reauthorization of NCLB. Posted by the Aspen Institute.

“We think the time has come for national standards,” Roy E. Barnes, a co-chairman of the panel convened by the Aspen Institute, a Washington think tank, and a former governor of Georgia, said in an interview. “Fairness requires—particularly in math, science, and reading—that there be national standards.”

The panel recommends that the federal government convene a group of experts to write model standards and tests using the proficiency definitions for the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress. States would have the option of either adopting those standards and tests or revising their own assessments to measure the content of the national standards. The states could also keep their own academic standards.

“To keep the public informed about states’ expectations,” the report says, the U.S. Department of Education should issue periodic reports comparing every state’s standards and tests with the ones in the national model.

Building a Data System

The Aspen Institute panel spent almost a year developing its 74 recommendations for changes to the 5-year-old federal school law. Over the past year, the panel conducted five hearings across the country, as well as six roundtable discussions in Washington and numerous visits to schools. The 15-member panel was designed to provide a consensus of policymakers and educators on all levels, as well as Democrats and Republicans. Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, shared the leadership of the panel with Tommy G. Thompson, a Republican and a former Wisconsin governor, who served as the U.S. secretary of health and human services during President Bush’s first term.

The chairmen and ranking Republicans of the House and Senate education committees attended the Feb. 13 release of the commission’s 230-page report at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

“This is a very important panel because of its independence,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told reporters after the event.

Because the commission’s membership doesn’t represent a specific political or vocational constituency, he added, “it brings the ability to ask: What’s the right thing to do here?”

In a statement today, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said the commission’s report reaffirms the NCLB law’s “core principles, including accountability, high standards, and having all students reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.”

Mr. Barnes said the report is designed to provide a bipartisan blueprint for federal lawmakers to use while debating the future of the NCLB law, which Congress is scheduled to renew this year.

“It provides a framework for quick action by Congress,” said Mr. Barnes, who was Georgia’s governor from 1999 to 2003.

Most Washington observers believe Congress is likely to delay action on the law until 2008 or even later, although President Bush has called for it to be reauthorized on schedule this year, and work on it has begun in the education committees.

In addition to national standards, the Aspen panel recommends that the federal government spend $100 million a year for four years to provide states with the money they need to upgrade their student- and teacher-data systems.

With the money, the states could create data warehouses and analytic tools to track every student’s academic progress from one year to the next. With such capabilities, all states could use student growth to determine whether schools and districts were making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the federal law.

Under current AYP rules, schools and districts are graded by comparing the scores of grade cohorts of children, not individuals’ progress.

The new data systems also would be used to determine teachers’ effectiveness, the commission says. In a separate proposal, the panel suggests that principals evaluate teachers using students’ test-score data. If teachers failed to meet the law’s definition of effectiveness for seven consecutive years, they would need to transfer to a school that doesn’t receive money under the $12.7 billion Title I program. Title I, the NCLB law’s largest program, provides compensatory education for disadvantaged students.

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