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Where Does the Edu-World Stand on the Bipartisan NCLB Rewrite?

By Lauren Camera — April 13, 2015 4 min read
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Education stakeholders are weighing in ahead of Tuesday’s Senate education committee markup of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind rewrite.

While there has been lots of applause for Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the committee, for their ability to broker a legislative compromise, organizations are writing to the committee and pushing out policy critiques of the measure in an effort to highlight their specific—and sometimes wonky—priorities.

Here is where several of the major players stand:

A group of 41 civil rights and other education advocates sent a letter to Alexander and Murray to push back on what they see as a lack of accountability in the bipartisan bill. The jist of their letter: “While we applaud your bipartisan effort to significantly improve the discussion draft offered in January, we believe that the bill must be improved by: strengthening accountability for student outcomes; providing additional data on student groups; addressing disparities in resources; and providing a more meaningful federal role.” Read more here.

Also on Monday, a coalition of civil rights and business groups joined forces in sending a letter to Alexander and Murray asking them to beef up the bill’s accountability systems by requiring states to identify chronically low-performing schools and schools where any subgroup of students fails to meet state-established goals. They also want the measure to limit the weight of additional indicators in accountability systems that are not direct measures of student learning, and add language that ensures the Secretary of Education has authority to enforce the law when states and districts have not met their legal obligations. The coalition includes: the Education Trust, Democrats for Education Reform, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Council of La Raza, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Business Roundtable, and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.

The two national teachers’ unions are singing somewhat different tunes when it comes to the Alexander-Murray bill. The 3 million-member National Education Association wants a revised law to push harder on exposing and rectifying inequities in funding and teacher quality, explained my colleague Stephen Sawchuk over on the Teacher Beat. Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers is supporting the bill, writing in a press release: “Their framework restores ESEA’s original intent of mitigating poverty and addressing education equity. It moves away from the increasingly counterproductive focus on sanctions, high-stakes tests, federalized teacher evaluations and school closings.”

The Alliance for Excellent Education is calling for senators to strengthen the accountability provisions for low-performing schools by requiring states to target resources and focus reform on high schools with a graduation rate at or below 67 percent.

“The bill provides extensive flexibility to states on how to respond [to low-performing schools], but it does not actually require states to act, instead permitting states to decide when, if, and where to intervene,” writes Bob Wise, the Alliance’s president and former West Virginia governor and U.S. Representative, in this blog post. “That is like equipping the fire department with new tools and alarms, then giving each fire house the option to choose which fires to put out.”

Wise’s organization also joined up with the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Indian Education Association, the National Urban League, and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center on a letter to committee members that also argued the compromised legislation lacks meaningful subgroup accountability. More on that here.

Third Way released a handy memo that highlights five major policy areas, explains how those policies diverge from current law, and provides a brief analysis of what might be lacking. For instance, regarding giving states the flexibility to design their own accountability systems, the organization writes: “In particular, the lack of specificity about how much different factors should weigh in the accountability system (including average performance versus performance among subgroups) raises concerns that states will choose to turn a blind eye to students who need assistance the most—which history has shown their proclivity to do—without facing any repercussions.”

Over at the conservative Heritage Foundation, analyst Lindsey Burke slammed the measure for failing to eliminate “the dozens upon dozens of ineffective and duplicative programs that have accrued over the decades, favoring consolidation of these programs over elimination and attendant spending cuts.” More on her take here.

The National School Boards Association wrote the education committee urging members “to oppose any proposals supporting vouchers or tuition tax credits to non-public schools” throughout the legislative process. You can read their entire letter here.