An update on revising No Child Left Behind

Congress is slowly moving forward on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education ACT (No Child Left Behind in its most recent iteration.) Today’s Education Week Update includes a useful review of what’s happening on the legislative front.

As I’ve mentioned before, we continue to see a (to my mind somewhat disturbing) alliance between Republicans who want to reduce the federal role in education and school officials who’d like to see the Feds turn down the heat. The newest House Republican bill “would get rid of the Adequate Yearly Progress provision, and allow states to craft their own accountability systems. Schools would be able to come up with their own improvement strategies. They wouldn’t have to offer free tutoring or school choice. But schools would still test students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Testing in science would become voluntary though.”

Revising Adequate Yearly Progress to establish more realistic and achievable standards makes a lot of sense to me. Scrapping it altogether and letting states decide what constitutes sufficient progress makes me more nervous. So does the education policy via waiver approach that the Obama administration is solidifying with today’s announcement that ten states will receive No Child Left Behind waivers.

By the way, I like the waiver criteria. As described in another Education Week article: “In order to secure waivers from the law, states have to agree to adopt “college- and career-ready” standards, such as the Common Core State Standards approved by 46 states and the District of Columbia; put in place new systems for evaluating teachers and principals; and come up with aggressive plans to improve the performance of low-performing schools. In addition, states will be expected to establish new testing and accountability systems, which set “ambitious but achievable” academic targets, and could account for growth in student academic progress over time. Those systems should also include interventions tailored to the needs of specific student populations.”

Again, what makes me nervous aren’t the waiver standards themselves but the blithe willingness to end-run the legislative process . . and the potential for political abuse.

Of course we could simply follow the Republican strategy to its logical conclusion and scrap federal aid to education. But if we ARE going to hand federal tax dollars over to schools, then I think some kind of accountability makes sense. And I think that accountability should be spelled out in law, not decided on a case by case basis that open the whole process to arbitrary decision-making or highly-politicized bargaining.

Here is a link to the article about ESEA reauthorization:

And here’s a link to another Education Week article about the NCLB waivers:

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