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AAE Federal Update January 9, 2012
posted by: Alix | January 09, 2012, 05:00 AM   

NCLB Turns 10 

After years of controversy, headaches in states and districts, and heated rhetoric from politicians on all sides, No Child Left Behind, the cornerstone piece of federal education legislation turned 10-years-old this week. What began as one of the nation's largest and most publicized pieces of bi-partisan legislation championed by then President George W. Bush and unlikely liberal ally, the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has produced mixed results and long delays in reform for American students and teachers.

The road to a ten year anniversary has been eventful, particularly in 2011. The same Senate committee that once produced the bill approved a revamped version of the education bill last year, but deep-rooted partisanship and union influences stalled the measure in Congress before the holidays. Meanwhile in the House of Representatives, their piece meal approach had proved too slow to make in impact in 2011. In this new election year, insiders predict that there is little political will for a compromise despite an all out consensus for change.

Frustrated by Congress' limited actions, President Obama introduced a waiver plan that would allow states to circumvent the law in exchange for key reforms, a provision that has angered Congress, but has proved popular amongst states looking for regulatory relief.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a former education secretary, said he's hopeful Congress will do what's right and update No Child Left Behind despite the political posturing. "What we ought to do is set new realistic goals for it so that schools can have those kinds of goals, and most importantly we need to move out of Washington and back to states and local communities decisions about whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing."

On the heels of the anniversary, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan penned an op-ed for the Washington Post that also promoted flexibility for schools without sacrificing accountability.

While all sides debate the nuances of the law, many are in agreement that our system needs to strike an appropriate balance between accountability and flexibility and local control. With the 2012 election fast approaching, most predict that any full-scale overhaul will result after a more than likely contentious presidential election.

House Education and Workforce Committee Introduces Accountability, Teacher Effectiveness Legislation

U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) last week released two pieces of draft legislation to reform current elementary and secondary education law, or No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The proposals are designed to improve accountability, increase flexibility, and support more effective teachers in the classroom.

"The upcoming 10 year anniversary of No Child Left Behind provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing our nation's classrooms," said Chairman Kline in a statement. "I'm pleased to release draft legislation that will change the status quo and put more control into the hands of the teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents who know the needs of children best. This is not final legislation. It is a step forward in the ongoing debate on the best way to improve education in America.

According to the committee, the Student Success Act takes into account failures under NCLB accountability provisions. While the law provided stronger indicators and tracking, Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is a one-size-fits-all metric that restricts states' and school districts' ability to appropriately gauge student learning and tailor curriculum accordingly. The Student Success Act offers solutions by:

  • Returning responsibility for student achievement to states, school districts, and parents, while maintaining high expectations.
  • Providing states and school districts greater flexibility to meet students' unique needs.
  • Maintaining and strengthening long-standing protections for state and local autonomy.

With regard to the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, the legislation is designed to streamline the current 80 redundant programs under NCLB and allow the federal dollars to be attached to flexible programs that promote choice. The legislation offers solutions by:

  • Providing information to parents on teacher effectiveness
  • Increasing school choice and engaging parents in their child's education
  • Increasing state and local innovation to reform public education
  • Eliminating unnecessary and ineffective federal programs
The Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act builds on the committee's previous legislative efforts to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has been due for reauthorization since 2007. The House has already passed charter school legislation authored by the committee and is waiting to vote on several smaller bills. The House of Representatives bill­-by-bill approach has been in stark contrast to the Senate's large scale package that cleared committee before the holidays.

Republican Presidential Candidates Outline their Education Platforms

As the race for the Republican nominee for president heats up with debates, primaries, and caucuses, the frontrunners are beginning to make their education positions known to prospective voters. Though education has so far played a minor role in a campaign heavily focused on economic issues, the narrowing field includes candidates with similar views on scaling back the federal role in education, with a great divide with regard to experience.

Front runner and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has an extensive record on education from his tenure as governor with his campaign detailing a number of specifics. He's championed standardized testing and supported the NCLB law's emphasis on accountability but has also favored a limited federal role in education while advocating for returning power to the states.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum voted for the current ten-year-old NCLB law while in the Senate, but now maintains it was not a good idea. He has also championed special education issues and autism research, but contends that a top-down education system is not serving parents well. Known as staunch social conservative, his views on potential classroom issues such as teaching evolution and school prayer are expected to become factors in his campaign.

In a more extreme view, Texas Congressman Ron Paul has long said the federal government has no place in education and favors abolishing the U.S. Department of Education as well as phasing out federal student loans in the years to come.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has remained quite active in education despite not currently holding office, most recently teaming up with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Revrend Al Sharpton to call for bold education reforms and school choice.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has clashed with President Obama on education policy issues, removing his state from Race to the Top contention. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman once signed a bill requiring his state's accountability system to trump the NCLB law, which ultimately failed due to the state dependence on federal funding.

As the field narrows, education will no doubt become a larger campaign issue, especially as President Obama touts his education accomplishments and programs, including Race to the Top and NCLB regulatory relief waivers.

NCLB Waiver Progress

After limited action on a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) overhaul, and just three months after President Obama and the Department of Education announced a plan to offer greater flexibility from key provisions of NCLB in exchange for a commitment to key reforms, 11 states have currently submitted official requests for waivers.

Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee filed requests based on locally-designed plans to implement college- and career-ready standards; develop rigorous accountability systems that include a focus on low-performing schools and schools with persistent achievement gaps; and, create better systems for developing, supporting, and evaluating teachers and principals. The 11 waiver requests are posted online on the Department of Education's website, along with the names of the peer reviewers who are currently reviewing them. States seeking flexibility in the first round will be notified by mid-January if their proposals are accepted.

Since the President's announcement, 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have signaled their intent to seek flexibility from NCLB. The next deadline for requests is in mid-February and states can also make requests later in the spring.

Despite popularity in the states, the Obama administration's waiver plan has not been met without controversy from House and Senate congressional leaders. While all parties involved, including states and localities are searching for greater flexibility and solutions, congressional insiders cite the plan as an overreach from the executive branch with little regard for a full-scale congressional overhaul.

Blue Ribbon Schools Recognized

Last month, at an awards luncheon in Washington, D.C., Secretary Duncan honored 315 schools and seven principals as 2011 National Blue Ribbon Award winners. "America's long-term economic prosperity and civic engagement depends on our children receiving a world-class education," the Secretary said. "Blue Ribbon Schools are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their success is an example for others to follow."

These awards, named after the former Secretary of Education Terrel Bell and presented by the Department in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Association for Middle-Level Education, honor exceptional leaders who overcome challenging circumstances and maintain committed to providing an excellent education for every student.

Also, as part of the event, the Department's Teacher Ambassador Fellows facilitated roundtable forums with teachers and principals, helping them to collaborate on issues measuring student learning, improving family and community engagement, and engaging teachers in school improvement efforts.

Click here to view a list of the 2011 National Blue Ribbon Schools.

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