The waiting game continues for NCLB reauthorization

It was nearly one year ago when I met with an official from the U.S. Department of Education for an informal discussion of a variety of education initiatives, including reauthorization of the Elementary  and Secondary Education Act, better known as “No Child Left Behind.” At that time, I was assured the U.S. DOE was confident that Congress would vote on the reauthorization sometime in 2010.

One year and a new Congress later, any progress (if it has occurred) can be measured only incrementally.

On March 2, a group of 11 moderate Democratic senators attempted to jump-start the process by releasing a plan to overhaul NCLB. Specifically, the group wants to:

  1. Change the accountability system at the heart of the law—Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP—so it focuses on student growth over time, as opposed to the current system, which basically compares different cohorts of students to one another.
  2. Stick with the Obama administration's four optionsfor turning around the lowest-performing schools, which include steps such as turning a school over to a charter operator, closing the school, removing half the teachers, and/or putting in a new instructional program, and extending learning time while beefing up professional development.
  3. Ensure that colleges of education are held accountable for the performance of their graduates and provide competitive money to create and scale-up promising teacher prep programs.
  4. Fix the so-called "comparability loophole" in Title I, so that schools would have to report salary data for teachers in addition to other expenses.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is also doing his best to keep ESEA reauthorization on Congress’ front burner. On March 9, Duncan warned Congress that his department estimates 82 percent of America's schools could fail to meet education goals set by No Child Left Behind this year. Duncan urged Congress to fix the law before the next school year begins so that the schools and students most at risk get the help they need.

“No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now,” said Duncan during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk,” Duncan added.

Following Duncan’s remarks, U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) issued a joint statement that both demonstrated support for reforming NCLB, but also indicated they won’t be rushed into making hasty changes to the law. 

"We appreciate the opportunity to discuss with President Obama and our Senate counterparts the challenges facing America’s classrooms,” The GOP leaders said. “Although we have our different approaches, everyone agrees current law is broken and in need of repair. The status quo is failing both students and taxpayers;  it is time we reconsidered the role of the federal government in our schools.  As we work to develop reforms that focus on what’s best for students, parents, teachers, and communities, we are engaging our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and listening to the concerns of state and local education leaders. For the sake of our children's future and the strength of the American workforce, we must take the time necessary to get this right."