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Hill Aides List Priorities for NCLB's Second Act

The Aspen Institute organized a session on Capitol Hill yesterday with the main purpose of prodding Congress to act on NCLB—and soon. "Maybe today we can start the surge on NCLB," said Tommy G. Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and Cabinet secretary under President Bush and a co-chairman of the Aspen's Commission on No Child Left Behind.

The most useful part of the morning for me was to hear from four Capitol Hill aides representing the members who lead the House and Senate education committees. None of them said anything newsworthy, but their comments summarized what the key players are looking for in NCLB Act II.

Here's my quick summary:

Carmel Martin, general counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee:
1. Improve instructional practice in schools.
2. Improve the linkages between parents and school officials (e.g. a Boston program that places parent-coordinators in schools).
3. Address the "dropout crisis."
4. Offer schools resources to expand learning time (again citing a Massachusetts example in which low-performing schools received money to extend the school day).
5. Revise the accountability measures to ensure that states increase the rigor of their standards, to create a "more sophisticated way of measuring progress," and end the "one-size-fits-all" nature of the current system.

Alice Johnson Cain, senior adviser on K-12 issues for Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee:
1. Incorporate growth models in accountability.
2. Include data other than test scores in accountability decisions.
3. Differentiate interventions in schools based on how far short they fall of meeting their goals.
4. Address the "dropout crisis."
5. Improve assessment and accountability for English-language learners and special education students.
6. Improve the quality of tests.

Bonus Quote: "Nothing matters more to George Miller," Cain said, "than getting an outstanding teacher in front of every classroom."

For more, see the committee's list of "six key features" in the next version of NCLB.

Lindsay Hunsicker, aide to Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the senior Republican on the Senate HELP Committee:
1. Maintain the disaggregation of data, a policy that has "pulled kids out of the shadows."
2. Address the unique needs of rural schools and "recognize that the flexibility that they need may be different."

James Bergerson, aide to Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee:
1. Maintain the following elements of the accountability system such as annual testing and the disaggregation of data.
2. Expand parental options for supplemental educational services and school choice.
3. Offer flexibility to states and districts.
4. Include pay-for-performance programs in efforts to improve teacher quality.
5. Add growth models to the accountability systems.
6. Differentiate interventions in schools based on how far they are from their goals.
7. Create policies that requires states to publish "accurate and reliable graduation rates."

These are long lists with lots of overlapping issues. But the overlap doesn't assure that congressional leaders will reach quick consensus. As Cain said: "The motto of this reauthorization has become: The devil's in the details."

And there will be plenty of details to work out.

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