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Miller: Stimulus Changes the Conversation on NCLB

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Schools and the Stimulus

The $100 billion for education programs in the federal economic-stimulus bill gives the new administration and the secretary of education "credibility" with the public and with educators, just as Congress is gearing up to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told me today.

"I really think this changes the conversation dramatically," Miller said. "I think it makes things a lot easier." Miller said he'd like to reauthorize the law, which many educators have criticized as underfunded, this calendar year.

The unprecedented boost for education in the stimulus "tells the country and the education world where the administration would like to go" on K-12 policy, he said. "They would really like to make a substantial change."

During last year's presidential election, education was largely drowned out on the campaign trail by such issues as the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and health care.

But Miller said the stimulus shows that President Barack Obama sees schools as a top priority.

"From the first time I met Barack Obama he made it clear that education was a very, very important part of his growing up and that [he appreciated] the opportunity it provided for him," the committee chairman said.

Miller ran into a brick wall the last time he took a stab at renewing the No Child Left Behind Act. Back in August 2007, he introduced a discussion draft that drew criticism from all parts of the education spectrum, for being too complicated, too tough on schools, or not tough enough, and for including teacher incentive pay.

The draft never even became an official bill and progress on overhauling the law has been stalled ever since.

But Miller thinks that the education world may have become more accepting of policies that helped doom his past effort.

He acknowledged that the controversy's not over on issues like incentive pay. "There are still plenty of people who are skeptical of these things," he said, but added, "It's pretty clear there's a national conversation in support of changing the workplace" for teachers that includes performance pay and new strategies for recruitment and retention.

And Miller said that, during often tense negotiations over the stimulus, Arne Duncan, the incoming Secretary of Education, had plenty of chances to jettison the "reform" oriented pieces from the bill, but stuck by his guns.

"People knew what it would mean if these were accounts were funded" and appropriated money for them anyway, he said.

That sounded to me like Miller fully expects Congress to continue increased support for programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund, state data systems, and probably even Secretary Duncan's new "race to the top fund," which is aimed at rewarding states and districts who are boosting student achievement.

And, in our brief conversation, Miller really stressed the importance of state data systems, and emphasized that they're also a big priority for Duncan. Some educators, including in Miller's home state of California, are wary that state data systems could be used to tie teacher pay to student progress, but it sounds like the education chairman views them as a good way to measure student learning and wants to press full steam ahead.

5 Comments

Thanks! Great info.

Ordinarily my prime complaint is "reformers" who want to oversimplify. But in this case I can't understand why Miller doesn't recognize that his 435 page idea is far too complicated.

I still don't understand why we don't adopt Diane Ravitch's proposal to cut the Gordian Knot by setting high standards for instruction and assessment and then using them for decision-making, not accountability purposes.

I wish Miller and the Obama administration would agree to throw out NCLB and sit down and craft a new federal education bill that facilitates local communities to strengthen their schools rather than increases the top down "command and control" of education.

On one hand you've got the Feds still trying to legitimize the industrial model of education, while pundits are trying to establish a "McDonald's" solution.

NCLB requires all students of the same age to be proficient, disregarding their diversity, and pundits want to put all the elements of a super-teacher into a box and ship it out to every classroom.

For realistic insights see www.educateforachange.com

It is nice that fuller funding is finally being proposed for N.C.L.B. but missing is any real evidence of the effectiveness of the law itself on improving education. Higher achievement scores on standardized tests do not show a clear rise in actual learning. Scientifically speaking, the results of such testing are questionable. There is very little to no quality control over the "experiment" when the only measure used is the output. There is no measure of the input, or causes of achievement.

Einsteinian insanity is defined as "doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome." Spending more money educating students in the same way will simply produce more of the same. As for assessments being able to chart student's learning, college and workplace remediation demands would seem to back up the results. If this funding is not supported by significant levels of accountability (ie, spent only on those programs and activities that are scientifically proven to produce results) the result will simply be a more expensive process of "doing the same thing over and over." Every state, district and school should produce a plan that details how the money will be spent, what the resulting expectations are, how results will be measured, and what contingencies are in place if progress is not being made. When the plan term is over, results must be thoroughly evaluted and adjustments made as necessary. Our nation's educators are receiving a large gift, funded by economically battered taxpayers, and must be accountable for measurable results.

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