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What Congress Didn't Say About Standards

Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on standards and assessments was most notable for what didn't get talked about: the Obama administration's proposal to tie Title I funding to states' adoption of college- and career-ready standards.

Under the proposal, states could work in a consortium to set such standards, or they could get their institutions of higher education to certify that their own standards were high enough that students wouldn't need remedial coursework. The idea earned accolades from some governors, but generally it was met with either a "we're studying it" or a "no way" from education groups. Members of Congress, who generally aren't shy, haven't had too much to say one way or the other.

And the April 28 hearing was no exception. The Senate committee, which is charged with handling the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, spent more than two hours discussing standards and assessments, and the proposal wasn't even mentioned.

Afterward, I asked the chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, about it. And? He's studying it.

My guess? Democrats in the Senate aren't jazzed up about this, at least the way it's worded now, and are either looking to improve it or aren't gonna go there. If they supported it outright, I think they would have said so. Or at least they would have asked one of the witnesses for a take on the idea.

What's more, Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican on the committee, borrowed a line from his House counterpart, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota. He said he doesn't want to renew the ESEA on some "artificial timeline."

If you'll recall, President Obama called on Congress to reauthorize the law this year and even threw in a proposed $1 billion in bonus cash as an incentive. Sen. Harkin seems to be trying to stick with that timeline: He told me after a hearing earlier this month that he wants to move a bill through the Senate this summer.

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