House Republicans released a pair of bills today that would go the furthest of any proposal yet in dismantling the federal accountability at the heart of the decade-old No Child Left Behind Act.
The proposals would squelch the federal role in intervening in schools that miss achievement targets, require teacher evaluations, and give districts significant new funding flexibility.
This is the third major proposal for revising the NCLB law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Act. The others include a bipartisan ESEA renewal bill that passed out of the Senate last year, and the Obama administration's plan to grant state waivers from key parts of the NCLB law. It's important to note that this is a discussion draft and could change.
The Politics: Unlike the Senate bill, the House version is a Republican only-affair. Kline had been talking to the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. George Miller of California, but those discussions broke down.
It's tough to say what the partisan nature of the bill means for its political future. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee, and the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he won't move his bill further along in the process until there is bipartisan legislation passed in the House.
So, for folks who want to NCLB reauthorized sooner rather than later, it's probably not a good sign that the House is starting off on a partisan note. Will other Democrats go for the measure even if Miller doesn't? And how much Democratic support in the House would be enough for Harkin to move his bill? That remains to be seen.
Already Miller has made it known he isn't happy with the proposal. He said:
"The draft language abandons students, parents, and taxpayers alike by failing to hold school systems accountable for improving student achievement. It walks away from the broad consensus reached throughout the country that our schools must prepare students to graduate college-ready and career-ready. It undermines programs for our most vulnerable students, shirking the civil rights responsibilities of the federal government. It eliminates critical programs and funding that promote a balanced education such as those that create a well-rounded curriculum or wrap-around services for students. Additionally, the Kline draft removes critical assurances to taxpayers that states and districts maintain education funding."
But, in an editorial published on CNN.com, Kline said this is the right direction for the 10-year-old law.
"No Child Left Behind taught us that parents, teachers and state and local leaders are more suited to address students' needs than a one-size-fits-all accountability system developed by Washington bureaucrats," Kline wrote. "It's time to put control back in the hands of those who interact daily with our children."
Similarities: There is some common ground between the House and Senate approaches. Like the bill that passed with bipartisan support out of the Senate education committee last year - and like the administration's waiver proposal - the draft would scrap the law's signature yardstick Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP - while still requiring districts to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And test score data would continue to be disaggregated by student subgroup.
Schools would no longer have to test students in science, however, which would be a change from current law.
And, as in the Senate bill, and the administration's waiver proposal, states would get big say in intervening in most schools that miss achievement targets. Under all three proposals, schools would no longer be required to use the federally-mandated interventions of free tutoring and school choice, for instance.
But there are significant differences between the House GOP vision for overhauling the law and the Senate's bill.
•States would have to develop standards that prepare kids for college or a career. But under the bill, the secretary would be violating federal law if he supported efforts like the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
•The House draft doesn't include any sort of federal interventions for schools that states say are in the bottom five percent, performance-wise. Both the Senate bill and the administration's waiver package want to see specific steps taken for those schools
•The House draft doesn't set aside another percentage of schools for special attention. That's another difference from the Senate bill, which wants states to focus on schools with persistent achievement gaps. The administration's waiver package wants to see states work to help an additional ten percent of schools that are in danger of slipping into the bottom five percent, performance-wise.
•On teachers, the House draft would scrap the law's highly qualified teacher requirement, which calls for teachers to be certified in their subject area. The Senate bill keeps that requirement in place.
•The House bill would require states and districts to develop local teacher evaluation systems that rely at least in part on student performance, and use more than categories for rating teachers. But the Senate bill only requires teacher evaluations for districts that want to go after competitive money (either through the Teacher Incentive Fund, or Race to the Top.)
•The House would put in place significant new funding flexibility. States and districts wouldn't be required to The House proposal also makes big changes when it comes to funding flexibility for schools. It would scrap the requirement known as maintenance of effort, which calls for states and school districts keep up their own financing for education at a certain level, in order to tap federal funds.
• Also on funding flexibility, the legislation would allow districts to transfer money aimed at one special populations - such as English Language Learners - to another - such as disadvantaged students. Basically, the measure would merge programs aimed migrant students, neglected and delinquent children, English Language Learners, rural students, and Indian kids, into the biggest K-12 program, the Title I program, which helps educate disadvantaged children. Districts could use the funds for any activity authorized under those programs. No money could be transferred out of Title I schools, but extra funds could go to other low-income schools.
This is not the first piece of ESEA overhaul legislation that the House committee has drafted. Last year, a bill eliminating over 40 education programs passed on a party line vote. And a bill giving districts major new funding flexibilities was also approved.
The only bipartisan piece of legislation so far? A bill that would bolster charter schools.