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NGA Ed. Committee Favors State Leeway in a Renewed ESEA

The National Governor's Association wants Congress to give states lots of running room when it comes to crafting their accountability plans, according to an interim proposal outlining NGA's priorities for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka the No Child Left Behind Act.)

The governors are asking lawmakers to reshape the federal role in K-12, focusing it on sharing information and research, and helping states collaborate on "innovations to better serve students." They like the idea of federal incentives, but not a lot of federal control.

For instance, NGA doesn't want the federal government to dictate how failing schools should be turned around, dealing yet another blow to the department's four School Improvement Grant models, which just about everyone is down on these days.

And it doesn't want the feds pushing any particular set of standards (pretty interesting for the organization that helped make the Common Core State Standards Initiative a reality.)

Interestingly, the proposals call for scrapping maintenance of effort, which requires districts to keep up their spending at a certain level in order to tap federal Title I funds. That same idea is in a draft bill released last month by U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Some folks think the elimination of MOE—a provision that mostly catches the attention of true-blue policy nerds—could end up being a big sleeper issue in the debate over ESEA reauthorization.

Also, the NGA doesn't want to get rid of Race to the Top entirely. But it wants to see the program "reformed" to put more of an emphasis on state collaborations, presumably meaning that more states could get the money.

And NGA wants the department to do a better job of recognizing "differences in capacity of states" to apply for the grants. (Politics K-12 translation: Give rurals a chance. And stop letting Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island—the Race to the Top double-dippers—have all the fun.)

What's not in the recommendations: The proposals are very different from what business and civil rights groups are asking for in the renewal. There's nothing in there, for instance, asking that states and schools be held responsible for the performance of particular subgroups, such as English-language learners.

And there's nothing about encouraging states to tie teacher evaluations to student test-scores. In fact, the "human capital" section is about as broad as it gets—saying simply that the federal government can "accelerate state work to improve teaching."

The proposal shows that NGA, like just about every organization in Washington, has gone through quite a metamorphisis when it comes to K-12 policy. The group released a set of NCLB reauthorization proposals back in 2007 that didn't go nearly as far in scaling back the federal role.

It's important to note that these are "interim" proposals, which means the NGA's education committee has voted to approve them. But they haven't been voted on by the full organization. That will happen at NGA's winter meeting, later this month. (For those wondering whether these recommendations were contentious or sailed through the NGA's education committee—there's no way to tell. The NGA doesn't publish roll call votes taken at its committee meetings.)

Big hat tip to Mike Petrilli, of Flypaper fame, (and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) for the link to the proposals.

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