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Debate on Testing Mandate for Science Is Deferred

I'll say it right up front. I was WRONG.

Early this week, I wrote that the House education committee was going to debate an amendment to save the science-testing mandate in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But the panel never took up the issue during its deliberations on legislation to revamp the law. (Actually, in my defense, the headline signaled it was a given, but the blog said the amendment was "on the agenda.")

So, what happened? Well, it seems that STEM education advocates became concerned that they lacked the votes to win approval of the measure, which Republican Rep. Richard Hanna of New York was planning to offer.

(For the big picture on Tuesday's committee action, check out the excellent blog post over at Politics K-12.)

Apparently, Republicans, who hold a majority in the House, were not united in supporting the testing amendment. And the committee's Democrats had decided to vote "no" on all GOP amendments to the legislation to reauthorize NCLB (a.k.a. the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) during the panel's Feb. 28 meeting.

"What we found was there was a big group of Republican members interested in supporting [the amendment], but not all of them," said James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition, a broad-based advocacy group. (Although Brown declined to name names, one lobbyist told me the main obstacle was apparently the committee's chairman, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.)

Brown added that even if all Republicans had been in favor, the fact that Democrats were not in a mood to support any GOP amendments soured their enthusiasm.

"Once it became clear that Democrats would hold firm," he said, "we counseled the members to back off. ... We don't want to make a partisan issue of STEM."

So, the Republican bill—ultimately approved on a party-line vote—retains language that would strip out NCLB's requirement for states to test students in science at least three times before they graduate.

As I reported recently, the STEM Education Coalition has made clear its strong opposition to doing away with the federal requirement, arguing that it "sends a powerful, negative, and unambiguous signal to U.S. schools and the public that science ... is no longer a national priority."

So, does this mean the science testing requirement in NCLB is going away? Nope. Not yet, anyway. First off, if and when the NCLB bill reaches the House floor, an amendment to restore the science-testing mandate is very likely. (Note that I did NOT say it will happen.) Second, the bill approved by the education committee in the Senate (controlled by Democrats) retains the science-testing mandate. Third, all of this work on the ESEA may simply be a case of going through the motions anyway, as most analysts have concluded that Congress is highly unlikely to deliver a bipartisan bill to President Obama's desk this year.

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