Our best political experts here at Education Week give bipartisan reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act slim odds of passing this year. (Roughly speaking, none, with a margin of error of +/-0.) But Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and his fellow Democrats have a new NCLB reauthorization bill, and it would do a lot with school climate.
Alyson Klein, over at Politics K-12, gives the full rundown. The first major change is that it would no longer be called No Child Left Behind. It's called the Strengthening America's Schools Act. (So now its critics can start using the phrase "SASAfrass." You're welcome.)
SASA would be a big leap forward in collecting data on school climate. Here's some of what state and local governments would need to add to their accountability report cards:
1. Discipline data with respect to all students in the school for the disciplinary exclusionary categories described in [certain sections] of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;
2. Data regarding pregnant and parenting students in the state;
3. The incidence rates of school violence, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, in-school student suspensions, out-of-school student suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools), and student detentions, for each category;
4. The number of local educational agencies in the state that implement positive behavioral interventions and supports;
5. And the number of local educational agencies in the state that implement school-based mental health programs.
In addition to data collection, SASA would offer explicit protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. And it would also define limits on school security spending.
Hey, that's a lot! No Child Left Behind didn't altogether exclude school climate, but the parts that dealt with such issues typically involved regulations on grant funding. This makes SASA a significant change.
That doesn't mean it's a surprise. The U.S. Department of Education's Safe and Supportive Schools program, which has so far funded school climate measures in 11 states, tracks progress through state report cards. And social-emotional learning played a big part in the District Race to the Top competition. That makes the new bill's provisions a logical next step.
Nevertheless, these are major victories for advocates of student health. And that's coming after President Obama's big speech yesterday focused on student mental health. Between these and the aforementioned federal initiatives, as well as Michelle Obama's Let's Move! program, the federal government is clearly paying more attention to school climate and student behavior.
It would help if they can pass a bill, too.