I had a nice chat this weekend with Christy Levings, the chair of the NEA's Committee on ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is now called the No Child Left Behind Act).
Levings took the job after the former committee head, Becky Pringle, advanced to the NEA Secretary-Treasurer spot. She hails from Kansas, where she headed up the state affiliate for two terms.
We had a chance to talk a bit about her work for the committee, which is now working on helping state leaders prepare for the reauthorization of the federal education law, primarily through the NEA's Positive Agenda for NCLB (find it here).
In Levings' view, NCLB's testing requirements have gotten away from the philosophy of the ESEA. The original law, she said, was designed to expand opportunities for poor kids and widen the curriculum. Instead the law has done the opposite by squeezing out other subjects and focusing on narrow test prep, she contended.
Levings did praise the law's focus on subgroups of students, such as low-income children, children with disabilities, and students from certain racial and ethnic groups. "It's the only strong point of NCLB, in my opinion, the conversations around these children," she said. "It's unfortunate that the obsession with testing drove that to a poor spot," she added, referring to the law's requirement that a school must meet testing benchmarks for each subgroup in order to be deemed as making "adequate yearly progress."
She said she thinks the economic-stimulus bill, including the Race to the Top competitive grants to be distributed by Education Department, will help the administration take some new ideas "for a test drive," after which they might be included in the NCLB reauthorization. She thinks it's too early to tell what the administration means by the teacher-evaluation language in the stimulus guidance.