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NEA: NCLB Draft Needs Heftier Focus on Equity

The National Education Association says it's opposed to the Senate's draft bill to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act, because it doesn't do enough to rectify inequities among high- and low-poverty schools, The Washington Post reports

The union's president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, wants states to publish an "opportunity dashboard," an idea she telegraphed several months ago, that would display inequities in funding, access to experienced teachers, and advanced classes, and require states and districts to help fix them.

As colleague Alyson Klein wrote earlier this year, many of those indicators are already in other federal data collections, but they're not all that easy to find. (To be fair, the Senate proposal would require some additional reporting, such as on teacher inexperience, to be disclosed on state report cards. See my earlier anaylsis of the bill's teacher provisions for the details.) 

Funding inequities are a different matter altogether. The ESEA doesn't address state financing formulas at all—changing that would be a heavy policy lift indeed. District spending, on the other hand, is affected: The "comparability" provision in the ESEA is supposed to require districts to equalize spending between high- and low-poverty schools before they can draw down their Title I funds for disadvantaged kids, but in practice, a loophole in the law basically undercuts that intent. The NEA has signed onto previous proposals to close this loophole, setting it apart from the Amercian Federation of Teachers, which at last glance had not endorsed such a fix.

Still, the union's opposition is somewhat surprising, given that the proposal would reduce the federally required penaties for schools not making adequate progress; would not mandate teacher evaluation based on test scores; and does not include the conservative proposal contained in Sen. Alexander's earlier version that would have allowed Title I funds to follow students to any public or charter school. All of those are key details the NEA pushed for in the bill.

Trying to figure out an organization's strategy around legislation like this can be pretty challenging. On the one hand, this proposal faces an uphill battle, especially in the House, so perhaps the union feels that now is the time to hew closely to its principles. On the other hand, the NEA was largely left out of the drafting of the original bill, way back in 2001; being seen as unwilling to compromise could backfire. 

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