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New Education Bills Warrant Consideration

Two competing education bills to revise No Child Left Behind are guaranteed to trigger fierce debate. The first is by Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate education committee, and the second is by Senator Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate education committee.

Although details about both bills are sketchy, I think either of the two is an improvement over No Child Left Behind. I realize that's not saying very much. But compromise is the way most bills ultimately become law. Let's not forget that No Child Left Behind has been up for reauthorization since 2007. We can't continue to rail at the existing law but take no action because no bill is perfect.

Harkin's version, which is 1,150-pages long, is titled the Strengthening America's Schools Act ("Bill to Alter Bush-Era Education Law Gives States More Room," The New York Times, Jun. 5). What I find most appealing about his bill is that it allows states to use portfolios or projects instead of standardized tests. Moreover, it gives states more freedom to determine the steps they can take to turnaround underperforming schools.

Alexander's version, which was introduced just two days after Harkin's, comes in at fewer than 230 pages, and gives states more flexibility than Harkin's ("G.O.P. Bill on Schools Would Set Fewer Rules," The New York Times, Jun. 7). It also does not prescribe what should be included in a state's annual goals. (I intend to weigh in again on both once more details are available.)

I admit it's impossible to ever design a testing system that will please all sides. That's why testing is called the third rail of education reform. But assessment in one form or another is an indispensable part of instruction. Otherwise, how do teachers know if students are learning?
Predictably, the competing bills have already touched off criticism for being either too easy or too tough. I expect to see more polarization of opinion.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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