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Business, Civil Rights Groups Blast Kline's NCLB Proposal

A top GOP lawmaker's plan for rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act amounts to a "rollback" of the law, 38 business, civil rights, and other advocacy organizations said in a letter, sent Jan. 24 to its sponsor.

The draft from U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House education committee, "would thrust us back to an earlier time when states could choose to ignore disparities for children of color, low-income students, English-language learners, and students with disabilities," the letter says.

The letter was signed by a number of organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Federation of Teachers, the Education Trust, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the National Council of La Raza.

Where do the groups' concerns stem from? Under the current law, states have to test students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. They have to set annual achievement goals for all students, including racial minorities, and students in special education. Schools that don't meet those targets are subject to increasingly serious, federal sanctions. Under the Kline plan, states would still have to test students. But they wouldn't have to set goals for student achievement anymore. And they wouldn't have to intervene in schools that aren't making progress with particular subgroups.

The letter shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the debate over the renewal of the ESEA. Most of the same groups released a similar letter in the fall, raising more or less the same concerns about a renewal bill sponsored by U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wy., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate education committee. The Senate measure also doesn't require any special, federally-mandated interventions for schools that don't make progress with subgroup students.

Kline, in a statement, indicates that he doesn't think his proposal amounts to a watering down of accountability for schools:

'"The Student Success Act opens doors for superintendents, teachers, principals, and other education leaders to implement innovative approaches to meet the needs of individual student populations. In no way does the proposal allow states and school districts to shirk the fundamental responsibility of helping every child succeed in the classroom. I am disappointed critics have chosen to disregard this responsible proposal and vilify the motives of state and local leaders—leaders who have been clamoring for exactly the kind of flexibility and opportunity provided in the Student Success Act."

It's important to be clear that Kline's proposal is just a draft. He'll put forth a full-fledged bill soon.

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