On February 18, key Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee announced plans for a bipartisan reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In a March 3 hearing, the chairman and the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee both reiterated the goal of a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization in 2010 while praising U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his outreach to both parties and both chambers.
“It’s time to finally do something about the education crisis in this country that impacts our competitiveness and our position as a leader in a global economy,” said Representative George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “President Obama has set a critical goal of producing the most college graduates in the world by 2020. To get there, we will need to reform ESEA so that it fulfills its promise of an excellent education for every student that prepares them for the rigors of college and good jobs.”
Miller commended Duncan for spending time over the last several months meeting with both the Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate as well as the chairs and top Republicans of the education committees in both chambers. He also made clear that the goal was to reauthorize ESEA in 2010.
Representative John Kline (R-MN), top Republican on the committee, echoed Miller’s statement and applauded the bipartisan approach to reauthorizing ESEA. “The fact that we’re working together in a bipartisan, bicameral way with the White House and with the department, starting with a black piece of paper to see what we can do is absolutely the right process … I applaud that and thank [Secretary Duncan] for it.”
Kline provided a brief outline of Republican priorities for a revised ESEA. Specifically, he listed restoring local control, empowering parents, letting teachers teach, and protecting taxpayers. Kline also expressed a concern that the federal government would be playing a role in the common core standards initiative.1
“The idea that academic standards would have to be federally approved—either through participation in a government sanctioned set of common standards or direct consent by an unnamed federal entity—looks to many of us like national standards,” he said.
In response, both Miller and Duncan stressed that the effort was state-led and state-controlled. “If a governor doesn’t believe the common standards aren’t good for them, if he or she doesn’t want to take a shot at internationally benchmarked standards to measure their students and try to develop the curriculum and the achievement, then they’ll make that choice,” Miller said.
Duncan agreed. “If these are national standards, if these are federal standards, this thing dies,” he said. “They should always be driven at the local level. We should not be touching that. We should not be touching curriculum.”
In discussing the three core areas of the president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education, Duncan first mentioned college- and career-ready standards, noting that the standards were “developed not by us but by states at the local level.” He also discussed the importance of supporting and rewarding excellence in the classroom and the value of a smarter and more targeted federal role that gives states and districts as much flexibility as possible while ensuring as much accountability as possible.
Turning to ESEA reauthorization, Duncan said that he “[loved] the sense of bipartisan commitment” to reauthorizing the law. He outlined some themes that were important to him in a reauthorization, specifically mentioning a greater focus on growth and gain—both in student achievement and high school graduation rates. He also would like to see more rewards for success. “Under the previous law, there are numerous ways to fail but very few rewards for success. We want to change that,” he said.
Calling teachers and principals the “real game changers” in education reform, Duncan spent a significant portion of his testimony on the administration’s teacher quality agenda. He pointed out that the FY 2011 budget includes a 10 percent increase to improve teacher quality but said that states and districts need to invest the money more effectively. He cited the need for school-based professional development that provides teachers and leaders with the support they need to succeed, evaluation systems that recognize great teachers and give teachers useful real-time feedback on how to improve, and time to collaborate so teachers can work together and improve their practice.
Duncan also talked about the importance of turning around our nation’s lowest-performing schools—roughly five thousand schools nationwide, including the two thousand high schools that produce about half of the nation’s dropouts. “Where things aren’t getting better and where we have dropout rates of 50, 60, 70 percent, we have to do something dramatically different and we’re putting our money where our mouth is … to see us break through here,” he said.
To watch the complete video of the March 3 hearing and read opening statements from Miller or Duncan, go to http://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/2010/03/building-a-stronger-economy-sp.shtml.
1 The common core standards initiative is a process in which the governors and chief state school officers of forty-eight states have come together to develop K–12 and college- and career-ready standards in math and English language arts to help ensure that students, regardless of where they live, are educated to meet the demands of college and the workplace.