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BEYOND NCLB: Bipartisan Commission on NCLB Issues Recommendations on Improving Landmark Education Law

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“Over the past five years, NCLB has changed the educational landscape in our nation by demanding improved achievement, enhancing our understanding of teacher quality and strengthening classroom practice.”

On February 13, the Commission on No Child Left Behind issued a 230-page blueprint, complete with seventy-five separate recommendations on how Congress and the president can revamp the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Among the recommendations are calls for teachers to demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom, more help for chronically low-performing schools, voluntary national standards, longitudinal data systems, and an additional assessment in twelfth grade to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for college or for work.

“Over the past five years, NCLB has changed the educational landscape in our nation by demanding improved achievement, enhancing our understanding of teacher quality and strengthening classroom practice,” the report reads. “We also know, however, that NCLB is not perfect, and our work has shown the need to improve the law. We know that we must do more to ensure that all students achieve at high levels and that every school succeeds.”

Citing research that shows teacher quality as the “single most important school factor in student success,” the commission would ramp up NCLB’s requirement for Highly Qualified Teachers by instead requiring that all teachers become Highly Qualified Effective Teachers. Under this recommendation, teachers would have to demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom, or they would no longer be allowed to teach students most in need of help. States would be required to create a system that measures a student’s learning gains by using three years of student achievement data and principal evaluations or teacher peer reviews.

Turning to state standards, the report acknowledges that “for whatever reason, some states have clearly set the bar for students far lower than other states.” To correct this inequality and to ensure that students can compete both nationally and internationally, the commission recommends the development of “voluntary model national content and performance standards” in reading, math, and science that are based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) frameworks. To entice states to participate in the program, the commission suggests that the U.S. Secretary of Education periodically issue reports that compare the rigor of all state standards to that of the national standards.

The commission looked also at the need to improve high schools and concluded that the burden should not rest solely with the schools. In an effort to get districts to play a greater role in high school reform, districts with large concentrations of struggling high schools would be required to develop and implement comprehensive, districtwide high school improvement plans. In addition, to help “spur continuous student growth through graduation” and to ensure that students are prepared for life after high school, the commission would require states to administer an additional assessment in twelfth grade. The assessment would be designed to measure whether twelfth-graders have mastered the content they need to be college and workplace ready.

The commission, formed by the Aspen Institute, is a bipartisan effort led by former governor of Wisconsin and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson and former Georgia Governor Roy E. Barnes; thirteen representatives of K–12 and higher education, school and school-system governance, and the civil rights and business communities also served as commissioners. The report’s release was a highly publicized event that featured appearances by the leadership of the Congressional committees that will guide the effort to reauthorize NCLB: Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), the chairman and ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The complete report is available at http://www.nclbcommission.org.

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