On February 16, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on two pieces of legislation on accountability and teacher effectiveness as part of the committee’s work to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The two bills pit Republicans, who seek greater flexibility for states and districts and a minimal federal role, against Democrats, who want to preserve accountability, especially for the most-at-risk schools and students. The two bills, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, follow three other bills the committee has passed in its piecemeal approach to rewriting NCLB.
“No one said rewriting a law as influential as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be easy,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), who introduced the two pieces of legislation. “Just as we found common ground, we also unearthed differences. All members share the desire to see our schools improve and have negotiated in good faith. Education reform is an issue that will shape future generations, and we cannot afford to let the conversation stall. For the sake of our children, we must continue working toward a consensus.”
According to Kline, the Student Success Act would direct states to develop their own accountability systems with flexibility to use multiple measures of student achievement. Using their own methods, states would identify low-performing schools and turn around failing ones. Kline said the bill “maintains important requirements that states and school districts continue to make and meet high benchmarks for student learning,” and would require states to administer annual reading and math assessments and report the results disaggregated by student population.
Kline said the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act would consolidate several federal teacher programs into a flexible grant state that local leaders can use to fund programs that work. He said it would also empower states to “develop their own teacher evaluation systems based on student learning” and support “creative approaches,” such as performance pay and alternative paths to certification to help recruit and retain the most effective educators.
In his opening statement, U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committeemade clear his opposition to the two bills, saying they do not reflect the core values of equal opportunity for all and “don’t come close” to improving the educational outcomes for children and strengthening the nation’s global competitiveness.
“Rather than looking toward the future, these bills have the very real potential to turn the clock back decades,” Miller said. “I have heard the word ‘flexibility’ thrown around and offered up as the solution to the problems with our current law. But, I have found that ‘flexibility’ often gets raised when people are trying to avoid accountability. Clearly, there are places in the current law where federal policy needs to be more flexible, such as in school improvement and in consolidating programs. But, at no point should we be promoting flexibility at the expense of accountability or at the expense of equity in education.”
Miller acknowledged that the federal government should not “micromanage” the improvement of an individual school, but he maintained that it should require action on behalf of students where willingness to act is absent. He said members of Congress can alter roles and increase flexibility through a rewrite of ESEA, but they “cannot abandon the principles of equity and accountability if we want to uphold the promise ofBrown v. the Board of Education, the first ESEA, and its most recent iteration.”
The hearing featured testimony from six witnesses: Tom Luna, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction; Delia Pompa, senior vice president of programs, National Council of La Raza; Bob Schaffer, chairman, Colorado State Board of Education; Robert Balfanz, codirector, Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University; Felicia Kazmier, art teacher, Otero Elementary School (Colorado); and Jimmy Cunningham, superintendent of schools, Hampton School District (Arkansas).
Witness testimony, as well as video of the hearing, is available at http://edworkforce.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=279017.