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HOUSE COMMITTEE PASSES EDUCATION REFORM LEGISLATION: On Party-Line Votes, Committee Passes Accountability and Teacher Effectiveness Bills as Part of Work Rewriting NCLB

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“With these proposals, we aim to shrink federal intrusion in classrooms and return responsibility for student success to states and school districts"

On February 28, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved two pieces of legislation as part of its continuing work to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The two bills, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, were approved by a party-line vote of 23–16 in both instances. Democrats on the committee, who were united in their opposition to the bills, offered a comprehensive amendment to each of the Republican bills, but they were defeated on party-line votes.

“With these proposals, we aim to shrink federal intrusion in classrooms and return responsibility for student success to states and school districts,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), shown in the image to the right. “We’ll untie the hands of state and local leaders who are clamoring for the opportunity to change the status quo and revive innovation in our classrooms. And we will free states and school districts to provide every child access to the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed.”

Democrats said the approved legislation would “turn the clock back decades” on equity and accountability by dismantling the federal role in education and the core principals of equal opportunity that have been a part of federal education policy since 1965.

“These bills are not a serious attempt to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” said Representative George Miller (D-CA), the top Democrat on the committee. “The Republican bills dismantle equity in education for all students regardless of poverty, disability, or other challenges and send an unambiguous signal that college and career readiness is not a national priority. These bills send us in the wrong direction.”

The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act would require school districts to develop a teacher evaluation system after seeking input from parents, teachers, school leaders, and other staff. The bill would require that student achievement data be a significant part of the evaluation and that evaluations be used to make personnel decisions.

The Student Success Act would eliminate NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provision and permit states to create their own accountability systems. It would also remove federal requirements for basic, proficient, and advanced levels of achievement and require states to establish their own academic standards in reading and math. It does not require these standards to be college- and career-ready, as required under the bill that passed the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions last fall. The House bill would largely maintain NCLB’s current testing schedule, as well as the law’s requirement that states disaggregate student subgroup data. However, it eliminates the current requirement for testing in science, and it would also eliminate the School Improvement Grant program and divert those funds to the Title I program. (Video of the committee’s consideration of the two bills is available at http://edworkforcehouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=71.)

In a statementBob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, said that “bipartisan gains for the nation’s high schools made under the Bush and Obama administrations would be threatened or lost” if the two bills are enacted. Specifically, Wise said the bills would eliminate the federal requirement for high school graduation rate accountability and, by not calling for necessary college- and career-ready standards, could “limit the ability of the U.S. Department of Education to support the state-led effort to implement common assessments aligned with these standards.”

With passage of the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, the House Education and the Workforce Committee has now passed five bills as part of its work rewriting NCLB. The three previous bills include the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act, which would eliminate more than forty education programs, including the High School Graduation Initiative and Striving Readers; the Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which would update and reauthorize the federal program supporting charter schools; and the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which, opponents believe, would lead to fewer resources supporting low-income students.

Of these bills, only the Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act has been passed by the full House of Representatives. The next step in the process could be consideration on the House floor, with Kline saying that he has asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) about floor time.

The House’s piecemeal approach differs from the Senate, where the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a single bipartisan bill to overhaul NCLB on October 20, 2011. During a November 10 speech on the Senate floor, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) implied that the Senate would not move further on the committee-passed bill until the House of Representatives moves a bipartisan reauthorization bill.

On February 28, Harkin expressed disappointment that the House Education and the Workforce Committee pushed through the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act without actively engaging Democrats in the process. “There’s no doubt that achieving bipartisan consensus on a critical and complex issue like education reform is difficult, Harkin said. “But it is not impossible—we’ve been able to achieve it for decades on education, and even in this partisan environment we achieved it just last fall in the HELP Committee. I am disappointed that my House Republican colleagues have chosen to abandon decades of bipartisanship at this important moment, but continue to hope that they will rethink that approach so we can work together to strengthen education for all of America’s students.”

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