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MILLER TIME: Committee Chairman Outlines NCLB Improvement Priorities; Sets September Goal for House Reauthorization of the Law

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“We want a bill that is fair and flexible—that maintains the integrity of the law through accountability while responding to the legitimate concerns that have been raised,” Miller said

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on July 30, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) stated his intention to have the U.S. House of Representatives pass a renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) during the month of September.

“We want a bill that is fair and flexible—that maintains the integrity of the law through accountability while responding to the legitimate concerns that have been raised,” Miller said. “I have always said that I am proud to be one of the original coauthors of the No Child Left Behind Act. But what I really want is to be the proud coauthor of a law that works.”

Miller used the opportunity to praise NCLB for raising students’ math and reading proficiency and for narrowing the achievement gap. He also credited the law for provoking an “energetic national debate” around the nation’s educational system and the need for a greater investment in schools, students, principals, and teachers.

However, Miller noted that there was no support for continuing the law in its current form. “I can tell you that there are no votes in the U.S. House of Representatives for continuing the No Child Left Behind Act without making serious changes to it,” he said. “Schools and students are not making enough progress. Not for a country as great as ours.” Miller also acknowledged that many Americans believe that the law is not fair, not flexible, and not funded. “And they are not wrong,” he said. “The question is what we are going to do next.”

Miller went on to outline six key elements that will be part of a bill he will introduce to reauthorize NCLB: fairness and flexibility for schools, a rich and challenging curriculum, support for teachers and principals, school accountability, steps to turn around low-performing middle and high schools, and greater investments to achieve the law’s goals.

Miller said that his legislation will include a growth model that gives states and schools credit for the progress that their students make over time, rather than sticking with the current process of simply looking at test scores for one year. He also said that it will allow states to use more than their reading and math test results to determine how well schools and students are doing. He indicated that graduation rates will be one such measure for high schools.

Turning to high schools, Miller decried the high percentages of high school students who graduate from high school unprepared for college or work. He said that his bill would bring together employers, colleges, and states in an effort to develop more rigorous standards that better prepare students for life after high school.

“Schools must no longer prepare our students to be autonomous problem solvers,” he said. “The workplace they enter tomorrow will increasingly require them to work in teams, collaborating across companies, communities, and continents. These skills cannot be developed solely by simple multiple choice exams.”

Unfortunately, many states currently prefer to use multiple choice tests, which are cheaper and easier to grade, instead of tests with essay questions, which are more challenging but take longer to grade and are more expensive. In Miller’s vision, a revised NCLB would provide states with increased resources, which they would use to develop and administer better tests.

Miller said that the legislation he will introduce will also include comprehensive steps to turn around low-performing middle and high schools and will include uniform standards for measuring high school graduation rates. It will also work to replicate and bring to scale those secondary schools where students are high achieving and the achievement gap is narrowing in spite of the students’ tough surroundings.

A revised NCLB should also do more to ensure that poor and minority students are taught by teachers who have expertise in the subjects they teach, he said. In addition, it should work to fill staffing shortages in subjects like math, science, and foreign language while helping to attract teachers for children with disabilities and English language learners. To reach these goals, Miller said his legislation would include performance pay for principals and teachers that was based on “fair and proven models,” a teacher mentoring component, teacher career ladders, and improved working conditions.

Miller also spoke of the need to distinguish between schools with problems in specific areas, such as those that need to focus on raising the achievement of one subgroup of students or on improving results in one subject area, versus those schools that are failing almost all students (and thus that need schoolwide reform). He said that high-priority schools must receive more intensive support and resources and noted that the House Appropriations Committee had already committed significant new funding for this purpose in Fiscal Year 2008.

Miller implied that history will not consider NCLB to be President Bush’s most important domestic achievement if the president vetoes the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations bill this year. “The legacy of a great American education system for our children and our country cannot be built on the cheap,” Miller said.

In a statement issued in response to Miller’s speech, Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said that he was “disappointed” with the pace of negotiations to renew NCLB but expressed hope that an agreement could be reached soon. He also warned that Republicans would oppose any changes that weaken the accountability, flexibility, and parental choice provisions in the current law.

“No Child Left Behind is the law of the land because it balances real accountability with state and local flexibility and expanded parental choice like no education law before it,” McKeon said. “Changes to the law that weaken any of these three pillars of NCLB—accountability, flexibility, and parental choice—will be met with strong opposition from House Republicans and are likely to be a fatal blow to the reauthorization process.”

Text and video of Chairman Miller’s speech are available at http://edlabor.house.gov/micro/nclb.shtml.

 

Register Soon for the Alliance’s Fourth Annual High School Policy Conference

 

Registration is now open for the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Fourth Annual High School Policy Conference. With an eye toward the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act scheduled for later this year, the conference will convene local, state, and national education leaders to discuss federal strategies for improving the achievement of the nation’s struggling middle and high school students.

The conference, titled From No Child Left Behind to Every Child a Graduate, will be held on October 4–5, at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, DC. Speakers who have been confirmed since the last issue of Straight A’s include Michael Durr, principal of the John Hope College Preparatory High School in Chicago, IL; Scott Palmer, a partner and coleader of the education policy team at Holland & Knight; and Dr. Ref Rodriguez, founder and co-CEO of the PUC Charter Network of Schools.

The cost to attend is $100 if payment is received by September 5, 2007 and $150 if received after that date. Conference space is limited, and registrations are accepted on a “first come” basis. Registration information, a complete list of speakers, and the conference agenda are available at https://all4ed.org/events/fourth_annual_high_school_policy_conference.

 

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.