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NCLB REAUTHORIZATION POSTPONED UNTIL NEXT YEAR: Tight Legislative Calendar Combined with Policy Differences Contribute to Delay

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"We showed in the past that we can work together to get positive results, and I'm confident we can do so again."

Back on January 8, 2007, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY), as well as House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA)Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings joined President Bush to mark fifth anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and to discuss ways to improve the law, which was scheduled to be reauthorized this year. At the time, Education Daily wrote that the event marked the first bipartisan, bicameral meeting Bush has held on education since the 2001 negotiations over NCLB.

At the meeting, the president expressed confidence that Republicans and Democrats would be able to come together and complete work on the law’s reauthorization. “In our discussions today, we’ve all agreed to work together to address some of the major concerns that some people have on this piece of legislation, without weakening the essence of the bill, and get a piece of legislation done,” he said. “We showed in the past that we can work together to get positive results, and I’m confident we can do so again.”

In the months that followed, President Bush and the key education leaders in Congress continued to say all of the right things and maintained that they were intent on reauthorizing NCLB before the end of the year. Now, however, it appears that any renewal of the landmark education law will have to wait until next year. In fact, as a November 6 article in the New York Times points out, neither the House nor the Senate has produced a bill that would formally start the reauthorization process despite “despite dozens of hearings, months of public debate and hundreds of hours of Congressional negotiation.”

The closest that either committee came to a reauthorization bill was in late August when Miller and McKeon released a 435-page discussion draft, but it has yet to be introduced as a formal bill. Miller has been working towards a bipartisan reauthorization, but significant differences have arisen.

One of the key disagreements between Republicans and Democrats is whether to allow states greater flexibility in meeting the accountability provisions of the law. Specifically, Miller would prefer to judge schools on multiple measures, rather than relying almost entirely on a single test, as the current law dictates. As included in the draft plan, states would have the opportunity to consider other measures of progress, such as graduation rates, dropout rates, and improvements in the performance of the lowest- and highest-performing students in the school. Miller would also allow states to include scores from state tests in history and other subjects as additional measures of how schools were performing. However, those scores would only be given a fraction of the weight that math and reading results receive in determining Adequate Yearly Progress.

If renewal is to occur sooner rather than later, Miller has made it clear that the Bush administration needs to be active in seeking compromises. In a November 7 statement, Miller praised McKeon and his staff for the time and effort that they have put into the reauthorization process, but he criticized President Bush for his lack of leadership.

“It has become clear to me, however, that without real Presidential leadership, this reauthorization process is unlikely to succeed,” Miller said. “President Bush’s only real involvement this year in developing a new education bill has been to make an occasional speech urging Congress to stay the course. That has been counterproductive given how clearly unfair and inflexible the law is.”

For now, the plan for moving forward is to reach out to a variety of constituencies who would be affected by a reauthorized NCLB in hopes of getting buy-in on a bill that could be introduced early next year. According to some education observers, putting the bill off until next year severely diminishes its chances for enactment before 2010 because of the political maelstrom that will accompany next year’s Congressional elections and the campaign for president that begins in earnest on January 3, when Iowa holds its presidential caucus. However, the chances for reauthorization go up dramatically if an agreement can be reached on a strong compromise bill-especially given that President Bush and key education leaders in Congress all support reauthorizing NCLB.

Chairman Miller’s complete statement is available at http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/rel110707.html.

The New York Times article “For a Key Education Law, Reauthorization Stalls” is available at
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/06/washington/06child.html.

With NCLB Renewal Stalled, Spellings Considers Other Options to Inject Reliability into High School Graduation Rate Reporting

With the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) apparently on hold until next year, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said recently that she was open to using her authority to make changes in the way the current law is implemented. Specifically, Spellings targeted the myriad ways that states calculate high school graduation rates.

“I think we need some truth in advertising,” Spellings said in an interview with the Associated Press. She added that she believed that her department has the power to address the reporting of graduation rates through regulation.

Under current law, states have been permitted to use a variety of flawed methods to calculate high school graduation rates. As a result, state-reported graduation rates are unreliable and differ from the graduation rates reported by respected independent sources by an average of 11 percentage points and as much as 30 percentage points. In addition, NCLB does not require states to improve the graduation rates of student subgroups (racial, special education, English language learners, etc.). Not only do these practices obscure the graduation rate crisis, particularly for low-income and minority students, but they also make comparing graduation rates across schools, districts, and states impossible. Misleading graduation rates also make it difficult to accurately identify low-performing high schools.

The draft plan to reauthorize NCLB that House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) and Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon circulated in late August contains language that would establish a single definition of a high school graduation rate to be used in every state. It would also boost graduation-rate accountability by requiring states to disaggregate graduation rates by student subgroups in a way similar to that currently used for test scores. In addition, it would require all schools to make increases in their graduation rates in order to make Adequate Yearly Progress. However, as mentioned earlier, Congress is not expected to act on the draft proposal until next year at the earliest.

With Congress dragging its feet on the reauthorization of NCLB, a decision from Secretary Spellings to use the regulatory process to mandate more accurate graduation rates could clear up some of the smoke currently surrounding the numbers.

Read the Associated Press article at http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5heUgDfYJ5ytrg1mE6JqQIiCiBXOgD8SQCPE00.

To better understand how your state currently calculates high school graduation rates, download “Understanding High School Graduation Rates,” an issue brief by the Alliance for Excellent Education, at https://all4ed.org/publication_material/understanding_HSgradrates.

 

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