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NCLB TIMETABLE IN QUESTION: Discussions Bog Down Over Proposal to Provide Greater Flexibility in Meeting Accountability Provisions

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"There can be no compromise on the basic principle: Every child must learn to read and do math at, or above, grade level," the president 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. In the following weeks, Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) released a 435-page draft plan for reauthorizing NCLB and held a marathon hearing that lasted over six hours and allowed over forty witnesses the opportunity to comment on the Miller/McKeon draft. Since then, however, talks on the reauthorization of NCLB have bogged down as Republican lawmakers have grown concerned about what they interpret as a watering down of the law’s accountability provisions.

President Bush tried to inject a sense of urgency into those talks during an October 9 speech in the Rose Garden before a group of civil rights community leaders and advocates for minority and disadvantaged students. At the same time, he underscored his belief that the core principles of NCLB should remain unchanged.

“There can be no compromise on the basic principle: Every child must learn to read and do math at, or above, grade level,” the president said. “And there can be no compromise on the need to hold schools accountable to making sure we achieve that goal. I call on members of Congress to come together to pass bipartisan legislation that will help us achieve this goal. By working together, we can raise standards even higher, expand opportunity for all Americans of all backgrounds, and build a future where no child is left behind.”

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, Chairman Miller would prefer to judge schools on multiple measures, rather than relying solely on a single test as the current law dictates. As included in the draft plan issued last month, 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.

“There is a very clear perception in this country that this law is not fair or flexible when it comes to judging students, teachers, or schools,” Miller told the Business Coalition for Student Achievement last month. “You cannot assess the success or failure of a school on one test, on one day.”

McKeon, however, has a different take on the multiple measures proposal. “Either you can read or you can’t,” he told Roll Call, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill. “Either you can do simple math or you can’t. The main purpose of No Child Left Behind was to make sure kids can read and do basic math. It’s starting to work.”

According to the Roll Call article, Miller remains hopeful that a bipartisan compromise can be reached but acknowledged that time is running out. He added that he would like to have the bill on the House floor before the end of the year.

In a statement issued after President Bush’s speech, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) indicated that he plans to introduce reauthorization language by the end of October, but he did not indicate when it would come before the HELP Committee for its consideration.

President Bush’s speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/10/20071009-5.html.

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