In a rare joint hearing of House and Senate education committees last week, a bipartisan collection of Senators and Representatives made it clear that they would like to move forward with the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as soon as possible. Lawmakers also reiterated their belief in NCLB’s overall goal of getting every child to proficiency in reading and math by 2014.
“While it is critical that we remain faithful to the goals of No Child Left Behind, it is equally important that—five years after its enactment—we seek out new and better ideas for how best to achieve those goals,” said Representative George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “This hearing is the formal beginning of what will be a bipartisan, comprehensive, and inclusive process to change and improve the No Child Left Behind law. We will hear a broad range of opinions on which provisions of the law are working well and which are not in our schools and for our children.”
Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) addressed what he saw as problem areas during his opening statement. “We need more effective ways to measure student growth toward standards, and to recognize schools for that progress,” he said. “Our goal is to focus on the lowest performing schools, instead of simply classifying so many as failures.” He added that labeling schools as being in need of improvement was not enough—they also need help to improve.
Specifically, Kennedy mentioned the need to strengthen the teacher workforce while encouraging more qualified teachers to work in high-poverty and high-minority schools. He also said that Congress needs to help states develop high standards that are aligned to rigorous curricula, so that students who graduate from school are ready to compete in the workforce or to do well in college.
He also raised the issue of additional funding. “Most of all, we must use this reauthorization to give schools the resources they need to implement these essential reforms. If we shortchange our schools, we’re shortchanging America,” he said.
Witnesses at the hearing were former Georgia Governor Roy E. Barnes, co-chairman, Aspen Institute Commission on NCLB; Wade Henderson, president and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Arthur Rothkopf, vice president, U.S. Chamber of Commerce;Michael Casserly, executive director, Council of Great City Schools; Edward McElroy, president, American Federation of Teachers; Reg Weaver, president, National Education Association; and Elizabeth Burmaster, president, Council of Chief State School Officers.
During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Senator Kennedy asked panelists what could be done to address the high numbers of high school dropouts. Reflecting the need to treat education as a continuum, Governor Barnes suggested that Congress consider some specific initiatives in middle schools, whereas Mr. McElroy preferred that Congress focus more intently on the early grades.
Complete audio and video of the hearing are available at http://boss.streamos.com/wmedia/edwork/fc/fc031307.wvx.