Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Seriously, Will A 'No Child Left Behind' Re-Write Go Anywhere This Time?

EPA / Matthew Cavanaugh / Landov

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., (right) addresses President Barack Obama during a luncheon in January. Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees K-12 education, has unveiled a proposal to re-write the No Child Left Behind Act. The Obama administration unveiled its own blueprint in 2010.

You’ve heard this one before:

As we noted last week, Congressional lawmakers in D.C. have unveiled competing proposals to re-write the federal law that — like it or not — has shaped American education over the past decade.

But while almost everybody acknowledges an upgrade for the No Child Left Behind Act is long overdue, several attempts to amend the legislation sputtered in Congress in 2012.

Given this track record, should we care about the “reauthorization” proposals Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and the House GOP all released last week? Or are we in for another “No Child” re-write false alarm?

In a way, the NCLB overhaul story is part of the same old story in Washington: Republicans and Democrats aren’t on the same page.

The New America Foundation’s Anne Hyslop says Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s re-write proposal — due for a hearing in the Senate’s education committee on Tuesday — faces “slim prospects” for winning over GOP members of the panel.

Chad Aldeman’s post on The Quick & The Ed ends on this dour note:

Other than Sen. Harkin, who really loves this bill and wants to see it pass? It’s good that all of the other Democrats on the Senate [Health, Education, Labor & Pensions] Committee signed on to the bill, but are any of them actually passionate about it? The Obama education agenda is fragile and he would prefer to have some of his policies enshrined in law. This bill is closer to the Obama Blueprint than the 2011 version, but it’s unclear if it is strong enough to get the president’s full backing. Civil rights groups and the teachers unions issued tepid statements, and the state chiefs would prefer it didn’t force teacher evaluations onto states, but again, no one seems to be ready to fight for it.

EdWeek‘s Alyson Klein has this succinct breakdown of the differences between the specifics of the Senate Republicans’ and Democrats’ respective plans.

Urgency To Act?

Signed into law in January 2002, the original No Child Left Behind law expired in 2007. After President Obama set a 2011 deadline for Congress to reauthorize the law — and the deadline came and went — the administration offered states the opportunity to apply for waivers from some of NCLB’s strictest and most unpopular requirements.

Those requirements, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has written, would’ve caused “a slow-motion educational train wreck for children, parents and teachers” as the law labeled more schools as failing to make “adequate yearly progress.” (And, as the American Association of School Administrators points out, 13 states still don’t have waivers.)

But while the waivers were born of a seemingly urgent need to provide regulatory relief, the waivers themselves may also spur some lawmakers into action.

Congressional Republicans argue the Obama administration has overstepped its authority in issuing the waivers. Rep. Todd Rokita, an Indiana Republican who chairs the U.S. House’s K-12 education subcommittee, cited the waivers as a reason to pass their rewrite plan.

“The administration’s efforts to bypass Congress and impose its own education agenda through executive fiat are unacceptable — but so is continuing to leave states and school districts tied to a failing law,” Rokita said in a statement.

The Council of State Government’s Tim Weldon also points out:

In the span of just two days, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate have unveiled competing plans to revamp NCLB. It marks the first significant signs that NCLB might be awakening from its deep sleep.

We’ll wake you if it does.


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