Holy Toledo! Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) actually believe the 2011 rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965—reauthorized in 2002 as No Child Left Behind—can be voted on by the Senate by Thanksgiving and the House by Christmas.
No way will this become a reality. I put the odds at 15-1 against the bill passing in its present form, even though it emerged from Harkin’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee by a 15-7 bipartisan vote on Oct. 20.
The committee vote was a “stick out the tongue” moment by Sen. Harkin directed at President Obama, as well as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, for offering states waivers on the current NCLB law. And yes, they are all from the same political party. Not a good start for passage or for an eventual signature on the bill by the President. “The waiver package … gave us a sense of urgency”, Harkin said.
According to news reports, even the National Education Association (NEA) and GOP saw “eye-to-eye” in states being allowed to submit their own remedies for turning the lowest performing schools around. Sec. Duncan says the new rewrite of NCLB/ESEA gives too much away on teacher evaluations and student achievement targets.
To add fuel to the political fire, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NAACP, Democrats for Education Reform, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Education Trust have all officially come out against it. They concur that federal accountability has been jeopardized by the focus on the lowest 5 percent of schools at the expense of the vast majority of students, who could be ignored if matters are left up to individual states rather than federal law.
Since the NCLB was passed in 2001 and became law in 2002, many educators have been opposed to several aspects of the law:
• An over reliance on fill-in-the-bubble testing at the expense of curtailing creativity, innovation and critical thinking
• Promoting the importance of test-taking skills over problem solving
• Deemphasizing instruction in history-social science and science in favor of literacy and numeracy
During the bill’s mark-up period, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) filed 74 amendments. In a compromise he agreed to scale back his amendments if the bill could have a full committee hearing on Nov. 8, prior to going to the Senate floor.
The key provisions of the Harkin/Enzi bill greatly limit the federal role over the 100,000 schools in America, radically amending the current NCLB law. Under the current bill, there would be no more Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets, leading to required Program Improvement sanctions for the vast majority of schools.
As stated earlier, the federal role, if the bill passes Congress, will focus on the lowest 5 percent of the 100,000 schools. Charles Borone, director of Democrats for Education Reform, believes this new bill has senators from both parties turning their backs on improving educational opportunities for children from low SES backgrounds.
The current law has had little or no effect on closing the racial achievement gap as envisioned by both President Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2001, when the NCLB was signed into law. As I read portions of the 800-page bill, I am not convinced America gets any closer to this goal with the new legislation.
Our legislative goal should be to find ways to provide each student with a quality teacher in every subject, in every classroom in America. There should be no difference in the quality of the teacher from the schools in wealthy, tree-lined suburbs to the poor schools in the crowded inner cities.
If we can land a man on the moon in one decade in 1969, without the technical know-how to make it happen at the beginning of the decade, we can find ways to provide each and every child with an exemplary teacher in every classroom.