Originally signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) technically expired in 2007. On several occasions over the last few years, various attempts have been made by both political parties in Congress to rewrite the law, but they ultimately fell short. Since 2012, President Obama has granted waivers to thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia from some of NCLB’s requirements, including the one requiring that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Although Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed concerns about the waivers, they have been unable to pass legislation to replace them.
As this blog has posted about before, many education professionals are concerned about the fact that ESEA waivers give the Education Department unprecedented powers in lieu of any formal Congressional update to ESEA, of which NCLB is the most recent iteration.
During a May 7 U.S. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee hearing titled, “Raising the Bar: Exploring State and Local Efforts to Improve Accountability,” both Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Representative George Miller (D-CA), the Committee’s top Democrat, gave a glimmer of hope to education advocates hoping for an NCLB rewrite when they expressed a willingness to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as NCLB.
Since that time, the effort has gotten off the ground. In the Senate, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat and chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who also will be retiring at the end of the current term, introduced a 1,150 page bill at the beginning of June known as the “Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013.”
For more information on the initiation of the bill, please visit this website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/04/no-child-left-behind-harkin-bill_n_3381875.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003&ir=Education
Essentially, the bill tones down some of the more extreme punitive measures of NCLB and continues a focus on “continuous improvement” and “college and career academic content.” States who have received NCLB waivers would be allowed to continue under those conditions, provided that states adopt a provision that imposes consequences on schools with students in poverty that didn’t improve. Other components of the bill include a requirement that states implement teacher and principal evaluations that rely in part on student achievement, as defined by states. According to a bill summary, it aims to “ensur[e] … disadvantaged students get the supports they need to succeed” and establishes a more balanced state-federal partnership to make sure that happens. States would also each identify their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools with poor students as “priority schools,” and “focus schools” would consist of the 10 percent of schools with poor students and the largest achievement gaps.
The “Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013″ has been rejected by the Republican members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander. The Senate Republican rejection of the proposed law follows the expected partisan divide over education. The Republicans see the new bill merely as an extension of NCLB. “Sen. Harkin’s bill is No Child Left Behind on steroids,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. “This is absolutely the wrong direction.” Despite this ill-feeling toward the bill, there were not enough Republicans on the Senate Education Committee to prevent its being passed on a party-line vote. For more on the bill’s passage of committee, please visit: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2013/06/senate_committee_passes_democr.html?qs=harkin
For more on the partisan wrangling that will continue beyond the committee passing of the bill, please visit this website: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/06/11/617218usnochildleftbehind_ap.html?qs=harkin
There is also a House Republican ESEA re-write currently underway, which differs from the Senate Democratic Bill along the partisan divide mentioned above: Democrats want more accountability from the federal government as a means by which to measure progress for underprivileged students, while Republicans want to give more control back to the states.
For more information, including a side-by-side breakdown of the differences among the three plans currently being discussed, please visit this website: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/06/12/35esea.h32.html?qs=harkin
In conclusion, while some feel that the wide differences between the Democratic and Republican visions of ESEA reform indicate a low likelihood of any law being passed this year (as happened in 2011), others feel that the arguments are now on the table and will allow for fruitful debate towards a mutually acceptable plan. There is at least agreement from both Republicans and Democrats that a reauthorization bill needs to be completed.
For an analysis of where things stand right now, please visit: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2013/06/five_questions_as_nclb_reautho.html?qs=harkin