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No Child Left Behind Faces Long-Awaited Legislative Overhaul

Three Congressional bills have been introduced to alter No Child Left Behind as the 2014 proficiency deadline approaches. Newsmax reported on June 7 that “House Education Committee Chairman John Kline introduced a bill Thursday that would gut the decade-old No Child Left Behind law, returning power to the states to craft their own curriculums without strings attached to qualify for federal school funds” (emphasis added). However, so many states have been granted waivers on No Child Left Behind that the law has been essentially gutted already.

Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have received waivers which exempt them from this law, placing them instead under the guidance of the Department of Education. (47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education have all applied for what is known as Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) “flexibility.”)

The Department of Education “has relieved 37 states from the provision of No Child that requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014,” reported the New York Times. In essence, the DOE is now setting a federal standard for education in these states. This is notable as the 2014 deadline for No Child Left Behind approaches because it relieves both schools and lawmakers from the accountability to the public that was built into the original legislation.

In fact, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that “Unlike the 2014 goal in NCLB, cutting the achievement gap in half in the near-term is very ambitious but is also achievable.” In other words, he doesn’t consider the NCLB goal of proficiency for every child to be achievable. NCLB is effectively dead in many states; educators are now operating under the Obama Adminstration’s standards. You can read your individual state’s waiver plan here.

In several blog entries, I discussed some of the altered requirements using these waivers. For example, Florida was controversially granted a waiver which allowed it to separate the proficiency requirements out by race–and then to require less proficiency from Hispanics and blacks by 2018. As I wrote then, “In other words, Florida will be able to meet its adequate yearly progress (AYP) goals with disparate outcomes categorized according to race or disability.” In addition, “The question remains whether this move marks a ‘realistic’ approach to education, or a major step backward for education fueled by lowered expectations for racial groups.”

It’s time for Congress to reassert its control over education in this country, especially if that means it gives control back to the states–outside the administration apparatus. The Harkin bill (S.1094), Alexander bill (S.1101 ), and Kline bill (H.R.5) do so to differing degrees.

The degree to which state educational standards should be controlled by the federal government differs based on the party promoting each bill, with Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s legislation spanning 1,150 pages. “At less than one-fifth the length of Mr. Harkin’s bill, Mr. Alexander’s legislation would allow states to devise curriculum standards, tests, school rating systems and consequences for schools that fail to meet state goals with far fewer guidelines than are included in the Harkin bill,” reported the New York Times on June 6.

“Mr. Kline, Republican of Minnesota, said he was ‘reducing the federal footprint’ and had eliminated 70 programs previously financed under [No Child Left Behind], which is an amendment to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” reports Motoko Rich for the New York Times on June 6. “Mr. Kline’s bill would remove all but the most basic requirements for states receiving federal money under programs intended to support schools and students from racial minorities and poor families as well as those learning English and students with disabilities.”

“In a conference call with reporters, [Kline] said he objected to the federal government ‘virtually coercing states’ to follow a federally-mandated curriculum with math and reading proficiency standards as a condition of qualifying for grants,” reported Newsmax. “States should have ‘an enormous amount of latitude’ to decide test content and score-based school ratings, he added.”

Kline has said that states would be free to continue with Common Core standards using his legislation. Common Core has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the New York Times.

The Tea Party has recently started opposing the Common Core standards as a sign of federal encroachment–essentially, an attempt by the federal government to standardize education between the states. “Legislators and Tea Party critics in states including Indiana and Michigan say the Common Core standards were adopted without consulting teachers or parents and represent federal overreach,” reported the New York Times on June 4.

“This is the issue that could change things for the tea party movement,” Lee Ann Burkholder, founder of 9/12 Patriots in York, Pennsylvania, told the Washington Post in May.  “Lawmakers have responded by introducing legislation that would at least temporarily block the standards in at least nine states, including two that have put the program on hold. “

“The Republican governors of Indiana and Pennsylvania quickly agreed to pause Common Core, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), a vocal supporter of the plan, is nevertheless expected to accept a budget agreement struck by GOP legislators that would withhold funding for the program pending further debate.”

“It’s not so much the actual standards they object to but the fact that it’s coming from Washington as opposed to the state level, and could lead to tracking student data across the country,” reports Fox News. “The Tea Party effort got a boost when FreedomWorks got involved.”



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