Dear Commons Community,
On Wednesday, parents, teachers, congresswomen and congressmen, and interested others overflowed a meeting of the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on the merits of rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act, the 2002 law signed by President George W. Bush that expanded the federal government’s footprint in public schools. NCLB required annual standardized testing in reading and math, as well as punitive action toward schools based on those raw test scores. The law expired in 2007, yet it remains in effect and many of its stipulations have continued with Race to the Top programs sponsored by the Obama administration. The U.S. Department of Education has offered states waivers from the law’s toughest components since 2011 in exchange for agreeing to implement administration-favored education reforms, such as teacher evaluations that take test scores into account. Nearly every committee member in the overflowing hearing room said the burden of standardized testing must be reduced. As reported in The Huffington Post:
“Since NCLB’s implementation, a growing chorus of teachers, parents and advocates have maintained that the law relies too heavily on standardized testing. Most politicians agree on that point, but vary on how they want to change the law. NCLB, they say, is statistically flawed because it makes funding decisions based on raw test scores that compare different populations from year to year, as opposed to changes in scores that could show how much individual students are learning.
But the fiercest opponents of testing, such as historian Diane Ravitch and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, say the requirement’s deleterious effects are far worse: They unfairly penalize poor students; they reduce children to the sum of a single score; and they discourage teacher creativity.
Those left-wing critics are now finding a voice through congressional Republicans. Last week, newly minted HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who has said he wants to drive a bipartisan rewrite, circulated the draft of a bill that would temper the federal government’s authority over America’s public schools. It would require the federal government to present research before intervening in underperforming schools, and would offer two choices on testing. One option would allow districts to use almost whichever tests they want, and the other would keep the annual testing requirements.
Alexander told his committee members that they must be sick of him talking about the federal government’s overextension as a “national school board.” So he quoted a letter from Carol Burris — a high school principal of the year in New York who opposes many Republican education policies — that was sent in response to his bill. “The unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high-stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well,” she wrote.”
As the NCLB rewrite evolves, it is clear that one of the major players on education policy in this country will be Lamar Alexander. He comes with a lot of experience and understanding from his work in Tennessee and as a former U.S. Secretary of Education. He is showing a good deal of leadership on the issues.