Dear Commons Community,
Those of us who listened to President Obama’s State of the Union address last week heard a good deal about his intentions to retool education’s bookends by making community college free, expanding child care and increasing cybersecurity for students but very little about mainstream K-12 education including rewriting No Child Left Behind (NCLB). On the other hand, for the new Congress and for Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, the rewriting of NCLB seems especially high on their agenda. As mentioned in The Huffington Post:
“Obama mentioned few specifics about K-12 education, one of his administration’s top priorities during his first term. Notably, the president mentioned not one word directly about one of his education secretary’s priorities for 2015: rewriting the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush-era school accountability law. Obama also failed to mention the words teacher and testing.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a speech calling for overhauling No Child Left Behind. The speech marked a major policy shift for the administration, which had all but given up on a legislative fix.
No Child Left Behind, signed into law in 2002 by President George W. Bush, required that states regularly use standardized tests to measure the progress of public school students in reading and math, and to use those test results to reward or punish schools. The law included the aspirational goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.
Even the law’s original backers have acknowledged its flaws. Its use of raw test scores unfairly punished poorer schools, and provided perverse incentives for schools seeking high marks to exclude students with disabilities and to lower academic standards. During his first presidential campaign, Obama promised to rewrite the law. Once he took office, he gave Congress a deadline of 2011 for rewriting the law. Despite fits and starts and the passage of a Republican version in the House, it didn’t happen. Much to the chagrin of Congress, Obama and Duncan offered states waivers, giving them an escape from the law’s increasing strictures in exchange for agreeing to implement Obama-preferred education reforms, such as test-based teacher evaluation. Duncan last week told a crowd gathered at a Washington public school that the administration is seriously revisiting the idea of returning to a legislative fix, instead of waivers that could very well fade away the moment Obama leaves office.
“No Child Left Behind created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed or to reward success,” Duncan said. “We need to do exactly the opposite.”
Unfortunately, a lot of what Duncan did initially as Secretary of Education and his Race to the Top policies reinforced NCLB’s testing and assessment requirements. It was only after parents and educators clamored about NCLB’s flaws that he started modifying his position.
It also is interesting to note that Lamar Alexander and the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee appear to be making the rewriting of NCLB a major initiative for the coming year. It remains to be seen how far President Obama is willing to let Alexander and the Congress take the initiative on this.