Just in time for the law's 10th anniversary this past Sunday, House Republicans led by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) have released draft legislation for revamping the No Child Left Behind Act. The bills would ease the federal government's grip on public schools, but are unlikely to be passed.
"We must revamp K-12 education law to ensure Washington does not stand in the way of meaningful reforms," said Kline, who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in his announcement of the new legislation.
No Child Left Behind, which reauthorized the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, mandates the regular testing of students in math, reading and science. These test results have become a key lever in an accountability system that divides schools into those that are making "adequate yearly progress" and those that aren't. Poor rankings lead to increasingly stiff federal sanctions for schools, including the mandatory setting aside of No Child Left Behind money for tutoring and permission for students to transfer to nonfailing schools. By 2014, the law requires 100 percent of public schools to have students proficient in math and reading.
Reflecting Republican calls for greater local control of schools, Kline's proposals would severely minimize these federal sanctions and give states flexibility in distributing federal funds. Under his proposed Student Success Act, only schools that ranked in the lowest 5 percent would be held accountable under federal law; school districts would also devise their own turnaround plans for those schools. Also, states would no longer need to test students in science and would have more say over how they spent federal money. Kline's proposed Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act would mandate test-score-based teacher evaluations, increase school options for parents and eliminate several federal education programs.
"Regardless of the differences between elected leaders in Washington, education reform is an issue that will shape future generations, and we cannot afford to let the conversation stall," Kline said Friday.
No Child Left Behind has been due for a reauthorization since 2007, but recent efforts in the Senate led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate education committee, stalled. The Obama administration took matters into its own hands by encouraging states to apply for waivers from some of the law's strictures in return for carrying out certain reforms.
The release of the draft legislation marks the first tangible move that Kline has made since Republicans said in December they would strike out on their own following the flame-out of bipartisan talks. Just hours after Kline released his draft bills, Rep. George Miller (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the education committee and Kline's former No Child Left Behind negotiation partner, released a scathing statement condemning the measures.
"The Kline draft language ignores our responsibility to parents, students and taxpayers. They deserve better," Miller said. "The release of this draft marks a good day for proponents of the status quo or, worse, those who would take our education system back decades."
I remain concerned that Chairman Kline has decided to draft a partisan bill, shutting the door on the tried and true way of achieving reform -- bipartisanship. This move will only leave America's schools, teachers and students with the outdated No Child Left Behind law. I urge Chairman Kline to reconsider this decision and return to efforts to reach a bipartisan consensus that serves the interests of all the nation's children.
Such partisan pyrotechnics indicate that these bills are going nowhere soon. In fact, Harkin has said he won't go ahead with his version of No Child Left Behind reauthorization until bipartisan legislation emerges from the House. And even among the Republican congressmen, the bills may be unpalatable.
"What's the point?" asked Charles Barone, director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform. "Anything short of eliminating the Department of Education is too much of a federal role to many House Republicans."