Earlier this month, we marked the tenth anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act. While well-intentioned, this sweeping legislation has suffered for its grandiose ambitions and simplistic, incoherent approach to educational accountability. Reauthorization is several years overdue, and the only legislative proposal to get traction to date—the Harkin-Enzi bill passed by the Senate Education Committee last fall—is, at best, a modest improvement.
Happily, under the leadership of Education Committee Chair John Kline, the House Republicans this week offered a bill that would build on the valuable transparency brought by NCLB while scrapping the law’s overwritten and half-baked prescriptions for policing teacher quality, school improvement, and state accountability systems.
The House bill:
1. Scraps NCLB’s practice of requiring states to label schools as making or not making “adequate yearly progress” based upon a snapshot of reading and math scores by particular demographic populations, but sensibly retains the requirement for annual testing in reading and math in grades 3-8 and that data be disaggregated to show the performance of various student subgroups. In this, the House bill reflects both the Harkin-Enzi bill and what the Department of Education is pushing in its “NCLB waiver” process.
2. Frees states to write their own policies regarding the proper interventions for low-performing schools—the feds would no longer mandate that all low-performing schools adopt supplemental tutoring or public school choice at a federally mandated point in time. And unlike the Senate, the House would not try to dictate a particular set of federally selected school improvement strategies.
3. Sensibly insists that states develop academic standards that will have students ready for career or college by graduation, but drops the administration’s unfortunate effort to elbow its way into the (supposedly) state-driven Common Core effort.
4. Scraps NCLB’s ludicrously bureaucratic “Highly Qualified Teacher” provision, which sought to ensure teacher quality by insisting upon new paperwork requirements.
5. Scraps federal “maintenance of effort” requirements which have limited the ability of states to trim school spending even when it is prudent or appropriate. Indeed, maintenance of effort has frequently threatened to penalize states that seek to use innovative technologies or staffing arrangements to cut costs.
6. Offers new flexibility to states and districts when it comes to spending categorical funds. It would allow districts to transfer money aimed at one special population to another, while sensibly ensuring that dollars cannot be moved out of “Title I” schools (schools serving high concentrations of low-income students).
Frederick M. Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI.