Sen. Harkin restarts process of repealing No Child Left Behind, response lukewarm

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Yesterday Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) unveiled an early version of a bill to reauthorize the Early and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind.

The draft legislation [bill summary] has been dubbed the Harkin-Enzi bill in some media outlets, but Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) did not take part in a conference call with reporters yesterday. The two senators have been working closely together in coming up with a bipartisan piece of legislation.

Joe Brenckle, a Republican spokesperson for the HELP committee from which the education bill came from, told The American Independent, Senator Enzi continues to work with Senator Harkin and is anticipating a bipartisan markup of the ESEA language on the 18th.”

Last month, President Obama unveiled his plan to grant states waivers from No Child Left Behind, putting pressure on congress to come up with a reauthorization of the 2002 law, which has been due for overhaul since 2007. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the chair of the House education committee, has stated he prefers to augment the nation’s top K-12 law through smaller bills.

Repealing No Child Left Behind has become a consensus mantra among education stakeholders and lawmakers. A fault-line splits those who want a more active federal government in K-12 regulation and greater state autonomy.

The divisions have also pit several left-leaning advocacy groups against the top Democratic senator’s proposal.

While Sen. Harkin told reporters he wants to redesign No Child Left Behind “for a new era” as a partnership with states, Democrats for Education Reform and The National Council of La Raza — which supports federal legislation that reaches out to minorities — expressed their reservations with the draft bill.

From Education Week:

The language calls for states to ensure that schools are making continuous improvement, but they would not have to set student performance targets toward a specific goal, as they do now under the current version of ESEA—the No Child Left Behind Act. The changes also would allow states to decide which interventions to use in all but the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and schools with persistent achievement gaps (as defined by the state).

“We haven’t seen the bill, but in general, we would be concerned about having no progress targets,” said Raul Gonzalez, the director of legislative affairs for La Raza. “We’ve worked with Mr. Harkin (chairman of the Senate education committee) on a lot of issues. We know that he has the interest of all kids at heart. And so we hope the bill that emerges out of committee is one that has some solid targets and has some authentic accountability.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT),  the second-largest teachers union in the country, released a statement neither in outright protest nor support the bill’s provisions. It read, in part:

The Harkin-Enzi bill also addresses teacher evaluation, a new area in federal education law. When done correctly, evaluations with tools and supports for teachers can lead toward a path of vibrant instruction.  When done incorrectly, it becomes just a human resources sorting mechanism that devalues teachers, limits their growth and undercuts our children’s education.

[…]

Valid and reliable teacher development and evaluation systems should be based on multiple measures, not just test scores, and should provide teachers with the feedback, tools and conditions they need for continuous improvement.

The statement concluded with, “This is a lengthy bill that will require much analysis. The AFT and our members will work throughout the process to ensure that a reauthorized ESEA bill will make a positive difference in teaching and learning.”

The nation’s largest union, National Education Association, also eschewed taking a position on the draft bill, writing: “Now is the time to weigh in.  We must make sure that the Senate crafts a bill that champions student success, promotes great educators and school leaders for every student, and ensures equitable and safe schools for all.”

According to New America Foundation’s Jennifer Cohen, an education policy analyst, the Harkin plan would force states to increase funding in poorer districts with its teacher comparability provision.

Right now, states must demonstrate through an alternative measurement, like student-pupil rations, that Title 1 schools and richer schools that are not Title 1 receive similar funding. However, current laws permits a gap of ten percent in spending, which tends to privilege wealthier schools as they can attract more qualified teachers and more supplies. Harkin’s plan would force spending to be equal between Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools, allowing struggling districts to have funds on hand to pay better qualified teachers more.

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