Congress & Prez At Odds Over NCLB

For all you policy wonks out there, fasten your seat belts. By all accounts, it’s going to be a wild ride as the newly seated Republican Congress faces off with the Obama administration over reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

According to an article in Politico, “Republicans are hatching an ambitious plan to rewrite No Child Left Behind this year—one that could end up dramatically rolling back the federal role in education and trigger national blowouts over standardized tests and teacher training.”

Battle Over Assessment

NCLB (formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA) was George W. Bush’s signature education law. Passing with bipartisan support in 2002, the law instituted a number of reforms many of which were aimed at making school systems more accountable for student learning.

Among other reforms, the NCLB institutionalized high-stakes testing—those annual assessments that measure what your child has learned, and, in aggregate, show how your school is doing. In today’s hyper-partisan environment, that’s the issue that has emerged as the lightning rod for both sides. Supporters of the Obama Administration defend it, while Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has floated a number of options all of which are aimed at gutting high-stakes tests.

While testing is the hot-button issue, it is by no means the only point of disagreement. A recent article in Education Week summarized the positions of both sides in the reauthorization debate:

Obama Administration

• Include a stronger role for early-childhood education programs in a reauthorized ESEA.

• Maintain the current NCLB law’s signature testing schedule, including requiring states to administer reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.

• Separately, through the regular federal budget process, boost education spending by $2.7 billion, including $1 billion for Title I grants to districts.

Sen. Alexander

• Consider giving states far more control over testing, including allowing them to test in only certain grade spans, try out competency-based testing, continue with state-wide assessments, or let states come up with their own testing plan.

• Give states more flexibility when it comes to using money for teacher quality and after-school programs. The bill would allow states to transfer funding between the two.

• Make teacher evaluation through test scores optional.

• Require states to use academic standards aligned to state higher education system entrance requirements.

• Allow states to devise their own accountability systems without needing approval from the U.S. Secretary of Education. Such systems would have to include graduation rates and student achievement rates.

Regardless of where you stand, it’s clear that the battle lines are drawn and the stage is set for another round of partisan politics, aka more of the same from Congress.