Hints of Obama Admin, NCLB Reauthorization Strategy
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- Subject: Hints of Obama Admin, NCLB Reauthorization Strategy
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- Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2009 07:23:11 -0400
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EDUCATION STANDARDS LIKELY TO SEE TOUGHENING
New York Times -- April 15, 2009
By Sam Dillon
Washington -- President Obama and his team have alternated praise for
the goals of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law with
criticism of its weaknesses, all the while keeping their own plans for
the law a bit of a mystery.
But clues are now emerging, and they suggest that the Obama
administration will use a Congressional rewriting of the federal law
later this year to toughen requirements on topics like teacher quality
and academic standards and to intensify its focus on helping failing
schools. The law’s testing requirements may evolve but will certainly
not disappear. And the federal role in education policy, once a state
and local matter, is likely to grow.
The administration appears to be preparing important fixes to what many
see as some of the law’s most serious defects. But its emerging plans
are a disappointment to some critics of the No Child Left Behind law,
who hoped Mr. Obama’s campaign promises of change would mean a sharper
break with the Bush-era law.
“Obama’s fundamental strategy is the same as George Bush’s: standardized
tests, numbers-crunching; it’s the N.C.L.B. approach with lots of money
attached,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian often critical of the
education law, said in an interview.
In a recent blog Ms. Ravitch wrote, “Obama has given Bush a third term
in education policy.”
The clues emerge from the fine print of the economic stimulus law that
Mr. Obama signed in February, which channels billions of dollars to
public education. The key education provisions in the stimulus take the
form of four "assurances" that governors must sign to receive billions
in emergency education aid.
In one, governors must pledge to improve the quality of standardized
tests and raise standards. In another, they promise to enforce a
requirement of the education law that their state’s most effective
teachers will be assigned equitably to all students, rich and poor. A
separate provision gives Education Secretary Arne Duncan control over $5
billion, which Mr. Duncan calls a “Race to the Top Fund,” to reward
states that make good on their pledges.
“With these assurances and the Race to the Top Fund, we are laying the
foundation for where we want to go with N.C.L.B. reauthorization,” Mr.
Duncan said in an interview. “This will help us to get states lining up
behind this agenda.”
One fix the administration is preparing focuses on failing schools.
Currently 6,000 of the nation's 95,000 schools are labeled as needing
corrective action or restructuring because they have fallen short of
testing targets under the federal law, which nonetheless provided little
financing to help them. Most states have let the targets languish. The
stimulus law, in contrast, provides $3 billion for school turnarounds,
and requires governors to pledge vigorous action.
The No Child Left Behind law allowed each state to set its own academic
standards, with the result that many have dumbed down curriculums and
tests. Colorado even opted to use its “partially proficient” level of
academic performance as “proficient” for reporting purposes.
The stimulus requires governors to raise standards to a new benchmark:
the point at which high school graduates can succeed — without remedial
classes — in college, the workplace or the military. Mr. Duncan has gone
further, saying he wants to be a catalyst for the development of
national academic standards.
Cynthia Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for
American Progress, said she believed that Mr. Duncan was the first top
federal official to make such a call.
“They’re putting money and ideas behind what they think are the changes
needed in public education,” Ms. Brown said. “That signals their
seriousness about major reform.”
So far, the administration has not described its plans for the education
law’s 2014 deadline for schools to bring 100 percent of American
students to math and reading proficiency, which experts have likened to
a certain date by which the police are to end all crime.
The teachers unions, which in 2007 fought a bare-knuckle lobbying battle
that scuttled Congress’s last effort to rewrite the No Child Left Behind
law, are voicing muted concern over a couple of provisions in the stimulus.
In one of the stimulus assurances, for instance, governors must pledge
that their states are building sophisticated data systems. Among other
functions, such systems would link teachers to students and test scores
and thus, in theory, enable the authorities to distinguish between
effective and ineffective teachers. In a March 10 speech, President
Obama endorsed using such data systems “to tell us which students had
which teachers so we can assess what’s working and what’s not.”
In an interview, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education
Association, said he did not like that part of the president’s speech.
“When he equates teachers with test scores, that’s when we part
company,” Mr. Van Roekel said. But he added: “Over all, I just really
support Obama’s vision to strengthen public education.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said
that her union also had concerns about the president’s enthusiasm for
data systems, which she said could be misused, but that she would give
the new administration the benefit of the doubt.
“They have been consistent,” Ms. Weingarten said. “They’re trying to do
reform with teachers, not to them.”
Including education reform ideas in an economic stimulus bill was a
policy improvisation made on the fly during the December transition,
when Democratic governors were pleading for federal help to prevent
government layoffs amid the economic crisis, aides to Mr. Duncan said.
In a Jan. 7 meeting with senior Democratic lawmakers, Mr. Duncan
announced the administration’s intention to channel billions of dollars
to the states in exchange for governors’ pledges to double down on
Representatives David R. Obey of Wisconsin and George Miller of
California, the Democratic chairmen of the House appropriations and
education committees, immediately saw the importance of extracting
reform promises from the states, said a Democratic House staff member
who attended the meeting but is barred from speaking on the record about
Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for the House education committee, said,
“Chairman Miller said this couldn’t just be free money, that we had to
get something in return.”
The administration’s reform initiatives have thrust governors into an
unusually prominent role in education policy, more often the province of
state school chiefs and big-city mayors. Gov. Martin O'Malley of
Maryland and several other governors met with Mr. Duncan during a
National Governors Association meeting in February.
“In a nutshell,” Mr. O’Malley said in an interview, “Arne Duncan’s pitch
was, ‘I want to partner with governors; I know you can be drivers for
education reform.’ He wants us to step up.”
Mr. Duncan says that governors in Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts,
Wisconsin and other states have also responded favorably.
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