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NCLB Outrages

Key NCLB-Renewal Bills Withheld Until Fall

As process slows in Congress, campaign debate on law picks up. Kudos to Biden for being man enough to admit a mistake. Maybe Miller has too many vested interests to do the same. See http://www.eliminatenclb.org

By David J. Hoff and Alyson Klein

Congress has delayed any significant action on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act until it returns from its summer recess after Labor Day.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, announced this week that his committee would not consider an NCLB bill next week, the last before lawmakers take their August break.

Instead of presenting a bill to his committee, Rep. Miller planned to give a speech July 30 at the National Press Club in Washington. In it, he was planning to tout the success of the 5½-year-old law and explain his priorities for reauthorizing it, said Tom Kiley, the congressmanâs communications director. But Mr. Kiley declined to say how specific the chairman would be in the speech.
See Also
For more discussion on this topic, see our new blog NCLB: Act II.

Rep. Miller had been preparing to introduce a bill to revise the NCLB law before Congress left town.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee had delayed consideration of its NCLB-renewal bill while lawmakers in that chamber worked on their plans to reauthorize the Higher Education Act and alter federal financial-aid programs for college students.
Civil Rights Letter

With committees in both chambers waiting until September to produce NCLB bills, time is starting to run out for completing the reauthorization of the main federal law in K-12 education before the 2008 presidential-primary season, which is expected to slow down legislative activity in Congress.

One issue that may have stalled Rep. Millerâs plans for committee action is whether states should be able to use multiple measures to gauge student progress under the NCLB law, an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that requires annual testing to determine whether schools are doing enough to raise academic proficiency.

In a memo to freshman members of Congress, circulated on Capitol Hill in June, Rep. Miller suggested that states might be permitted to use graduation rates and ârealtime classroom tests that allow teachers to adjust instructionâ to meet accountability requirements under the reauthorized law. ("NCLB-Renewal Ideas Circulate on Capitol Hill," July 18, 2007.)

But that idea met with criticism from some civil rights and other advocacy groups, which worried it could weaken the law. Five groups sent a letter to Rep. Miller and Rep. Howard P. âBuckâ McKeon of California, the education panelâs ranking Republican, outlining their concerns. The Washington-based groups include the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank; the Education Trust, which advocates for poor and minority children; the Citizensâ Commission on Civil Rights; the Lawyersâ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law; and the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.

âIn our experience, institutions that are held accountable for too many things are, in the end, accountable for nothing,â the organizations wrote July 13. âWorse still, a system that papers over poor reading and math performance with âextra credit indicatorsâ will deny struggling schools the additional attention, technical assistance, and financial resources that they need to improve.â

Rep. McKeon cited the letter as one reason he was reluctant to support Rep. Millerâs early drafts of a reauthorization bill, according to Steve Forde, Mr. McKeonâs spokesman.

On July 23, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told a Capitol Hill audience that she questioned whether the law should add measures other than statewide tests for accountability.

In her brief presentation to a forum convened by the Congressional Black Caucus, she said she would oppose anything she believes would âwater down the ability of African American kids ... to read on grade level.â

Responding to reportersâ questions after the event, Ms. Spellings said she is not certain that states are ready to implement such complex systems. More than five years after the law was enacted, some states âstill have issuesâ with implementing the current accountability system, she said.
Democrats on the âTubeâ

If Congress doesnât renew the NCLB legislation this year, lawmakers would likely pass an extension as a formality. That would keep the $23.6 billion in federal funding appropriated under the law flowing to school districts.

The delay also could foretell significant changes for the law, especially if a Democrat is elected to succeed President Bush.
Democratic presidential contenders, from left, Mike Gravel, Christopher J. Dodd, John Edwards, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and Dennis J. Kucinich at the July 23 debate sponsored by CNN and the Web site YouTube.
âCharles Dharapak/AP

In a July 23 debate at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., and in other recent forums, Democratic candidates criticized the lawâs emphasis on testing and what they contend is inadequate funding for it.

For the debate, co-sponsored by CNN and the YouTube Web site, a participant identified as Randy McGirr of Trona, Calif., produced a heavy-metal-style video that declared: âNCLB was such a scam. So now tell me, sir or maâam, would you scrap the whole thing or just revise? Tell me the truth, donât tell me no lies.â

CNN host Anderson Cooper directed the question to just two candidates: Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware.

âI would scrap it. It doesnât work,â Gov. Richardson said, to applause from the audience. âIt is not just an unfunded mandate, but the one- size-fits-all doesnât work.â

Sen. Biden said he had made a mistake in voting for the law in 2001, when it passed both houses of Congress with big, bipartisan majorities. He said he had done so âagainst my better instinctâ because he had great faith in Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a leading Democratic architect of the law, which President Bush had made a top domestic priority. Mr. Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate education committee, remains one of the lawâs most prominent supporters.

âMy wifeâs been teaching for 30 years,â Sen. Biden added in his answer at the debate. âShe has her doctorate in education. She comes back and points out how itâs just not working.â

While other candidates werenât offered the chance respond to Mr. McGirrâs question, several of them have criticized the law in speeches, including several who appeared at the National Education Associationâs convention this month.

Mark Walsh contributed to this report.

— David J. Hoff and Alyson Klein
Education Week


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