Tag Archives: testing

NCLB Reauthorization Lies Through the Center, But Can It Hold?

Like clockwork, every two years, Congress decides it’s time to debate a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And the alarm is set to go off again, with NCLB at the top of the legislative agenda for the incoming Republican chairmen of the House and Senate education committees. After sessions marked by record-breaking inefficiency, could the 114th Congress be the one that finally gets an NCLB rewrite done?

It would be fitting, after all, with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act turning 50 next year. And nobody seems to care for Secretary Duncan’s NCLB waiver strategy in lieu of a permanent reauthorization. Plus, with the ascendance of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and a changing of the guard on the left after the retirements of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), it’s possible that new leadership could move past the partisanship that marred the last attempt to rewrite the law in 2013.

But which direction will they move? If the end goal is a bipartisan reauthorization, there are actually two ways GOP leadership could attempt to piece together a coalition:

  1. Bring together the wings. One of the most unusual developments over the past year or so is the convergence of the extremes of both parties. Staunch conservatives on the right, incensed by what they consider to be egregious federal overreach in regards to Common Core, teacher evaluations, and school turnarounds, have found common ground with unions and progressives on the left, fed up with what they see as out-of-control standardized testing and its undue influence on high-stakes accountability for schools and teachers. The solution, for both, is the same: gut NCLB’s signature standards, testing, and accountability provisions, and devolve most authority back to states and local districts. In other words, federal education policy circa 1994.

The problem is, of course, that standards-based accountability–or lack thereof–is one of the only things this motley bipartisan coalition could agree on. The right would like Title I portability, or even vouchers, in the law, or to expand the use of block grants to trim categorical programs. But if there’s one thing progressives and the unions won’t tolerate it’s less money for public education, or the loss of dedicated funding streams for certain programs (arts education, afterschool programs, English language learners, incarcerated youth, etc.). With those policy preferences, the wings of both parties are unlikely to coalesce around a complete NCLB reauthorization–there are just too many roadblocks over funding, choice, and other provisions. And even if they can come to some agreement on funding (say, a large increase in Title I formula funds in exchange for converting most of it to block grants), it’s even less likely that President Obama would sign such a bill if it’s main selling feature is “ending the Obama administration’s National School Board.” Continue reading

Why Legislative Words Matter

This one’s for all the aspiring policy wonks.

In Newark, NJ, the superintendent recently attempted to revoke the tenure rights of a group of teachers deemed ineffective. The state has a statute (“TEACHNJ”) of recent vintage permitting such things.

Kind of. Well, at least eventually.

One of the affected teachers contested the district’s decision, and an arbitrator sided with the teacher. It turns out that, in an arbitrator’s estimation at least, the statute technically took effect later than the district contends.

The arbitrator ruled that the statute’s language officially started the evaluations-with-state-mandated-consequences clock in 2013-14, not 2012-13. That means the district has only one annual performance evaluation of the teachers in question, not the two that are needed to invoke the state’s tenure-removal provision. So even though the district’s action comports with the spirit of the state law, this personnel decision was overturned, and the “remedy is reinstatement with full back pay and benefits.”

Because of the exact wording of legislative language, dozens of teachers are either–depending on your worldview–being indefensibly shielded from the law’s clear intent or rightly defended from an illegitimate administrative action.

If this law’s lack of specificity frustrates you, consider Section 5 of this North Carolina statute. So concerned that the state board would use its existing statutory and regulatory authority to procure an unpopular testing system (e.g. PARCC or SBAC), the legislature actually prohibits the board from acquiring any new assessment system until it is given new, explicit legislative permission to do so. The law goes even further, actually naming the kinds of tests that would probably be acceptable, (e.g. NAEP, SAT, ACT).

This is the endless tug of war between legislative authority and administrative discretion. In the former, a district gets its hand rapped for trying to squeeze too much power from what it considers sufficiently permissive language. In the latter, lawmakers craft uber-specific language to prevent the state school board from using its existing power to act against the legislature’s wishes.