Tag Archives: No Child Left Behind

Lamar Alexander’s NCLB Reauthorization Draft Is Mostly a Reprisal of His (Failed) 2013 Bill

Senator Lamar Alexander, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has released a new draft proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Called the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015,” it builds off his earlier proposal, the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2013.”

See what he did there? He subbed in “2015” for “2013.”

Or how about the bill’s statement of purpose? In 2015, it was, “to restore freedom to parents, teachers, principals and other school leaders, States, Governors, and local communities so that they can improve their local public schools.” In 2013, the bill was meant, “to restore freedom to parents, teachers, principals and other school leaders, States, Governors, and local communities so that they can improve their local public schools.”

Spot any differences? No? You get the gist.

Since Alexander is self-plagiarizing his 2013 bill, I feel comfortable repeating what I wrote about it then. Mainly:

Trust (but don’t verify). The most important word in Alexander’s bill is “assurance.” States would have to provide an assurance they’d adopted challenging academic standards and aligned assessments, an assurance that they have an accountability system, an assurance that they will identify schools in need of improvement and provide them some technical assistance, an assurance they will release results to the public, and an assurance they will monitor district implementation. There are no serious standards for these things and, even if there were, there would be no way to verify state assertions….

If you have any illusions about every state being a good actor on school performance, I encourage you to read the latest Education Sector report from John Chubb and Constance Clark. It found a wide and growing achievement gap that varies based on the state in which a student lives. Some states have produced fantastic results for students, but many others lag behind considerably. If you care at all about national education results, you probably don’t want to put all your faith in state assurances.

To be fair, congressional members often re-introduce bills offered in previous sessions. And Alexander’s 2015 bill does include some differences from his 2013 bill, including a “choose-your-own-adventure” option on testing.

But the majority of the text and the key elements in Alexander’s 2015 bill look largely like a reprisal of his 2013 offering. We should treat it as such. That bill received 0 Democratic votes in committee and never made it to the Senate floor. Alexander is talking a big game this time around about a bi-partisan bill, but, so far, it’s hard to find any actual evidence behind that talk.

The Not-So-Secret Recipe for ESEA Reauthorization

It’s been 50 years since President Johnson first signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law. Tomorrow also happens to mark the 13th birthday of the last reauthorization of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As NCLB moves into its teenage years, and as the edu-intelligentsia anxiously anticipates another attempt at updating the law, it’s worth revisiting how we got our last reauthorization. A 2003 article by Andrew Rudalevige for Education Next provides a great historical overview. If you care about federal education sausage-making, go re-read the whole thing.

The article presents a nice comparison to today, and it makes clear that a reauthorization isn’t just some magical act of one or two people. It takes a whole group of people and conditions to fall into place. Namely:

1. The President. George W. Bush campaigned on his vision for the federal education law, Bill Clinton had personally fought for education reform as Arkansas governor, and the law’s original sponsor, Lyndon Johnson, had personally been a teacher and champion of education. President Obama released his own vision for ESEA 5 years ago, but K-12 education hasn’t been at the forefront of his thinking lately.

2. Moderates. Any big piece of legislation requires moderates to take tough votes to enact it. This was no different in 2001-2, when a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans helped push the bill to completion.

3. Bi-partisanship. This could be considered a subset of #2 above, but the EdNext piece does a thorough job of explaining all the things that the bill’s sponsors wanted but didn’t get out of the final bill. That compromise was essential in ensuring a wide majority supported the bill.

4. Time. A complicated piece of legislation takes time to enact. Even after President Bush was elected specifically championing education reform, it took a bi-partisan Congress until January 2002, a full year after inauguration, to send him a final bill.

5. Money. In order to grease the skids and encourage broader support, the bill expanded the total amount of federal money spent on education, and it created new programs devoted to pet causes of various congressional groups.

Go read the full piece. I don’t present it here as a perfect comparison to today’s world–a reauthorization could pass without these factors in place–but they do present a nice check-list of things to consider as we evaluate the prospects for this year’s reauthorization attempts. By my scorecard, the current talks fail on all five of these factors.