The way I read them, George Miller's remarks yesterday confirm the shift we've noticed in the politics of NCLB reauthorization, as compared to just a few months ago. Owing to its widespread unpopularity at the grassroots, this law has few staunch defenders in Congress. On the other hand, it still has strong support from corporate interests and their "civil rights" allies. So the chairman appears to be trying to strike a middle course that would please both sides -- an impossible feat, in my view.
Although his rhetoric is encouraging -- "the American people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair. That it is not flexible. And that it is not funded" -- we would be naive to discount the continuing influence of EdTrust, Aspen, Business Roundtable, NLCR, et al. Given their huge resources and the complexity of the legislation, which is tailor-made for backroom deals, the test-and-punish lobby still enjoys a big advantage.
So I expect that the details of Miller's forthcoming proposal will fall short on his promises for substantial changes -- unless we keep the pressure on. For those who want to influence NCLB reauthorization, now would be an excellent time -- the Congressional recess, Aug. 6 - Sept. 4 -- to meet with your representatives and senators back home. After Miller's bill is unveiled and House members start signing on, either out of ignorance of the issues or under pressure from their party leaders (or both), it will be much harder to have an impact. Similar forces will be at work this fall on the Senate side as well.
Again, Miller's speech is posted at: http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/RelJul30NCLBSpeech.html.
Rep. George Miller can be contacted at:
Crucial Lawmaker Outlines Changes to Education Law
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
Published: July 31, 2007
WASHINGTON, July 30 — The chairman of the House education committee, an original architect of the federal No Child Left Behind law, said Monday that he wanted to change the law so that annual reading and math tests would not be the sole measure of school performance, but that other indicators like high school graduation rates and test scores in other subjects would also be taken into account.
“Our legislation will continue to place strong emphasis on reading and math skills,” the chairman, Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, said at the National Press Club. “But it will allow states to use more than their reading and math test results to determine how well schools and students are doing.”
In the speech, Mr. Miller described an array of criticisms that have emerged over the past year in hearings on renewing the education law. But he repeated his commitment to the law and spoke passionately of its goal of raising the achievement of poor and minority students.
His comments were the first public disclosure of changes he would make to the law, which was put together by President Bush with strong bipartisan support in 2001. Although business leaders and education and civil rights advocates praised Mr. Miller’s vision for renewal, they also said they would reserve judgment until an actual bill appeared. Mr. Miller said that would probably occur in September.
In response to questions about his proposal for broadening the measures of student achievement, Mr. Miller said additional indicators of progress could include participation in Advanced Placement or college preparatory curriculums, high school graduation rates and statewide tests in subjects other than reading and math.
Students “would still have to do very well on reading and math,” he said, adding, “This is not an escape hatch.”
Still, Mr. Miller’s remarks provoked immediate reaction from the ranking Republican on the education committee, Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, who said any changes that would weaken “accountability, flexibility and parental choice will be met with strong opposition from House Republicans and are likely to be a fatal blow to the reauthorization process.”
The White House referred questions to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who hinted that the administration would rather see no bill at all than one that “rolled back the clock on school accountability.”
“While we all hope to see action on reauthorization soon, a comprehensive bill that has bipartisan support and holds firm to the goal of every child reading and doing math on grade level by 2014 is worth the wait,” Ms. Spellings said in a prepared statement.
In his speech, Mr. Miller acknowledged the many complaints about the No Child Left Behind law from school districts nationwide, saying: “Throughout our schools and communities, the American people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair. That it is not flexible. And that it is not funded. And they are not wrong.”
Mr. Miller said he would also propose so-called pay for performance, which would pay teachers more based in part on how much their students improved, and a system to reward schools if students were on a trajectory to reach proficiency within a few years, even if they were not actually on grade level. He also said a new law would differentiate between schools that failed on a broad scale and those in which only one or two groups of students came up short, allowing solutions tailored to each school’s specific deficiencies.
Currently, the law requires annual testing in reading and math for students in Grades 3 to 8. High school students must be tested once. Schools must report results to show that each demographic group — low-income, minority and special education students, along with students for whom English is a second language — is showing sufficient progress toward 100 percent proficiency by 2014. High poverty schools that fail to show sufficient progress, which currently number more than 9,000, face steadily more severe penalties, including possible closure.
Susan Traiman, director of education and workforce policy at the Business Roundtable, a coalition of companies closely involved in the passage of the original law, said the group was encouraged by Mr. Miller’s remarks but hoped to see a bill with bipartisan support.
“We need to see the details on what he means by these multiple measures and how these would work,” Ms. Traiman said.
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