The lead story in this morning’s New York Times is a peek at the Obama Administration’s plans for NCLB (No Child Left Behind, now re-christened ESEA — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). First passed with great bipartisan fanfare by the Bush Administration in 2000, NCLB sought to focus attention on achievement gaps between different groups, and require all schools across the country to close those gaps by 2014.
Well, here it is a decade later, and we’ve certainly focused on achievement gaps in the past decade, but the goal of bringing all children to proficiency still seems far off. In the meantime, the law has labeled thousands of schools as “in need of improvement,” and come under a great deal of fire for being all stick and no carrot (because it set penalties for failing to reach “adequate yearly progress” but offered few additional resources to help schools get there).
So it comes as a relief that, according to the Times report, the Administration seems willing to abandon the 2014 deadline, as well as other provisions:
The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, foreshadowed the elimination of the 2014 deadline in a September speech, referring to it as a “utopian goal,” and administration officials have since made clear that they want the deadline eliminated. In recent meetings with representatives of education groups, Department of Education officials have said they also want to eliminate the school ratings system built on making “adequate yearly progress” on student test scores.
“They were very clear with us that they would change the metric, dropping adequate yearly progress and basing a new system on another picture of performance based on judging schools in a more nuanced way,” said Bruce Hunter, director of public policy for the American Association of School Administrators, who attended one of the meetings.
The Times reports that the Administration will likely propose that Federal education funding — mostly coming in the form of grants based on the number of low-income students and students with disabilities — instead be tied to academic progress. This doesn’t really come as a huge surprise, since the Administration has signaled for months that it will seek to align the reauthorization of NCLB/ESEA with its signature education reform — the Race to the Top.
“They want to recast the law so that it is as close to Race to the Top as they can get it, making the money conditional on districts’ taking action to improve schools,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, who attended a recent meeting at which administration officials outlined their plans in broad strokes. “Right now most federal money goes out in formulas, so schools know how much they’ll get, and then use it to provide services for poor children. The department thinks that’s become too much of an entitlement. They want to upend that scheme by making states and districts pledge to take actions the administration considers reform, before they get the money.”
Many on the left have been discouraged by the reforms contained in Race to the Top, and so it’s somewhat demoralizing to see those reforms become further incorporated into Federal education policy. A central issue will be how the Admininstration proposes to define and measure progress. I wouldn’t say that basing that definition on the outcome of one high-stakes test is a valid way to measure, but there are thoughtful proposals coming out of the American Federation of Teachers and other groups. Fortunately, the work to reauthorize the legislation will primarily be done in Congress, and there is lots of time and room for advocates to influence the direction the policy takes.