Here are the prepared remarks of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, for a July 30 speech at the National Press Club on the future of the No Child Left Behind Act:
Good morning to all of you, and thank you for coming.
Over 40 years ago, President John F. Kennedy had a vision of sending a man to the moon and bringing him home again.
That vision fueled a massive investment by this nation in all levels of education–an investment that drove nearly four decades of discovery, innovation, and economic growth, allowing America to have the world’s strongest economy and lead the community of nations for generations.
Sadly, this investment fell off over the years.
With the report A Nation at Risk, America woke up and saw an education system that no longer served all its children and was failing our future.
America had an education system that was operating under a policy of acceptable losses. Where only about half of all minority children could read proficiently. Where black and Hispanic 17-year-olds were being taught math to the same level as white 13-year-olds. Where 40,000 teachers in California were without the credentials necessary to teach in the schools.
Nearly four decades after President Kennedy’s decision, America realized that its education system was threatening the country’s world leadership.
Six years ago, we decided to do something bold about it.
We made a decision as a nation to raise our expectations of what America’s schools and schoolchildren could achieve. We made a decision to insist upon high standards.
We said that it was not good enough for a majority of the children in a school district to be learning and performing at grade level if their success was allowed to mask the fact that many other children were falling behind.
We asked the states to set higher standards for their schools and students, because we believed that every single child–if given access to a highly qualified teacher and a good curriculum in a decent school–could achieve educational success.
We made performance at our schools transparent, and we made schools accountable for their performance.
Today, five-and-a-half years after its enactment, the No Child Left Behind Act has brought some positive changes.
A recent Center on Education Policy study of all 50 states found gains in students’ reading and math proficiency and the narrowing of the achievement gap among groups of students since the implementation of No Child Left Behind.
There are more qualified teachers in the classroom today, because we made it a priority.
The law is shining a bright light on the achievement gaps among different groups of students in the U.S. and among the states. Now–for the first time–we know exactly which students, and which groups of students, are not learning and performing at grade level. This information makes it impossible for us to ignore those students who are not succeeding.
And finally, the law has provoked an energetic national debate about our nation’s system of public education and the need for the next generation of investment in our schools, students, principals, and teachers. That is a good thing.
Let me be clear, though: Schools and students are not making enough progress. Not for a country as great as ours.
We didn’t get it all right when we enacted the law.
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.
The question is, what we are going to do next?
America needs and must have an education law that insists on accountability with high expectations, high standards, and high-quality assessments; that closes the achievement gap; and that helps all children to learn.
And America needs and must have an education law that treats schools and children fairly, that provides educators and administrators the flexibility they need to meet high standards, and that delivers to schools the resources they need to improve and succeed.
We can, and we must, meet these objectives in this next stage of education reform in the United States.
We would be wrong to waver when it comes to the existing goals and standards of the No Child Left Behind law. We would also be wrong if we failed to respond to the serious concerns with the law raised by people who sincerely care about America’s educational future.
I can tell you that there are no votes in the U.S. House of Representatives for continuing the No Child Left Behind Act without making serious changes to it.
It is my intention as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee to pass a bill in September, both in Committee and on the floor of the House.
We want a bill that is fair and flexible–that maintains the integrity of the law through accountability, while responding to the legitimate concerns that have been raised.
I have always said that I am proud to be one of the original coauthors of the No Child Left Behind Act. But what I really want is to be the proud coauthor of a law that works.
To that end, for the last five years I have traveled this country listening to teachers, administrators, students, parents, governors, and many others about how the law can be improved. I have listened carefully, as have my colleagues. We have heard an emerging consensus about needed changes.
The process by which this bill is being developed is open, transparent, and bipartisan.
It reflects the input of Members of Congress from both parties and across the ideological spectrum, many of whom testified before and submitted suggestions to our committee.
It reflects testimony delivered in nearly two dozen Congressional hearings begun last year by then-Chairman McKeon. Congressman McKeon and I have been working together on this reauthorization for many months. He has been very helpful to this process.
And it reflects our review of recommendations from more than 100 education, civil rights, and business organizations. Congressman Dale Kildee, the subcommittee chair, and I have met with many of these organizations.
My vision for this next bill is to take America’s education policy in a new direction by doing six key things:
• Provide much-needed fairness and flexibility.
• Encourage a rich and challenging learning environment and promote best practices and innovation taking place in schools throughout the country.
• Support teachers and principals.
• Continue to hold schools accountable for students’ progress.
• Join the effort to improve America’s high schools.
• Invest in our schools.
First, the legislation will provide much-needed fairness and flexibility.
We hear concerns that schools don’t get credit they deserve when their students make real progress over time.
The legislation I will introduce will contain a growth model that gives credit to states and schools for the progress that their students make over time.
This builds on a pilot effort started by Secretary Spellings. The Secretary deserves great credit for her leadership on this important issue.
These growth models will give us fairer, better, and more accurate information. The information will be timely and helpful to teachers and principals in developing strategies for improvement and in targeting resources.
In addition, many Americans do not believe that the success of our students or our schools can be measured by one test administered on one day. I agree with them. This is not fair.
We hear concerns that the law has forced schools to focus on math and reading instruction at the expense of history, art, social studies, music, and physical education. This is not required under the Act–nor should it be–but we must help ensure that all students in all schools have access to a broad, rich curriculum.
Our legislation will continue to place strong emphasis on reading and math skills. But it will allow states to use more than their reading and math test results to determine how well schools and students are doing.
We will allow the use of additional valid and reliable measures to assess student learning and school performance more fairly, comprehensively, and accurately. One such measure for high schools must be graduation rates.
The legislation will also drive improvements in the quality and appropriateness of the tests used for accountability. This is especially important for English-language learners and students with disabilities, who should be given tests that are fair and appropriate, just as they should continue to be included in our accountability system.
In exchange for increased resources, states will be allowed to develop better tests that more accurately measure what all students have learned.
These tests will be more useful to teachers and will drive richer classroom instruction.
Second, the legislation will encourage a rich and challenging learning environment, and it will promote best practices and innovation taking place in schools throughout the country.
In so many meetings I have had in my district and elsewhere, employers say that our high school graduates are not ready for the workplace. Colleges say that our high school graduates are not ready for the college classroom. This is unacceptable.
In my bill, we will ask employers and colleges to come together as stakeholders with the states to jointly develop more rigorous standards that meet the demands of both. Many states have already started this process. We seek to build on and complement the leadership of our nation’s governors and provide them incentives to continue.
This requires that assessments be fully aligned with these new state standards and include multiple measures of success.
These measures can no longer reflect just basic skills and memorization. Rather, they must reflect critical-thinking skills and the ability to apply knowledge to new and challenging contexts. These are the skills that today’s students will need to meet the complex demands of the American economy and society in a globalized world.
Schools must no longer prepare our students to be autonomous problem solvers. The workplace they enter tomorrow will increasingly require them to work in teams, collaborating across companies, communities, and continents. These skills cannot be developed solely by simple multiple-choice exams.
For too long, we have settled for standards and assessments that do not measure up to the high goals we have for our kids or the skills they must achieve. But let none of us for a moment believe that our students will be able to participate in this interactive and participatory culture and workplace if they cannot read, write, and understand math.
Therefore, the bill will say that if states take this step and commit to the students of their state that they will prepare them for the universities and jobs of the future, then we will provide them with incentives and assistance to do so.
Third, the legislation will support teachers and principals.
Even with all of these changes, we will not meet our national goal of closing the achievement gap until and unless we close the teacher quality gap. No factor matters more to a children’s educational success than the quality of their teachers and principals.
All children deserve their fair share of teacher talent and expertise. We must do more to ensure that poor and minority students are taught by teachers with expertise in the subjects they are teaching.
I have heard from so many teachers who feel they are no longer viewed as critical partners in an educational system, but merely an instrument to satisfy a minimum attainment goal.
As a nation, we are not offering teachers the respect and support they deserve today, and as a result we are facing a very real teacher shortage crisis. Particularly in urban and rural communities, in subjects like math, science, foreign language, and for children with disabilities and children learning English, we must hire, train, and retain excellent teachers.
For these reasons, the legislation I will introduce will provide for performance pay for principals and teachers based on fair and proven models, teacher mentoring, teacher career ladders, and improved working conditions.
It will also provide incentives consistent with the Teach Act that I introduced two years ago that will help bring top teacher talent into the classrooms that need this the most.
Fourth, the legislation will continue to hold schools accountable for students’ progress.
The heart of No Child Left Behind is accountability. Our bill will continue to hold schools accountable for all students, including minority and low-income students, students learning English, and those with disabilities. All these students deserve an improved accountability system.
Under current law, schools whose students have not made adequate achievement gains are all treated the same under the law today–with the same interventions and sanctions taking place over the same period of time.
We need to distinguish among different schools and the challenges facing them, as well as their needs for addressing those challenges.
Schools with specific problems in specific areas should be allowed to use instructional interventions that are appropriate to their needs. High-priority schools, meanwhile, must receive more intensive support and assistance.
I am pleased that the House Appropriations Committee has already committed significant new funding for this purpose next year.
Fifth, the legislation will join the effort to improve America’s high schools.
I believe this is part of the solution to addressing our unacceptably high dropout rate. Over 30 percent of all high school students do not receive a diploma. America is better than that. We can no longer give up on these students by allowing them to give up on school.
The bill will include comprehensive steps to turn around low-performing middle and high schools. It will include uniform standards for measuring graduation rates that are fair, accurate, reliable, and will do more to keep students in school.
I tip my hat to the governors for their leadership in this area, and look forward to working with them as we benefit from and build on their reforms.
We must also remember that there are remarkable examples of schools in difficult environments where students are soaring and the achievement gap is closing.
We must celebrate and reward these successes. Our bill will help sustain them, build on them, and bring them to scale.
Sixth, and finally, this legislation will invest in our schools.
This new direction for education in America is premised on the growing consensus that there is a need for greater and sustained investments needed in American education.
In the new Congress, the Democratic leadership has begun this new era of investment–first with the continuing resolution funding, then the appropriations bill, the Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, and the College Cost Reduction Act.
I expect this legislation to follow suit.
Much has been made of the unusual political coalition that developed the No Child Left Behind Act and the important role that President Bush played. Now, the discussion has shifted to No Child Left Behind as the most important domestic legacy for this President.
I would only say this: President Bush’s legacy will not be established if he vetoes the education funding in the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.
The legacy of a great American education system for our children and our country cannot be built on the cheap. America deserves better.
I want to close today by talking about why it’s so important that we get this right.
Our public education system plays many critical roles in our society. So much of who we are and where we are going is a product of this system, combined with our families and our communities.
Social and economic opportunity begins in the classroom. Discovery and innovation begin in the classroom. Economic growth and economic disparity begin in the classroom.
That is why it is essential to have a high-quality and engaged education system to carry out the continuous quest of redeeming America’s promise of equality for all people to fully participate in a thriving democratic system.
With this new direction for education in America, I believe we will have a new opportunity to succeed.
So many leaders from the education community, the business community, and the civil-rights community have already contributed so much understanding and rigor to this reauthorization process. I want to thank them so very much.
I am as excited and hopeful today as I have been at any time in the more than 30 years that I have served in Congress about the prospects for finally realizing the vision of excellent educational opportunities for all children in America.