Republicans and Democrats agree that NCLB is broken, but they remain divided over how to fix it.
The long-awaited overhaul of the nine-year-old No Child Left Behind law has begun in the U.S. House of Representatives with the first in a series of targeted bills—but a bipartisan, comprehensive reform of the nation’s most important education law still appears far from the finish line.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said there’s no chance of meeting President Barack Obama’s August deadline.
“I’ve been very, persistently clear that we cannot get this done by summer,” Kline said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It is just not going to happen.”
Republicans have been divided by new lawmakers who tend to oppose any federal role in education and fiscal conservatives who want greater efficiency but are open to giving Washington some input. On the other side, some Democrats favor incentives like merit pay for teachers, while others are advocating for the more traditional education establishment.
“There are some areas of focus that I think you can get some consensus around,” said Sandy Kress, who served as an education adviser to President George W. Bush in the passage of NCLB in 2001. For example, he said, there’s agreement on the need to better prepare high school students for college and careers, create measures that improve teacher development and effectives, and prune back federal intrusions into the classroom.
“But after that, the differences come out,” Kress said.
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Republicans and Democrats agree the law is broken. The Bush-era legislation has accountability provisions in which even schools that are making improvements can be labeled as failures and has had a discouraging effect on the adoption of higher standards.
The law sets a goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by 2014, but states set what is considered proficient and how much schools must improve each year. Many left the biggest leaps for the final years, anticipating the law would be changed.
Because it has not, the number of schools not meeting annual growth benchmarks is likely to increase. Failing to meet the targets for several consecutive years leads to federal interventions that can result in staff replacement and school restructuring.