“It’s going to be more and more difficult for schools to make the targets,” said Diane Rentner, director of national programs for the Center on Education Policy.
Two approaches have emerged to restructuring the law. The House plans to introduce several targeted fixes through multiple bills, starting with a proposal to eliminate 43 federal K-12 education programs. The Senate still aims for a more comprehensive legislation.
“We will hopefully have a bill that may not be what everybody wants, but I hope it will be broadly supported,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Harkin said he is hopeful the bill will appear before the committee before the July recess and will include systems for teacher and principal evaluations; metrics for success that include student growth and school gains; and some federal accountability and intervention in the bottom 5 percent of schools, as well as those with significant achievement gaps.
Potentially, a Senate bill could be aligned with the House proposals in a conference committee, but analysts say that would be difficult to pull off. House Republicans, wary of any broad-reaching federal legislation, might balk at a comprehensive education bill.
“The politics of education are in a place where the stars are not fully aligned yet,” said Vic Klatt, a former GOP staff director for the House Education Committee.
Passing a series of small, targeted bills isn’t necessarily easier, either.
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“We’re fully prepared to proceed in that fashion; it just makes it a little more difficult because you don’t have all the pieces on the table at the same time,” said Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the Education Committee.
Kline said he plans to introduce a second bill soon that would give school districts more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars. A third bill could be introduced before the August break, and at least one more, addressing how schools should be held accountable, would follow.
“I think it makes it easier for everybody to understand,” Hunter said of the piecemeal approach, whereas for big bills, “I think people have an aversion to them now.”
Neither of the first two bills addresses Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s concern that 82 percent of schools could be labeled as failures next year under No Child Left Behind. Kline said the accountability question is a difficult one.