Could a new education law ever please everyone?

“Harkin’s bill would return control to the state departments of education and the local school districts, and they’re the ones that got us into the mess that No Child was designed to fix,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who headed the Department of Education’s research wing under President Bush, in an interview with the New York Times. “Districts and states have not been effective in delivering quality education to children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, so why should we think they’ll be effective this time around?”

Critics also fear the bill could “take [minorities] backwards.”

“It’s a radical reversal of the federal role in education,” Raul Gonzalez, director of legislative affairs for the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Latino civil rights group, told the Washington Post.

According to Gonzalez, states were free for decades to set their own goals, but they failed to narrow achievement gaps between students of different races and income groups and failed to deliver on the promise of educational opportunity for everyone.

Other groups support the bill, saying the update reflects current national issues, supports teachers and staff, and focuses on student graduation.

“For too long, high schools have been overlooked by federal education policy. This proposal would concentrate improvement efforts on high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent, often referred to as ‘dropout factories,’” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “It would establish a common, accurate calculation of graduation rates, helping to ensure that the nation’s high schools are held accountable for preparing students for college and careers. It would also support comprehensive efforts by states to strengthen the literacy skills of all students, including young people in high school.”

Wise said the bill supports assessments that would help prepare students for college and the workforce, and it ensures that high schools are supported through Title I, the federal government’s primary source of financial support for low-income students.

“Under current law, high schools only receive 10 percent of Title I funding, though they serve nearly one-quarter of low-income students,” he explained. “Over time, low-income high school students will finally receive the support they deserve from this cornerstone of federal education policy.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was pleased with the bill’s emphasis on teachers, specifically on teacher evaluation.

However, she said the bill’s success will depend on implementation: “When done correctly, evaluations with tools and supports for teachers can lead toward a path of vibrant instructions. When done incorrectly, it becomes just a human resources sorting mechanism that devalues teachers, limits their growth, and undercuts our children’s education. … Valid and reliable teacher development and evaluation systems should be based on multiple measures, not just test scores, and should provide teachers with the feedback, tools, and conditions they need for continuous improvement.”

She added: “This is a lengthy bill that will require much analysis,” echoing other stakeholder groups that urge careful examination of the bill.

eSchool News Staff

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