Volume 16 Issue 2
By Frank Wells
September and October saw a flurry of activity around the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — also referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — as the Obama administration announced a new waiver process for states to opt out of key provisions of the act, and as lawmakers introduced reauthorization legislation that would significantly change the version of the law that has burdened schools for nearly a decade.
On Sept. 23, President Obama presented a much-anticipated plan for relief from NCLB, which would allow states to opt out of provisions of the law in “exchange for serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college and career ready.” However, while waiving some of the more onerous provisions of NCLB, the program in large part replaced one top-down testdriven accountability system with another. The waiver system requires student progress to be measured by test scores and requires those scores to be significant factors in teacher evaluation.
KC Walsh, chair of the ESEA Workgroup, which has helped develop CTA policy recommendations around the reauthorization of the law, was in the White House along with other CTA leaders when the new waiver policy was announced. “We were excited to hear it was coming and grateful for the promise of flexibility,” she says, “but ultimately we were very disappointed in the unfunded top-down approach the Administration continues to push forward.”
As the Educator went to press, 39 states had sent letters of intent indicating they would apply for an NCLB waiver. California was not yet among them. When the program was first announced, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson issued a statement praising the White House’s recognition of the need for a waiver process, but voicing concern about the potential cost to California to implement the alternatives called for in the new program. Likewise expressing concerns, the CTA Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose California’s seeking a waiver.
Rumors had circulated during the summer that Congress might make efforts to get the ESEA reauthorization done before the next campaign season knocked the issue once again to the back burner, and on Oct. 11 Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced legislation that would represent a significant overhaul of the law. The 865-page draft bill would make major changes to what was renamed No Child Left Behind under President Bush in 2001.
Sen. Harkin says he’ll work in a bipartisan manner to come up with a final bill. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, has also introduced his own set of bills that would change ESEA. Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is trying a piecemeal approach. One of his bills promoting charter schools has already passed, but four others, including one dealing with teacher evaluation, appear less certain.
At press time, NEA, CTA, and other state affiliates were launching a massive lobbying effort, with dozens flying back to Washington to make sure what ultimately makes it to the floors of Congress will be the best possible law for students and educators. “This has been 10 years in the making,” says CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “We have to make sure they get it right.”