ESEA Reauthorization Completes Critical Step in the House
On Feb. 28, 2012 the House Education and the Workforce Committee “marked up” and approved H.R. 3989, the Student Success Act and H.R. 3990, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teaching Act, both bills introduced by committee chairman John Kline (R-MN). The bills passed out of committee on a party line vote. While the bills offer some positive changes to the current law, NEA opposed them. The organization believes they veer too far away from the critical federal role in ensuring equity in education for all students and go too far in prescribing terms of teacher evaluation systems at the federal level – a role more appropriate for states and local school districts.
Specifically, the Kline bills gut protection of state and local fiscal support for schools, triggering a race to the bottom in the foundation of public education. Federal dollars would be used to backfill state and local funding gaps rather than supporting students who need additional support or attention to thrive – particularly those in poverty.
The bills do contain several positive provisions, such as adding common-sense changes to testing requirements including changing Adequate Yearly Progress and providing for alternative assessments for some students with special needs. Additionally, they eliminate No Child Left Behind’s one-size-fits-all system of labeling and punishment of schools based on standardized tests.
On the negative side, the Kline bills provide significant new flexibility for districts and states to transfer funds aimed at special populations – such as English Language Learners, American Indians/Alaska Natives, or neglected students – for other uses. They also go too far in dictating what teacher evaluation systems should look like – a responsibility best left at the state and local level in order to improve individual and whole school teaching practices so students can benefit from the very best teaching. Although the NEA supports strong evaluation systems, it has long opposed the creation of a national, federally mandated evaluation system, deeming it to be unfair, inaccurate and unworkable.
States and districts are already taking the initiative on establishing robust systems that properly address student needs. More interference at the federal level would therefore likely be counterproductive.