"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NCLB II: "immigration all over again"?

The outrage by parents, grandparents, students, and teachers is being felt. Keep the pressure on. Write, call, fax Congress to stop the madness. REPEAL!

From Congressional Quarterly:

The top House Republican negotiating a renewal of the landmark 2002 education law said legislation won’t be ready until fall and he won’t support it unless it’s backed by a majority of GOP members.

Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said the latest draft he viewed July 12 included Democratic proposals that troubled him.

By demanding that the bill win a majority of the minority, McKeon is setting a threshold that could prevent the White House and Democratic-led Congress from achieving bipartisan success on President Bush’s top domestic policy priority in his final months in office.

Education lobbyists had been optimistic that a House markup would come before the August recess, to speed along the reauthorization and finish before the 2008 election season begins to greatly limit action on Capitol Hill.

That now seems unlikely.

“I personally don’t think we will introduce a bill this month,” said McKeon. “We have too much to do.”

The slower pace would put the House more in line with the Senate, which seemed to be lagging behind on the reauthorization for the first half of the year as Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts focused on other education priorities and the failed immigration overhaul (S 1639).

A spokesman for Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said aides intend to draft the Senate bill over the four-week summer break, with a markup likely in September.

Even though the law (PL 107-110), known as No Child Left Behind, expires at the end of September, a one-year extension kicks in if no action is taken; and even if that year passes, Congress can continue core elements of the law by appropriating money for its programs.

But that would be a disappointing way for Bush to leave office — without securing what is now certain to be his core domestic policy achievement. The law, which Bush pushed for during his first year in office, set new standards for teachers and requires states to regularly test students in reading, math and science, with penalties for schools that don’t show “adequate yearly progress.”

Democrats could pass a bill on their own in the House. But to get a bill through the Senate and signed into law will require GOP support.

McKeon’s backing could be crucial to corralling Republicans, given the number who have criticized the measure for going overboard on federal mandates and who have already said they will abandon the White House — just as many did last month on immigration, despite Bush’s very public involvement.

Testing Could Be Issue

Democrats have pledged to work with Bush, and House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., is working to shore up votes on his side.

In June, he sent a memo to freshman members seeking input on nine key areas that staff is looking at in the draft.

When told about McKeon’s remarks, a spokesman for Miller said the two staffs continue to work in a bipartisan way on the bill.

“We are working very hard to bring a bill forward as soon as possible,” said spokesman Thomas Kiley.

McKeon would not specify what areas of the draft he has taken issue with, only saying that the renewal must continue major aspects of the law that “maintain accountability.”

A likely target for his concern is a proposal by Democrats to allow states to use methods other than standardized testing to measure yearly progress made by students.

In his memo to freshman members, Miller wrote that concerns have been raised about “too much weight” being placed on testing and said that states should be allowed to gather “multiple sources of evidence,” such as graduation rates and real-time classroom tests that “allow teachers to adjust their instruction as necessary.”

Miller’s strategy was criticized in a July 13 letter sent to Miller and McKeon by the National Council of La Raza, the Citizens’ Commission for Civil Rights, and the Center for American Progress. Those liberal groups have aligned themselves with business leaders in pressing for the law’s reauthorization.

“We urge extreme caution with this approach,” the letter stated. “In our experience, institutions that are held accountable for too many things are, in the end, accountable for nothing.”

While Miller’s idea was part of draft legislation, he also was getting input from other lawmakers, including some freshmen. Many of them campaigned on overhauling the law, which school officials and parents have complained can be too rigid and, in some cases, punitive.

Freshman Democrat Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut said he was happy that Miller was engaging the first-year lawmakers.

Murphy said he wants schools rewarded for making strides from year to year, not just for meeting benchmarks set by the federal government. He also wants Congress to look closely at requirements for subgroups, such as students learning English and students with disabilities.

“Part of the reason we are here is because of frustration with the federal education process. A great deal of frustration,” Murphy said. “I think it can be fixed.”

McKeon said he also wants the law reauthorized and that he and Miller continue to work together in good faith. But he’s firm on insisting that a majority of Republicans back the bill. When asked whether he would consider a threshold of 70 Republicans — the number Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she needed to pass immigration legislation — McKeon said, “If we have 70 Republicans, I won’t be one of them.”

A competing measure (HR 1539), by Republican Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, has 60 GOP cosponsors. It would, in his words, make the law “voluntary” by letting states come up with their own ways to measure school performance.

“If the request is to get a bill with half Republicans, I don’t think so,” Hoekstra said. “In many ways, this may be immigration all over again.”

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