Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Can Congress Update "No Child Left Behind?"

We have bipartisan agreement that No Child Left Behind -- our nation's education law -- needs updating.  Education has changed; technology has changed; testing has changed -- but the law hasn't.

George W. Bush signed NCLB into law in 2002, promising that schools and states would be held accountable for results.  Students would be tested in reading and math, and later in science, and parents would have options if schools failed to make sure all students were moving toward levels of proficiency.

NCLB expired in 2007, but has stayed in place as Congress has continued to fund its programs.

Occasionally over the years we have hard talk about reauthorizing and updating the law.  

But so far Congress hasn't acted -- no doubt because today's intense partisanship prevents compromise, and sometimes even prevents simple discussions of what policies should be.

A Glimmer of Hope?

Earlier this month, the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce said they want to re-write NCLB. 

Both are concerned that the Administration is doing what Congress apparently can't -- that is, updating and modifying NCLB's requirements through a series of administrative waivers of key provisions of the law. 

Essentially, the Administration is saying to the states, "Enact the reforms we want, and we will exempt you from some of the law's requirements." So far, 37 states have accepted the offer.

The waivers the Administration is granting are perfectly legal -- the law itself gives the Administration the authority.

Some within Congress are concerned about the scope of the waiver program, and the fact that so many states now are exempt from key accountability provisions of NCLB.

But can they do anything about it?  Can they stop the partisan posturing and work together?

Everyone agrees the law needs updating.  It's great that the leaders of the House Education Committee want to do it.  I take it as a glimmer of hope -- not just as deja vu

We all should support their efforts.  We should encourage them.  We should help them reach compromise on some of the more-contentious issues.  Our kids -- and our country -- need a top-quality education system that will focus on their learning and hold schools accountable for results.

No Child Left Behind's goals are as valid today as they were over a decade ago when the law was signed.  Congress should update the law to make it relevant for today -- and for tomorrow.

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