published Thursday, September 15th, 2011

No Child reforms proposed

Tennessee and Georgia Republican legislators will start introducing a series of bills today in the U.S. Senate that seek to reauthorize — and drastically alter — the current No Child Left Behind law.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., will bring legislation that dismantles current test performance requirements, yet keeps certain portions of the federal law intact. The senators said the bills will cut down on the federal government’s role in local education.

“It’s time to transfer responsibilities back to the states and the cities,” Alexander said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are co-sponsoring pieces of the legislation.

Alexander said he’s seeking to nix No Child Left Behind’s current Adequate Yearly Progress mandate. AYP requires that schools, districts and states meet improved testing benchmarks each year until 2014, when all students are supposed to have reached proficient or above in reading and math.

NCLB was passed by Congress in 2001 and signed by President George W. Bush in 2002.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have called for a congressional rewrite of NCLB for several years. Many educators and policymakers agree that the law’s benchmarks are unrealistic and its sanctions too punitive.

But congressional Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on what role the federal government should play if the bill were reauthorized. Several drafts of NCLB bills have failed to gain momentum in Congress.

The president has asked for a law that requires growth, no matter where the student starts academically. He has said he would like to replace current academic proficiency mandates with goals that focus on college and career readiness.

Alexander said his proposed legislation would keep intact portions of the law that require all states to administer standardized tests and report performance. Currently, performance records must be kept on groups of students, such as special education and economic and racial groups.

While schools would no longer have to attain testing goals in each group, they still would be required to track that data and make it publicly available.

Isakson, one of NCLB’s original authors, said the law had been successful in shining a light on the achievement of many groups of students.

“It forced them [schools] to disaggregate their students, assess every student,” he said.

If passed, the laws would encourage expansion of charter schools, let states and districts develop their own teacher and principal evaluation systems, as well as consolidate 59 federal education programs into two block grants.

The senators said their legislation would put the onus of accountability back on states. Each state would be called to identify — and focus its improvement efforts on — its lowest-performing 5 percent of schools. Alexander said the nation needs better reporting systems, “not a national school board.”

“The responsibility is moving back to where the responsibility ought to be, which is with parents and teachers,” he said.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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