Harkin’s Plans to Rewrite NCLB/ESEA Raise Questions

Those hoping for an ESEA reauthorization package that would begin to reduce the federal role in education will be disappointed, writes Lindsey Burke at the Heritage blog.

Senator Tom Harkin's proposal adds more and more federal directives, rules, and regulations on top of the existing 600-page law, says Burke.

This is the ninth proposal since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 that aims to create a successful federal role in education. But Burke believes success has, so far, been illusive.

"NCLB, the most recent reauthorization of ESEA, has left local school districts crying out for more freedom from federal red tape and to have their educational decision-making authority restored. Harkin's proposal, however, merely "tweaks" NCLB around the edges."

Burke uses the following example:

"The bill would codify Obama Administration education priorities, such as the "equitable distribution" of effective teachers among schools. It would eliminate "adequate yearly progress"—the onerous federal requirement that mandated every child be proficient in reading and math by 2014—but would replace it with requirements that states prove they have "college- and career-ready" standards, giving Washington more control over the content taught in local schools."

The bill's advocates believe it will prohibit the Secretary of Education from imposing national standards and tests on states or wading into curricular issues, and that language in current law hasn't slowed the Obama Administration's push for common national standards through Race to the Top and other sweeping policies.

Moreover, the intent is made clear in comments Harkin made to Education Week:

"[Harkin] said the moment is right for a move away from achievement targets in part because nearly all states have signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative…. That means that all states will be striving to hit a high bar, he said….

"There's a subtle shift here," [said] Sen. Harkin. ‘We are moving into a partnership role with the states."

However, Burke doesn't agree the shift so subtle.

"Any state that wants to receive money under Title 1 of the bill—the largest source of federal funding for K-12 education—will have to go along with the new Common Core standards regime."

Instead of a ninth reauthorization of ESEA, policymakers should allow states to completely opt out of the prescriptive law altogether and direct dollars and decision making in a way that would best meet local needs, writes Lindsey Burke in another article.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee proposes eliminating and consolidating many of NCLB's ineffective and duplicitive programs and aims to provide considerable new flexibility to states with regards to how they can use federal education funding, writes Burke.

Meanwhile, in the House and Senate, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act have been introduced, which would allow states to completely opt out of NCLB.

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