Republican lawmakers wanted an appropriate setting where they could talk about their plans for an education bill to replace the aging No Child Left Behind. The setting they chose was the high-performing Two Rivers Public Charter School in Northeast Washington, which serves as an example of what they think can happen when motivated people are allowed to freely experiment within the educational system.
The proposed bill, called the Student Success Act, seeks to encourage more of such experimentation by calling for more charter schools and by providing additional flexibility to states to design their own accountability systems.
Visiting the classrooms full of yellow, green- and blue-clad kids was Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader from Virginia, and Representative John Kline from Minnesota, who authored the measure.
The congressmen stepped into a writing workshop for second-graders, where they asked about school assignments, birthdays and sports. Haneef Abdul-Hakim, 7, shared a story from his notebook with Cantor while Kline bent down on one knee to chat with another student. Kline said Two Rivers is a success story that shows what can be done with less federal intervention.
At a roundtable discussion with parents and school leaders, Jane Tobler, mother of two Two Rivers elementary students, explained the relief she felt when her children were selected during the school's lottery. School officials said that only 32 spots were open this year for the elementary school's program, and they received 1,840 applications.
According to Kline, SSA would make the lottery process less stressful for parents by expanding the number of slots available in successful charter schools like Twin Rivers. The bill has already passed out of the House Committee of Education and the Workforce, with the vote falling along party lines, and could be considered by the full chamber as early as next week.
Unlike the NCLB it will replace, SSA steps away from the philosophy that states that receive federal education funding should be accountable to the federal government for their performance. The bill currently making its way through the Democratically controlled Senate would, in contrast, retain much of the oversight.
According to Lyndsey Layton and Nicole Chavez of The Washington Post, if both bills are passed, Senators and Representatives will need to work together on a compromise bill that can be approved by both houses — something that is unlikely to happen in the current highly-charged political climate.
No Child Left Behind sets conditions and requirements for every public school receiving federal funds to educate poor students and those with special needs. The law defines academic progress and stipulates sanctions for schools that don't meet that progress. It also dictates specific improvement strategies that the states must adopt for their weakest schools. It passed Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support; key sponsors included now-House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who died in 2009.
There is evidence that shows U.S. students have steadily improved in math and reading since 2004, when No Child Left Behind began taking effect, and that the achievement gap between racial groups has narrowed.