Draft “No Child Left Behind” Bill Proposes Changes; Faces Challenges

Share This

Publication date: 
12 September 2007

House Education and Labor Committee leaders George Miller (D-CA) and Howard McKeon (R-CA) have released an unnumbered discussion draft for reauthorization of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB), the law that provides federal education funding to states and requires accountability through state “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) measurements. The draft would provide more flexibility to states in determining AYP; would encourage tests to assess students’ critical thinking abilities and problem-solving skills; and would strongly support teacher development and encourage highly-qualified teachers to serve in high-need schools. The discussion draft does not include any authorization levels. While the current version of NCLB requires states to begin testing students in science in the current academic year, neither the existing law nor the new draft would require that the results of those science assessments be included in calculation of states’ AYP. (This summer, the American Institute of Physics and two of its Member Societies signed onto a letter sent by the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics [STEM] Education Coalition to Miller and McKeon, supporting the inclusion of science test results in AYP. More information on this letter is provided below.)

Miller hopes to get a bill marked up by his committee before the end of this month. This is likely to pose a difficult challenge, as both the current NCLB law and many of the proposed changes are highly controversial, with Democrats and Republicans objecting to different aspects. According to reports, McKeon has indicated that he will not vote for a bill that is not supported by a majority of House Republicans. In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is also reportedly working on a draft NCLB reauthorization. If a reauthorization of NCLB is not completed and signed into law this year, an automatic one-year extension of the current law will go into effect.

The NCLB has brought about some positive changes in its five-and-a-half years, Miller said in a July 30 speech, including an increase in the number of qualified teachers in classrooms and the narrowing of achievement gaps among groups of students. But, he added, we “didn’t get it all right” the first time. He promised that with the reauthorization, “states will be allowed to develop better tests that more accurately measure what all students have learned. These tests will be more useful to teachers and will drive richer classroom instruction.” He continued, “These measures can no longer reflect just basic skills and memorization. Rather, they must reflect critical thinking skills and the ability to apply knowledge to new and challenging contexts. These are the skills that today’s students will need to meet the complex demands of the American economy and society in a globalized world.” Additionally, he said, “As a nation we are not offering teachers the respect and support they deserve today, and as a result we are facing a very real teacher shortage crisis. Particularly in urban and rural communities, in subjects like math, science, foreign language, and for children with disabilities and children learning English, we must hire, train, ad retain excellent teachers. For these reasons, the legislation I will introduce will provide for performance pay for principals and teachers based on fair and proven models, teacher mentoring, teacher career ladders, and improved working conditions.”

Some specifics of the Miller-McKeon draft bill follow:

STATE ACCOUNTABILITY: The discussion draft would allow states more flexibility in the way their accountability is determined. States could choose to use science or other subjects beyond just reading and math, multiple types of indicators, and growth models (measurements of student achievement growth over time) for accountability purposes.

ASSESSMENTS: Student assessments would be required to involve multiple measures, “including measures that assess higher order thinking skills and understanding,” and the draft bill would authorize a pilot program for development of performance-based assessments that more effectively measure critical thinking and problem solving skills.

COMPARISON OF STATE CONTENT STANDARDS: To enable comparisons of individual states’ content standards, the draft calls for a National Academy of Sciences study of how to compare standards across states, and directs the Secretary of Education to use this study to develop a common scale and biennially compare states’ standards and assessments with that common scale.

ADVANCED PLACEMENT: The draft bill would support state and school district efforts to increase the numbers and success of students taking Advanced Placement tests.

SUPPORT FOR TEACHERS: The draft bill places major emphasis on support for teachers, particularly induction programs, mentoring, master teacher assistance, time for discussion with colleagues, and multiple methods of evaluation for early career teachers in high-need school districts. It calls for development of a model performance-based teacher evaluation tool, and encourages the portability of teaching credentials across states. It would enable rewards and bonuses for principals and teachers, particularly those in math, science, and other shortage subjects, who agree to serve for a time in hard-to-staff schools. States would be required to address instances of poor and minority students being disproportionately taught by inexperienced or unqualified teachers. The draft bill would encourage career growth paths for teachers, and alternative teaching certification routes for professionals and members of the military.

IMPROVING STEM TEACHING AND LEARNING: The draft bill would require coordination between the Secretary of Education and the Director of NSF on their respective Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) programs, and require that partnerships supported by the Education Department MSP program be based on scientifically valid research or modeled after successful programs supported by NSF. It would authorize regional John Glenn Academies to provide summer workshops and year-long fellowships for STEM teachers. It would also reauthorize the Magnet Schools Assistance Program, which encourages equitable access to high quality instruction and encourages the more active participation of young women and minorities in science and mathematics.

Miller closed his July 30 speech with the following comment: “I am as excited and hopeful today as I have ever been at any time in the more than 30 years that I have served in Congress about the prospects for finally realizing the vision of excellent educational opportunities for all children in America.”

STEM EDUCATION COALITION LETTER ON SCIENCE IN AYP: The American Institute of Physics, the Acoustical Society of America, and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine were signatories to a June 28 letter sent to Miller and McKeon by the STEM Education Coalition, requesting that the NCLB reauthorization legislation include science test results in AYP to “provide educators and administrators a valuable tool in determining and measuring the effectiveness of instruction that students are provided.” “Given the nature of science instruction,” the letter continued, “we also urge you to consider language that would encourage states to adopt flexibility in how to assess student performance, skill, and knowledge in the sciences. These include written assessments, performance based testing, project-based work, and portfolio projects.” The full text of the letter can be viewed at http://www.aip.org/gov/stem_avp08.pdf. As indicated above, the draft would allow, but not require, states to use science in their AYP calculations.