House Education and Workforce Committee Holds Hearing and Markup on Bills Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

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Publication date: 
2 March 2012

The Committee on Education  and the Workforce held a hearing on February 16 on HR 3989, the Student Success  Act and HR 3990, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act.  Chairman John Kline (R-MN-2) introduced both  bills in an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The witnesses who spoke at  the hearing included Tom Luna, Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Idaho  Department of Education; Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President of Programs of the  National Council of La Raza; Bob Schaffer, Chairman of the Colorado State Board  of Education; Robert Balfanz, Co-Director of the Everyone Graduates Center of  the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University; Felicia Kazmier, art  teacher at Otero Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Jimmy  Cunningham, Superintendent of Schools of the Hampton Arkansas School  District. 

The provisions of the Student  Success Act include those that amend the requirement that local education  agencies (LEA) and schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward state  academic performance standards or be subject to specific improvements,  corrective action, or restructuring.   This legislation also requires states to adopt academic content and  achievement standards in mathematics and reading or language arts to ensure  that all students graduate from high school prepared for secondary education or  to enter the workforce.  It includes  provisions regarding the implementation of assessments of student progress  towards standards and allows states to adopt alternative academic achievement  standards and assessments for students with significant cognitive  disabilities.  Also, it eliminates the  requirement that teachers be highly qualified and implements a system where  student performance growth is weighed more heavily than in the current law. 

The Encouraging Innovation  and Effective Teachers Act includes provisions which would provide information  to parents regarding teacher evaluations, provide flexible grant options to  school leaders, offer local competitive grants giving states more control of funding  options, provide assistance for students to attend magnet schools, and offer  education programs that would allow for increased family engagement.

The testimony of the  panelists included comments about the federal versus state role of government  in the US education system, an emphasis on the education gap between minority  students and their white and Asian counterparts, suggestions on improving  accountability, teacher quality, and resources for students who are English  language learners.  There was a candid  description by Balfanz on the subject of high school graduation rates, the need  for federal guideposts and “guardrails” to appropriate funding.  Kazmier offered her views on a pay for  performance system to improve student learning.   Overall, the panelists kept their remarks to broad education issues and  did not mention STEM education specifically.  

The partisan discussion that followed  the witness testimony was predominantly on the role of the states versus the  federal government in supporting students in the classrooms.  Chairman Kline and many of the Republican  Members of the committee stated that the states should be given more freedom in  decisions about funding, curriculum, assessment and testing.  Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) pointed out, and  many Democrats on the committee agreed, that the federal government needs to be  involved in education to verify that inequalities and discrimination problems  at the state level are eliminated.  There  was some discussion about measuring and tracking student absenteeism,  particularly in the lowest-performing schools. 

Rep. Phil Row (R-TN)  highlighted that the public-private partnerships, which exist in schools in his  district, have allowed students to use technology in distance learning in order  to gain access to excellent math teachers who are based out of other areas of  the country.  Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)  asked the panel of witnesses how the US will compete globally if science  standards do not appear in the legislation.   Witnesses were not given a chance to answer to her concern due to timing  rules.  Holt expressed his concern  regarding the lack of science standards in each bill.  He stated that the word “science” hardly  appeared in either the 163-page or the 323-page bill as he pressed the panel to  address how students will grow to understand the sciences without federal  standards.  Balfanz shared the concerns  raised by Holt but Luna mentioned that science is hard to test since it is not  as sequential as math and reading. 

AIP, along with over 40  organizations including its Member Societies, the American Physical Society and  the American Geophysical Union, signed the STEM Education Coalition letter that  was addressed to Chairman Kline regarding the Student Success Act and the  Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act.  That letter, sent on  February 10, expressed concern with both bills regarding the removal of the  existing requirements for testing in science and also the elimination of the US  Department of Education’s only existing dedicated STEM education-focused  program – the Math and Science Partnership Program.

The four and a half hour  markup session for this legislation occurred on February 28.  There was much partisan discussion on many  aspects of the bills.  Some comments on  STEM education include:

“Science, it  is not just another elective, you can comb through the Kline bills from page to  hundreds, and you will not find the word science anywhere.  It’s not just  a matter of standing up to international competition; it is about providing a  reasonable good quality of life for Americans. It is about learning to think  critically and ask questions, and learning to deal with evidence, critically important  to any person’s education,” said Holt.

“I too  believe in the STEM education and how important it is, one of the universities  in my district, a rural university, has a STEM program and it is to make sure  that the teachers have the substance of what they are teaching and I know that  the president of the university said so many times that the teaching in the  universities is how to teach, but what we really need to do is to have them  know the subject matter that they are teaching and I think that that is  provided in STEM education,” said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL).

“Mr.  Chairman, the message couldn’t be any clearer from Americas business community  and the committee ought to listen to them, we need to be doing everything  possible to make science education accessible to all students regardless of  geography and social economic background so that they have the skills needed to  compete in the 21st global economy, particularly girls and minorities that are  underserved. Our future success as a nation requires that we educate all of our  children, that we do a better job of educating them and this Democratic  substitute would reinstate the requirement that schools maintain science  curriculums and ensure that students will be college and career ready in  science and other essential subjects,” said Woolsey.

“The STEM  workforce is exploding and is expected to continue to grow well into the  future.  From 2000 to 2012, STEM jobs grew nearly 8%, from 2010 to 2018  that increase is expected to jump to nearly 17%. That is why STEM education is  vital to the careers of the future and what better way to encourage student  participation than by putting before them teachers who have a passion and  experience within STEM fields. President Obama called for 100,000 new STEM  teachers over the next ten years, now even though the President and I don’t  agree on many things, on this we do agree that the importance of STEM education  and putting those types of teachers in the classroom is paramount,” said Rep.  Larry Bucshon (R-IN).

The bills were passed out of  the Committee on a partisan vote of 23 to 16, with all Republicans voting for  the bills and all Democrats voting against them.