Senate Committee Hears from Teachers and School Leaders while Working on ‘No Child Left Behind’

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Publication date: 
30 January 2015

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a full committee hearing on January 27 to examine teacher and principal evaluation, assessment and retention issues.  The committee is currently considering input for a draft bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently referred to as ‘No Child Left Behind” (NCLB)  This hearing follows more than 20 others over the last 5 years during which the Senate HELP Committee has analyzed various issues in K-12 education. 

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) opened the hearing posing questions including how to determine teacher effectiveness measures and how to define the relationship between student achievement and teacher performance.  He was particularly interested in discussing ways to reward and support outstanding teachers and described a master teacher program in Tennessee as well as performance-based compensation available through Teacher Incentive Funds.  He noted the bipartisan consensus that the definition of “highly qualified teacher,” as defined in NCLB, is not an effective mechanism for determining which teachers are successful in their classrooms. 

Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) echoed Alexander in her interest in solving the issues associated with NCLB.  One of the major issues she opened with was the unrealistic goals set in the law and the failure of the federal government to provide adequate resources to schools.  She spoke of the connection between effective teachers and student success but cautioned that testing and evaluation alone should not provide the only basis for teacher salary decisions.  She stressed the need for high quality professional development programs and supported increasing teacher saleries while providing them with career pathways that reflect their expertise.

Five witnesses testified.  Dan Goldhaber, Director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research at the American Institutes for Research and Director of the Center for Education and Research at the University of Washington spoke about the importance of annual testing requirements. NCLB “made possible a great deal of learning about the importance of the nation’s educators… teachers differ significantly from one another in terms of their impacts on student learning,” he stated.  There is “good evidence that the quality of our educators has real implications for our nation’s long-term economic health,” he continued as he described the role that principals play in influencing student achievement.  Goldhaber discussed effective teacher preparation, professional development, and incentives for teacher performance.  He also outlined issues relating to recruitment, retention and the distribution of high-quality teachers and noted that one of the benefits of NCLB is the focus on student outcomes. 

Terry Holliday, Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth of Kentucky suggested that “to adequately address teacher and leader development in our public schools, we must look at a systemic approach.”  He spoke of the need to address issues as a continuum from teacher and leader preparation programs, recruitment of teachers and leaders, professional development, evaluation, to retention and working conditions.  “Systemic work must be done with teachers and leaders and not done to teachers and leaders,” he emphasized as he suggested that “in order to create a system of support for teachers and school leaders, we as state leaders in education, do not need review or approval from the U.S. Department of Education.”  Lastly he outlined the potential benefits of a state-led approach to education policy decision making. 

Saul Hinojosa, Superintendent of Schools of the Somerset Independent School District in Somerset TX described his using a Teacher Incentive Fund TIF grant in his district to improve teacher quality.  “Teacher quality is the most important school-related factor in determining student achievement growth… we must recognize and reward teachers who accelerate student learning, take on the most challenging assignments, and serve in leadership roles,” he stated. The grant allowed his district to “create new teacher leadership roles and a school leadership team along with school-based professional development, accurate evaluation of performance, and an opportunity for teachers to earn additional compensation.”  

Rachel Moore, First Grade Teacher at Madrona K-8 School in Seattle WA described the many aspects of student success and achievement.  She noted that “teachers are the most important school-based influence on student learning” and that they are “highly trained and committed professionals.”  She advocated for investing in the continuum “that includes teacher induction, professional growth and teacher leadership.”

Christine Handy-Collins, Principal of Gaithersburg High School in Gaithersburg MD stated that “principals respectfully request that Congress work to refocus the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to help put in place state and local education systems that will provide robust, meaningful accountability together with sufficient supporters for educators and schools.”  She stressed that one in four principals leave after one and a half years and that half leave after three noting that “if principals are to meet the growing and evolving expectations of this demanding position, they must be provided ongoing personalized professional development.”

Discussion following the testimony demonstrated a bi-partisan interest in addressing issues associated with NCLB.  Senators asked witnesses to further comment on education standards, accountability systems, measures to identify professional growth, and access to high quality instruction.  Of particular note was a discussion about the “ridiculously low compensation” of teachers and the need to elevate the status of teaching by increasing teacher salaries.  The witnesses stressed the importance of professional development for both teachers and principals and described how hands-on classroom experience is necessary in pre-service teacher training. 

The January 27 hearing immediately follows a January 21 hearing on testing and accountability issues associated with NCLB.  The Committee will hold a February 3 Roundtable discussion to hear about innovative methods used to address student needs.