Last weekend, the Obama administration released its proposal for reauthorizing and revamping No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Bush-era education law. According to Time Magazine, reauthorizing NCLB “may be one of the few issues capable of drawing bipartisan support,” as the original law was crafted by both parties, and education reform issues tend to not break down cleanly along party lines.
However, in a hearing yesterday before the House Education and Labor Committee, Education Secretary Arne Duncan faced criticism from Republicans who charge that the administration’s NCLB vision includes too much “federal encroachment” and Washington control:
Representative Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, said local school officials told him they spend too much time and money complying with No Child Left Behind, the signature education legislation enacted under Republican President George W. Bush. “Now, you geniuses in Washington come up with a new approach for us,” Hoekstra said…Kline criticized the administration’s plan to link U.S. money to states that adopt common academic standards as a federal encroachment on the local authority to develop curriculum.
Kline previously expressed concern with many of the administration’s proposals, saying that that they “increase federal intrusion.”
Of course, it’s nothing new for Republicans to accuse the Obama administration of trying to craft some Washington takeover — just look at the debates over health care and student loan reform. But when it comes to NCLB, this is really an absurd assertion, as the administration’s entire plan revolves around encouraging common-sense standards for student achievement and then letting states and local school districts figure out the best way to achieve them.
In order to achieve its goals, the administration embraces a push by the National Governors Association to adopt common federal education standards. The plan does away with NCLB’s “yearly progress” evaluations, in favor of wider measurements, allowing schools to incorporate subjects other than reading and math (which NCLB is currently limited to). But it doesn’t spell out how schools should meet these standards and it gives states the ability to craft tougher standards, if they choose.
As CAP’s Cindy Brown noted, under the administration’s plan, only the very lowest achieving schools will have to take specific actions, while “those who are progressing at a steady, if not an ideal, pace will have greater flexibility and those who are most successful will be rewarded financially and identified publicly.” Former Bush Education Department official Mike Petrilli noted that the proposal would enact “dramatic change in the federal role in education — one that would be more targeted, less prescriptive, and use a lighter touch on the vast majority of America’s schools.”
In fact, Petrilli specifically calls out Kline for not understanding the proposal, saying that “with its call for common standards but its vast increase in flexibility over state accountability systems, it lives up to the ‘tight-loose’ premise.”
For the record, not all congressional Republicans had a nonsensical reaction to the administration’s proposal. “What we have learned is that a better balance is needed between prescriptive federal mandates and state and local flexibility,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) said. “The blueprint seems to reflect this belief.”