Republicans Threaten to Make No Child Left Behind Even Worse

Our guest blogger is Jeremy Ayers, Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a bill to revise No Child Left Behind. We have commented on the pros and cons of this bill elsewhere. But Republicans signaled during the debate that they intend to weaken provisions in the bill as it moves to the floor, including the accountability, teacher, school improvement, and funding proposals in the bill. All of this, they claim, will be done in the name of reducing the federal role in education.

There’s nothing wrong with right-sizing the role of government, but one of the values of federal education policy is ensuring disadvantaged students get an excellent education and their fair share of resources. That is something Republicans continually tried to diminish during the HELP committee debate, sometimes successfully. Let’s take a look at what they accomplished and what lies ahead.

Amendment: Gut accountability for making student progress.
Result: Withdrawn due to lack of votes.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) proposed an amendment that would prevent federal law from asking states to improve student achievement. That’s odd, since improvement seems a legitimate thing to expect in exchange for federal funding, and the primary goal of education is to improve student learning. He promised to bring this amendment up again.

Amendment: Repeal teacher requirements.
Result: Withdrawn due to lack of votes.

Alexander also proposed an amendment that would no longer require teachers to have any qualifications. The current definition of a “highly qualified teacher” is not perfect, but to allow anyone to work in the classroom seems irresponsible. And it runs contrary to evidence (and common sense) that knowing the subject you teach makes a difference in how your students learn. Alexander promised to bring this amendment up again as well.

Amendment: Eliminate anti-poverty and innovation programs.
Result: Failed.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) sought to eliminate Race to the Top, a competitive program that encourages state- and district-level improvements. And Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Richard Burr (R-NC) sought to eliminate Promise Neighborhoods, which funds community-based anti-poverty programs in schools, like medical or dental services for poor children. The Obama administration and Senate Democrats have prioritized Promise Neighborhoods to ensure schools address the non-academic needs of children so they can succeed academically.

Amendment: Scrap the whole thing.
Result: Failed.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who earlier tried to derail debate on the bill, offered an amendment to repeal the entire federal education law. NCLB is far from perfect and should be changed. But to delete the entire law would mean states would lose about $14 billion for aid to low-income schools, $3 billion for teacher training and support, $1 billion for afterschool programs, and $730 million for educating students learning English, not to mention support for chronically underperforming schools.

None of these amendments passed, but Alexander vowed to bring many of them back for a vote when the entire Senate considers the bill. Those amendments will likely get a more receptive hearing next time, because final passage will require additional Republican support. That’s unfortunate, because such moves would make NCLB even worse than it is now and make it harder to ensure students, particularly disadvantaged students, get great teachers and an excellent education.