NAICU Washington Update

Congress starts thinking about ESEA reauthorization

May 12, 2010

The House and Senate education committees have been holding hearings related to the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as "No Child Left Behind."

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has held one hearing a week throughout April and May, and chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is aiming for this summer to have draft legislation updating the law that governs the federal involvement in pre-kindergarten through high school.

The House Education and Labor Committee also has held a variety of bipartisan hearings, but chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) hasn't yet indicated a timetable for moving legislation.

In both committees, most of the discussion has centered on ensuring that low-income, high-risk school districts have quality teachers and high academic standards, and has framed pre-K through high school education as the "civil rights issue of our generation," as Education Secretary Arnie Duncan often says.  Both committees, however, have expressed concerns about the administration's Blueprint for Reform.   The blueprint highlights career and college readiness; equity and opportunity; great teachers and leaders; raising the bar and rewarding excellence; and promoting innovation.  However, it also proposes consolidation of existing education programs, and changing state formula grants into competitive grants -- elements the committees have found troubling.

While higher education is not directly involved in the reauthorization of ESEA, NAICU is carefully tracking three main areas with higher ed implications:  teacher preparation, the Common Core Standards movement, and high school reform.

The administration proposes consolidating all federal teacher preparation programs under "great teachers and leaders" grants.  Rather than having the institution of higher education and its teacher preparation program take the lead on reform, these new grants would be available to local school districts partnering with states, colleges, and other entities.  It's evident from recent congressional hearings, that members of Congress have an outdated view of the changes in teacher preparation programs over the last decade.  Recent updates to the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity and Access Act include cutting-edge reforms in the Title II Teacher Quality Partnership Grants, the first round of which have just been awarded.

NAICU is working with the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE), as well as with the other presidential associations, to make sure Congress and the administration know that higher education is working hard to reform its teacher preparation programs - giving student teachers the clinical experience they need to perform well in the classroom, and providing matching funds for local school district partnerships.  Here is our communication to Congress.

The Common Core Standards Initiative has been underway over the last year, with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers taking the lead.  All states except Texas and Alaska are participating in this joint effort.  Draft standards for English and math were released in March for public comment, and final standards are expected to be published within the next month.  Once published, states will be asked to adopt the standards officially.  Official adoption includes an assurance that the core standards will represent at least 85% of a state's standards in English language arts and mathematics.

Congress is looking at this movement to determine if there is an appropriate federal role to play.  The administration has already created a federal role by offering incentives to states for adopting the common core standards through its Race to the Top grant applications.  NAICU is watching the developments in the common core standards movement to ensure that "standards" intended to promote college readiness do not evolve into college "admissions requirements."

Likewise, high school reform efforts may have implications for higher education.  Drop-out prevention, along with early warning and intervention approaches, are receiving a great deal of attention.  But also being explored are models for more closely linking secondary and postsecondary education.  For example, witnesses at the Senate HELP Committee hearings presented information about "Early College High Schools," allowing students to earn a high school diploma while simultaneously gaining up to two years of college credit.  Currently, about 200 such programs operate in 24 states.

Given that the president is committed to what administration officials describe as "a cradle through college and career agenda," it's likely that traditional legislative boundaries will continue to blur as well.

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