The Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Moves Forward in Congress: How Will It Impact New York State?

If you’ve had the stamina to watch the presidential debates which topic has not been discussed: that’s right – education. No Common Core, no testing, no teacher evaluation – nada.

Education has become a toxic topic, both ends of the education spectrum are passionate, the middle, to be perfectly honest, doesn’t understand and doesn’t care.

The Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) strongly support charter schools and test-score based teacher evaluation, the far right of the Republican Party wants to abolish the US Department of Education, including Title 1 funding.

Candidates are sticking with issues that mobilize their core supporters.

Mayor Bloomberg was the self-proclaimed education mayor; in his last term, as his fights with the teacher union accelerated his favorability rating dived,

Sol Stern, in the fall, 2013 City Journal reported,

…. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Across New York State 220,000 students, one in five students, opted out of the federally required grades 3-8 English and Math exams and polling clearly blames the governor for what parents see as excessive and punitive testing.

Hillary Clinton, at an AFT-sponsored forum mildly jibbed at charter schools  (They “cherry pick” students), she immediately was sharply criticized by the pro-charter crowd  – from both sides of the aisle.

Considering the acrimonious nature of the education debate it is encouraging that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is moving forward in both houses of Congress.

This morning I watched the Senate vote overwhelmingly to move the Senate bill to conference. A year ago both houses passed reauthorization bills; however, the bills were so different that no attempt was made to reconcile the bills.

Over the next few days House and Senate conference members will hammer out a bill incorporating the bills from both houses.

The path has been long and complex – the committee chairs in both houses and both parties have to craft bills that address the needs/philosophies/criticisms of a majority of the 435 members of the House and 60 members in the Senate. (Senate rules require 60 votes to advance a vote on the underlying bill).

The House is ruled by the majority, the Republican side. The Republicans control the agenda, the flow of bills. The complexity in the House is not the opposing party, the Democrats; the problem is within the Republican Party; the original House bill only passed by five votes. The Freedom Caucus, previously known as the Tea Party, has frequently opposed their own leadership, paring away enough votes to prevent the passage of leadership bills.  A reauthorization bill must satisfy the objections of the Freedom Caucus, A Republican leader who reaches across the aisle for Democratic votes could not survive as leader.

On the Senate side there are 54 Republicans and Senate rules require 60 votes for any bill to move to the floor, bipartisan bills are required. Senators Alexander (R) and Murray (D) have worked for months to create a bill that can garner the required 60 votes in the Senate.

The leadership in both houses and on both sides of the aisle appoints members to serve on the conference committee. Over the next few days the committee will probably agree on a bill that will come to the floor of both houses in early December – of course, there are still bumps along the road.

And, of course, the President must sign the bill.

The proposal (Read detailed description here) would keep some of the NCLB law’s most-important transparency measures in place, like continued annual testing in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And it includes some protections for perennially foundering schools and those where poor and minority kids, or students in special education, and those just learning English, are struggling.

But otherwise, states would be handed the car keys when it comes to almost everything else, including: how much tests should figure in when it comes to rating schools vs. other factors like school climate; how to fix perennially foundering schools; and how to assist schools that are doing well overall, but still struggling to help certain groups of students (like English-language learners) … [the proposal]  prohibit[s] the U.S. Secretary of Education from interfering with state prerogatives on teacher evaluation, testing, standards, school turnarounds, and more.

Bloggers and teachers have railed against any reauthorization that continues annual testing; their problem is that civil rights organizations and advocates (NAACP, Urban League, La Raza and disability organizations) all vigorously support annual testing; organizations that traditionally have worked closely with teacher organizations. They argue that annual testing presents irrefutable evidence of achievement gaps, to do away with annual tests will remove the spotlight, a spotlight that is essential to advocate for their constituencies.

The proposed law would make Race to the Top and NCLB Waivers impermissible.

Arne Duncan would be replaced by Andrew Cuomo. Or, Mary Ellen Elia.

In most states the governor appoints the state board of education. The New York State constitution vests the authority to set education policy with the Board of Regents, who are elected by the state legislature – in reality selected by the Speaker of the Assembly.  Governor Cuomo has eroded the authority of the Regents. Decision after decision emanates from the office of the governor.  An example is the appointment of the Common Core Task Force. The governor appointed a fifteen-member Task Force, scheduled “listening sessions” around the state and set a first week in December date for a preliminary report. The commissioner has released her own description of the process along with a list of possible policy changes: shorter tests, the release of more test questions, a speeder release of the scores, promises of more teacher involvement in future state tests and a move to more adaptive and online testing.

See commissioner’s report here. (The report does not comment on teacher evaluation)

The governor can ignore the recommendations of the commissioner and the commissioner can ignore the recommendations of the task force; of course, the governor can convert his recommendations to legislation.

If the reauthorization bill becomes law: how will it impact on policy in New York State?

Stay tuned …

UPDATE: The conference committee has approved a bill – see Education Week discussion here – full text will be available in a few days.

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