The Senate’s Proposed Overhaul of NCLB Sparks Controversy over Accountability

 

In an October 17, 2011 press release, U.S. Senate Democrat and Republican leaders announced their agreement to move forward with comprehensive bipartisan legislation to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The proposed legislation would eliminate measuring accountability through adequate yearly progress (AYP), allow more flexibility in student testing, and call for strong federally-mandated interventions in only the 5% lowest-performing schools and the 5% of schools with persistent achievement gaps.  According to some advocacy groups, the changes in accountability would be detrimental to the education of students with disabilities, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students.

In an October 16th joint letter, five education advocacy groups including the National School Boards Association, the American Association of Schools Administrators, and the National Education Agency requested the Senate leaders to slow the pace of the ESEA reauthorization, which is four years overdue.  The letter expressed “hope that the important work of getting policy right will not be pushed to the side in a race against the clock.”  In a separate letter dated October 18th, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) expressed concern that the narrowed accountability focus on only the bottom 5% of schools will negatively impact students with disabilities; “Students with disabilities are not clustered in the bottom tier of schools but are spread throughout our country’s schools – urban, rural, and suburban – since disability is part of the human condition and most students attend their neighborhood schools.”  NCLD stated that the bill would leave millions of students with disabilities in schools with little, if any, focus on their academic performance.  Advocates for poor and minority students expressed similar concerns about the proposed reduced accountability for all students.  An October 18th Education Week online article reported that a representative of the National Council of La Raza stated that “without strong accountability, we’ll have two education systems, one for poor and minority kids and one for others.”

The proposed legislation would retain the Obama Administration’s core education reform programs including Response to Intervention, Race to the Top, and Investing in Innovation.  As the proposed legislation moves through the legislative process, the Administration continues to offer states the opportunity to obtain waivers of various NCLB requirements.  According to an October 17th Education Week online article, 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have expressed intentions to apply for NCLB waivers.  The Administration proposes to grant the waivers in exchange for agreements to implement components of the Administration’s education reform agenda, including the development of differentiated accountability systems, as described in the ESEA Flexibility documents at www.ed.gov.

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