Secretary Duncan sees potential common ground in ESEA/NCLB reauthorization

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan laid out broad issues upon which Democrats and Republicans can agree as the new Congress tackles reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in its most recent version, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Noting that “few areas are more suited by bipartisan action than education reform,” Duncan listed four key areas of potential collaboration.

First, Duncan cited wide dissatisfaction with labeling schools as failing even when students are making broad gains.  Rather than an arbitrary level of achievement, the Secretary articulated a common goal of measuring the actual impact of schools and teachers on student learning.  Second, federal one-size-fits-all mandates like tutoring or transfers may not work as well as locally-developed programs, Duncan stated.  Third, both parties appreciate the transparency required by NCLB, and disaggregating data to show achievement gaps based on race, disability, English proficiency and income, but are leery of the tendency to teach to the test.  Fourth, Duncan stated that “almost no one believes the teacher quality provisions of NCLB are helping elevate the teaching profession.”  He believes that education stakeholders would like to see teacher accountability measures based on multiple inputs, including student growth, principal observation, and peer review.

The Secretary touted the work of the 44-state consortium working on “a new test that helps inform and improve instruction by accurately measuring what children know across the full range of college and career-ready standards, and measures other skills, such as critical-thinking abilities.” He also cited efforts to raise college-and-career-readiness standards.

The secretary concluded with reference to expansive education reforms being initiated across the country spurred, he said, by the administration’s incentive programs such as Race To The Top.  He suggested that the current NCLB law should be revised to let those local reforms takes root:  “While we don’t agree on everything, our core goals are shared – and we all want to fix NCLB to better support reform at the state and local level.”

Source:  Washington Post, 1/3/11, By Arne Duncan

[Editor's note:  Michael Resnick, NSBA Associate Executive Director, Advocacy and Issues Management, noted that Duncan's comments suggest support for local level decision-making. NSBA's Advocacy team communicated to the secretary and his staff key points of importance to local school boards as the Department developed its "Blueprint for Reform," released in March 2010, and continues to advocate for flexibility at the local level.   "The devil, of course, will be in the details," explained Resnick, "as we continue to work with the Secretary and key Congressional leaders to move the reauthorization of ESEA forward." A link to the U.S. Department of Education's (ED) page on its "Blueprint for Reform" of ESEA appears below.  Click on the second link for issue briefs and other resources for school boards from the NSBA Advocacy team on ESEA reauthorization and ED's "Blueprint for Reform."]

ED pages on Blueprint for Reform

NSBA Advocacy pages on ESEA Reauthorization

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