WASHINGTON –The No Child Left Behind education law that was a hallmark of the Bush administration has been due for a five-year renewal since 2007, but Congress, mired in partisan battles over education policy, has only been able to muster support for annual renewals.
On Thursday, Republicans on the House education committee took a step towards revamping education policy when they held a hearing on GOP-sponsored legislation to overhaul the current system and reduce the role of the federal government in education.
The bills, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, were written by House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and released several weeks ago. They call for a dramatic increase in flexibility given to state and local governments in setting educational standards and evaluating student and teacher success.
“Our bill directs each state to develop its own system that takes into account the unique needs of students and communities, with the flexibility to use multiple measures of student achievements,” Kline said in his opening statement.
Though it seemed clear that the members of the committee were eager to rewrite education policy, there was disagreement over the potential effectiveness of the bills. California Rep. George Miller, the top Democrat on the committee, said the legislation would not be effective in improving education policy.
“Reducing the federal footprint in education should not be the single-minded goal of this reauthorization,” Miller said in his opening statement. “Improving the educational outcomes for children and strengthening our nation’s global competitiveness should be the goal. The question is how best to achieve that goal. These bills don’t come close.”
Felicia Kazmier, an art teacher at Otero Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colo., told the committee that her school district created a unique teacher evaluation system that weighs teacher effectiveness and results equally. Effectiveness is divided into formal and informal observations and results are divided into eight separate weights.
“This was not a system thrust upon us. We all had stake in it, we all had a say,” Kazmier said. “However, when teachers are failing to provide the quality instruction that our district deems necessary for our students … we give them the opportunity for continued professional development. We mentor them up.”
Under Kline’s legislation, parents would have the right to request access to teacher evaluations.
Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., said giving parents access to such teacher information could create a problem with the accuracy of reports.
“This bill would say that you can go in and get those evaluations. This doesn’t happen in any other area – firefighters or police or anything. I just think it goes too far,” Biggert said. “I think that there won’t be a really true evaluation if the administration knows that it’s going to be put out to the public.”
Kazmier, however, argued that the best teachers would be eager to have parents see their evaluations.
“As a high-achieving teacher, I want my parents to know what their students are getting,” she said. “There are going to be teachers, as you said, who don’t want that information out there. However, those are the teachers who I try to work with in order to improve their scores so that that type of transparency can happen for the students and the parents.”
Rep. Russ Holt, D-N.J., criticized the bills because he said they don’t emphasize advancing education in science.
“I wish that everyone in this room had had a better education in science, to be able to recognize and interpret evidence,” Holt said. In the legislation, “there’s hardly even the word science.”
Holt asked the witnesses whether they saw any mention of the importance of science in the legislation. Robert Balfanz, the co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, a research center aimed at improving graduation rates, said simply, “I do not.”
“The future of our nation depends on our human capital. The future of our nation depends on innovation and knowledge. And that’s what science is,” Balfanz added. “That’s bedrock innovation and knowledge. We’re not going to innovate off something that’s not science.”