The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will begin considering an education bill this week that could mark the beginning of the end for the landmark 2001 No Child Left Behind law. The draft bill, unveiled last week by committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has drawn criticism from civil rights and education reform advocates for doing away with critical accountability provisions under the current law. Harkin's bill, which is subject to change before the markup, doesn't require schools to hit certain benchmarks, the groups say. "The proposal only requires continuous improvement. States would not have to set measurable achievement and progress targets or even graduation rate goals," said a letter to Harkin from the Center for American Progress, the Children's Defense Fund, The Education Trust, the National Council of La Raza, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and The Leadership Conference.
Some conservatives also don't like the bill, worrying that it doesn't put the federal government far enough away from states and school districts. Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Fordham Institute, said it's hard to determine exactly what Harkin's bill does. One thing is certain about it, though. Unless it changes dramatically, the bill would remove the much-maligned adequate yearly progress benchmarks that have caused so much concern in the states. Harkin says the bill is the product of compromise with ranking member Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. If he could write the bill on his own, the accountability provisions would be stronger.
To be fair, Harkin is only the latest among several policymakers to propose doing away with the AYP, which is perhaps the best motivator of change in the law. Education Secretary Arne Duncan already is offering to waive AYP requirements if states meet certain criteria. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also has proposed ending AYP. No matter what happens, it appears that the standards-setting K-12 law is about to undergo a fundamental transformation.
What do you think of Harkin's proposal? Is it the best compromise we can expect from lawmakers who have fundamentally different views about the role of government in education? Is this the end of accountability as we know it? Is there an appropriate replacement for AYP? Where does elementary and secondary education policy go from here?