Two weeks ago, when the House Education and the Workforce
committee marked-up
two major ESEA reauthorization bills, Democrats and their allies screamed
bloody murder. Ranking member (and former chairman) George Miller called
the bills
“radical” and “highly partisan” and said they would “turn the
clock back decades on equity and accountability.” A coalition of civil rights,
education reform, and business groups said
they amounted to a “rollback” of No Child Left Behind.

Barack Obama
Perhaps Rep. Miller and his allies are "conservatives" on education after all.
Photo by George Miller.

Miller put forward his own
which most of the self-same groups quickly endorsed,
and which, Miller argues,
“eliminate inflexible and outdated provisions of No Child Left Behind and
requires states and [districts] to adopt strong but flexible and achievable
standards, assessments, and accountability reforms.”

So let’s see how Miller and company do at “eliminating
inflexible and outdated provisions of NCLB” and requiring “strong but flexible”
accountability systems. The package…

  • Requires
    states to expect “all” students to eventually reach college and
    . (Didn’t we learn from NCLB that calling for “universal
    proficiency” merely pushes states to lower the bar?)
  • Tightens
    the screws on NCLB’s “subgroup accountability,”
    requiring schools to hit
    targets on dozens of indicators in order to avoid stigmas and sanctions. (Why
    not let states develop new ways to ensure that vulnerable kids don’t get
    overlooked—but without all the complexity?)
  • Makes
    failure even more likely
    by adding student growth and graduation rates to
    the mix (along with proficiency rates).
  •  Potentially subjects a high number of
    schools to federally-prescribed interventions
    . Rather than restrict the
    proportion of schools that must face the strictest sanctions to five or ten
    percent, as Lamar Alexander’s legislative package, and the Administration’s own
    Blueprint, do, the sky is once again the limit under the Miller approach.
  • Micromanages
    the way that state accountability systems include students with disabilities
    setting inflexible rules about how many students can take alternate
  • Establishes
    an enormous unfunded mandate
    by requiring states to translate examinations
    for every language group of 10,000 students or more. In larger states, this could
    mean the development of dozens of new assessment formats.
  •  Penalizes school districts for doing more
    with less
    by keeping intact the “maintenance of effort” requirement—which
    substitutes Congress’s priorities over state legislatures’ and county councils’
    when it comes to spending limited state/local resources.
  • Mandates that
    states and districts redistribute “effective” teachers from middle class to
    poor schools
    , even though recent
    indicates that the “teacher effectiveness gap” may not exist.
  • Keeps in
    place the “Highly Qualified Teachers” mandate
    , even though its focus on
    paper credentials has been completely discredited.
  • Creates
    or reinstates myriad pet programs that Congress has already defunded
    , often
    with support from the Obama Administration.

So if Republicans are
“radical,” Miller and his allies must be “conservative” because they
essentially want No Child Left Behind to stay the same.

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