On Tuesday, February 3, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a roundtable discussion titled, “Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB): Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” It was the third—and final—scheduled hearing regarding the NCLB reauthorization. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) convened the roundtable by noting nine points of contention that he asserts need to be resolved to better serve the goals of K-12 education. He also strongly criticized the federal government for becoming “mandaters” in K-12 education policy instead of enablers of quality teaching and learning.
Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) focused on a child’s right to a quality public education—one that would make them ready for success in college or the workforce after high school graduation—in her opening remarks. She asserted that it is the role of the federal government to empower innovation in states to close achievement gaps and provide opportunities for students to succeed.
At the end of the roundtable discussion, Alexander gave each panelist the opportunity to share brief remarks on points and arguments they might want Committee members to take away from the discussion. Notably, Dr. Susan Kessler, executive principal at Hunters Lane High School in Nashville, TN, declared that we must stop using “one test on one day” to evaluate student performance or to blame teachers and districts; she emphasized the need to recognize the teaching profession in a positive way, as teachers have devoted their careers to helping children.
Dr. James McIntyre, Jr., superintendent of Knox County Schools in Knoxville, TN, noted that the federal government should assure that every state has rigorous expectations and standards, but it should not dictate those standards. He also stated that reasonable accountability systems, tied to standards and objectives, would allow for flexibility and innovation in schools. Dr. Robert Balfanz, research professor for the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, asserted that schools need to implement evidence-based teaching in conjunction with evidence-based student support. He suggested that some portion of Title I funding be available for these strategies in exchange for regulatory relief. Henriette Taylor, community school coordinator at the Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School in Baltimore, MD, stressed the importance of wraparound services that provide for the health and wellbeing of students; she emphasized that wraparound services are necessary for a teacher to successfully teach. Ken Bradford, assistant superintendent of the Louisiana Department of Education in Baton Rouge, LA, noted the need to preserve annual assessments and accountability because they allow us to know if innovative solutions are working. These assessments are not weapons, he said, but tools to drive innovation and transparency.
In closing the discussion, Alexander said he hopes to have a final bill “soon.” It has been reported unofficially that he intends to markup a bill later this month. For more information about the hearing, including written testimony and an archived webcast, go to: http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=b7082021-5056-a032-5289-1341f4ce3f01.
Prepared for Triangle Coalition for STEM Education by Washington Partners, LLC