Jackson Sun: Editorial: Pass new NCLB

Posted on September 18, 2011

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and three Republican colleagues introduced legislation to update and improve the No Child Left Behind Act. The proposal is similar to one put forth by Democrats and closely resembles recommendations from the Obama administration. It is past time to update NCLB. We finally appear to have important legislation that all sides can agree on. The proposals should be debated, open to compromise and passed as quickly as possible. For the past 10 years, education has been changing faster than the federal legislation that governs it.

Alexander is the former governor of Tennessee, former president of the University of Tennessee and a former U.S. secretary of education. He knows a thing or two about education. He is the ideal national leader to push for changes to NCLB. He is joined in the legislation by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

Democrats filing similar legislation include Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). The Obama administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also support updating NCLB.

Key differences in the approaches would give more power to the states under the Republican plan, which we would support. Providing public education is an intensely local undertaking with more than 90 percent of public education funding coming from state and local taxes. We also support national standards that can be used to measure and compare public education outcomes. That is a key component of NCLB, and one that largely would remain intact.

Significant changes to the law would include eliminating the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. This has been an especially controversial and troublesome component of NCLB. The original standards, which have not been significantly updated in 10 years, become harder and harder for school systems to meet as they improve. One result is that many school systems making good progress end up being classified as failing because they do not meet some of the many sub-group standards measured under Adequate Yearly Progress guidelines. That is unfair to many school systems.

Other major changes include increasing the number of charter schools, adding training for teachers and principals and allowing more flexibility in assessing students with special needs. These are steps in the right direction that would strengthen NCLB. School systems still would have to do testing and post test results for the public to review. This is an important factor in developing accountability standards for school systems.

Some states, including Tennessee, already have moved beyond NCLB requirements. They have developed and are implementing higher education standards and new teacher accountability measures. Tennessee and a number of other states already have applied for, and are expected to receive, waivers from having to meet NCLB standards because they conflict with newer state plans.

It is time to update NCLB. The Alexander legislation is a strong proposal to move the nation in that direction.