Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for March 29, 2007


Experts Weigh in on NCLB Reauthorization; Growth Models Given Best Chance of Passage

Growth models are in. So is a permanent reshuffling of the order of school improvement sanctions.

Expanding testing exemptions for students with disabilities? Not likely. The same goes for expanding high school assessments and allowing incentives for states to participate in some form of national standards.

With Congress beginning to wade into the turbulent waters of reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Title I Monitor asked five of the nation’s top education experts and policy wonks to evaluate the leading proposals submitted thus far.

The biggest non-surprise: Virtually no-one believes that NCLB will be reauthorized on schedule this year. That item scored the lowest of all: 2.2 on a scale from 1 to 10 (see chart). It is also hardly news that fostering growth models and allowing schools in improvement to implement supplemental educational services (SES) in their first year scored high (9.4 and 9, respectively), as both issues are mainstays of several reauthorization proposals, including President Bush’s. Growth models base school accountability on the growth in individual students’ achievement, while “flip-flopping” the order of public school choice and SES has already been allowed on an experimental basis.

But aside from these issues, there was a surprising consensus on some hot-button items, in addition to a significant disparity on some proposals that could portend intense debates to come.

Surprise Consensus on Reading First

For instance, even as members of Congress began voicing serious reservations about the Reading First program (see "Congress Grills Spellings..."), the expert panel gave a score of 8.4 to the likelihood of the program being maintained.

“It may be modified, but people appreciate the underlying program and that it’s done a lot of good,” explained Andrew Rotherham, author of the popular blog and a member of the Monitor’s editorial board. “Serious mistakes were made, yes, but a lot of that back and forth is politics.”

Reading First, Bush’s $6 billion reading initiative, has been the subject of an investigation by the Education Department’s (ED’s) Office of Inspector General (OIG), in addition to an ongoing review by Congress’ Government Accountability Office. Despite signs that the program is improving reading among poor children, it has been plagued by accusations of mismanagement and bias.

In a recent report, the OIG suggested that during reauthorization Congress should examine the idea of narrowing Reading First’s criteria for program selection so only reading programs with actual evidence of effectiveness could be selected. But Mike Petrilli, a former ED official during George W. Bush’s first term, said it was more likely that Reading First’s eligibility criteria would be loosened instead. He rated the chances of Congress adopting the OIG’s recommendation a 2, much lower than the panel average of 6.2.

“If anything, Congress will expand the effectiveness criteria so whole language programs that have been complaining so vociferously can get the money too,” said Petrilli, now a vice president at the Fordham Foundation. “That would be a tragedy.”

Teacher Effectiveness

Petrilli, who works at a conservative think tank, and Jack Jennings, who runs the nonprofit Center on Education Policy, don’t find themselves on the same side of many issues. Jennings served as the Democratic staff director and later general counsel of the House Education and Labor Committee for 20 years. But together, they broke from the pack in predicting little chance that Congress would tie teacher effectiveness to student achievement or some kind of teacher performance-based pay system. Jennings gave the proposal a 2 and Petrilli, a 3, bringing the group average down to 5.2.

“First, there is no scientifically based body of evidence on the effects of such an approach,” Jennings said. “Second, the teacher organizations will be strongly opposed.”

Petrilli, while acknowledging the likelihood of union opposition, added that conservatives might also fight the proposal on federalist grounds, arguing that “it’s crazy to give Washington this responsibility after it mucked up ‘highly qualified teachers’ so badly.” NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” provision required all teachers to attain minimum qualifications by the end of school year 2005-06, but ED has been criticized for lax enforcement and the deadline has been extended to the end of school year 2006-07.

Similar concerns brought down the panel’s mean score on the national standards question. While some experts gave the chances that Congress would offer states incentives to participate in national standards a reasonable chance of success, Washington, D.C.-based education attorney Leigh Manasevit gave the prospect a 4. Manasevit, also a member of the Monitor’s board, said the issue came laden with “too much baggage.”

“There is an emerging consensus among some of the Republican rookies that NCLB went too far intruding into state-local authority,” he said. “Plus, I cannot see the Democrats agreeing on this issue ... Finally, I think you would have a revolt at the state level.”

Sleeper Issues

In addition to rating 23 oft-cited reauthorization proposals, the Monitor asked the experts to name their own “sleeper issues”— items currently below the public’s radar that may gain congressional traction as negotiations on the future of NCLB continue (see chart below "'Sleeper' Issues in NCLB Reauthorization").

Ellen Forte is a leading national assessment specialist and president of EdCount, an education consulting firm. Under the auspices of the Council of Chief State School Officers, she has co-written a series of influential annual reports on state accountability plans and also helps coordinate activities related to testing standards for limited English proficient (LEP) students.

Forte predicted that Congress would separate accountability for English language proficiency (ELP) from Title III grants so that all districts are accountable for supporting ELP for all English language learners, regardless of whether they receive Title III funding. (She rated its chances a 7.) “As it stands now, only districts that get Title III funding are accountable for ELLs’ ELP acquisition,” she said. “Thus, there is no NCLB-related accountability for ELP acquisition for ELLs who attend schools in non-Title III districts.”

Already, at least one of the sleeper predictions has been boosted by current events. Jennings listed as his sleeper issue “a gutting of NCLB supported by a coalition of the right and the left.” He put the issue’s chances at a 3.

A week after Jennings submitted his prediction, more than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate — including several top-ranking Republicans who helped pass NCLB — introduced legislation that would allow states to opt out of NCLB’s testing mandates.

In an e-mail, Manasevit quipped, “I would like to commend Jack on his choice, as events of the past couple of days make him seem prescient. Can I change mine to his?”

— Andrew Brownstein