In 2002, two of Congress’ liberal Democratic lions – Rep. George Miller of Martinez and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy – stood behind President Bush as he signed the No Child Left Behind Act, a law they promised would shine a bright light on the failures in America’s public schools and kick-start reforms.
Five years later, Miller, now chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, is still a believer. But after traveling the country – listening to complaints from parents, teachers, school administrators and governors about the law’s testing regime and stiff sanctions – he now admits it needs fixing.
“We’ve learned a lot, and we shouldn’t ignore that evidence,” said Miller, who is leading the overhaul of the law in the House, which starts this week. “What we’re trying to do in this reauthorization bill is to look for those changes to make this a smarter, fairer, better law.”
Reform is coming to No Child Left Behind, but the question is what kind. Teachers unions, which bitterly oppose the law, are pushing to relax its rigid testing rules and penalties. Business groups, eager for better-educated workers, want to see the tough accountability measures preserved or expanded. Many states and local school districts are clamoring for more flexibility in implementing the law, which expires this year.
Miller is seeking a middle ground: He wants to keep the law’s requirement of annual tests in reading and math for third- to eighth-graders and 10th-graders, but add other measurements – such as percentage of kids in college-prep classes – to help schools show they are meeting the law’s demands to make yearly progress in student achievement.