This morning, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before both the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee about the Department of Education’s blueprint for reforming the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
The Senate hearing began with Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) stressing the importance of preparing students for both college and careers, and the importance of a well-rounded curriculum. Ranking Member Michael Enzi (WY) took that notion one step further in stating that students must be ready for college and career without the need for remediation, as it is important to the strength of our economy. Secretary Duncan agreed that few other issues speak to the long term prosperity of our nation than education. Later in the hearing, he stated that all students need some postsecondary education – 4 year, community college, trade school or “vocational” education – to get a good job after high school, but many do not graduate ready for college or a career. To that end, the Administration has set a goal for all students to be college and career ready by 2020. This goal replaces the previous Administration’s goal of proficiency in math and reading by 2014.
Senator Enzi also highlighted the need for high school reform in ESEA because too many students are dropping out or graduating without the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college or the workplace, suggesting that perhaps career academies could be one vehicle to help add relevancy to students’ learning. Secretary Duncan stated that high school reform is a part of the Department’s ESEA plans and that programs such as dual enrollment will allow students to experience college while in high school.
Duncan also suggested that because of the lack of math and science teachers, ESEA should incentivize individuals to enter these areas by paying these teachers more. He also supported the idea of allowing individuals from industry to use alternative certification to get into the classroom as another way to increase the number of well qualified teachers in these subject areas.
At the House hearing Chairman George Miller (CA) saw the blueprint as a strong roadmap that Congress can work from to bring about system wide change in elementary and secondary education. Ranking Member John Kline (MN) suggested that for reauthorization Congress should not start from NCLB, but begin with a blank slate, using the blueprint as a jumping off point.
In response to a question from Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (TX) about dropout factories and the impact of middle schools on student achievement in high school, Secretary Duncan stated that both the funding proposal for teachers and leaders and the School Improvement Grants will help students in middle school be better prepared to succeed in high school.
Finally, Rep. Joe Courtney (CT) expressed concern about the impact of competitive funding on state education budgets, particularly in 2011 after the last batch of ARRA funds are distributed coupled with the state budget crises that will not be able to supplement that funding.