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Luncheon to discuss NCLB reauthorization: more questions than answers

NCLB reauthorization:  When’s it going to happen?  What’s it going to look like?  How will the stimulus factor in?  No one knows for sure.

Today, I attended a luncheon hosted by Women in Government Relations that featured Gary Huggins of the Commission on NCLB at the Aspen Institute and Danica Petroshius, former Clinton Administration and HELP Committee staffer.  The focus of the luncheon was the reauthorization of NCLB (or ESEA as people are calling it again these days); the discussion centered on the work that the Commission did in 2007, the focus of their efforts now, the role that Race to the Top might play, and the timing of reauthorization.

In 2007, the Commission on NCLB hosted a series of hearings and issued a report based on those hearings that offered recommendations for strengthening NCLB.  The report covered areas such as accountability, data, highly qualified teachers, and school improvement.  This year the Commission plans to take the same approach – they will conduct hearings in the fall/winter and issue a report next spring on what needs to be done in the next reauthorization of ESEA.  Their areas of focus this time around include high schools, school improvement, teacher and principal effectiveness, accountability and innovation.

The Race to the Top funds are seen as the Administration’s vehicle for school reform and were referred to several times during the discussion as “shadow NCLB.”  People tend to think that either the President is content to further his reform agenda through Race to the Top without having to tackle reauthorization, or that the four pillars of reform in Race to the Top will be the foundation for the next iteration of ESEA.

As for timing, some in the group speculated that reauthorization would not be for another 2 to 3 years.  There are a variety of reasons for this, and we touched on just a few.  The key reason that reauthorization failed in 2007 was because there was no consensus around accountability and teacher effectiveness based on student achievement.  Since those issues have only grown bigger in the last two years, it seems unlikely that opposing sides want to take on NCLB; however they must be addressed in order for reauthorization to happen.  The passing of Senator Kennedy also seems to dim the chances for a bipartisan effort on these contentious issues.  And finally, healthcare is eating up time on the legislative calendar this session, thus making the reauthorization of NCLB unlikely in the near future.

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