Proposed Changes to NCLB Raise Major Concerns for Educators

On January 13, Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, released a discussion draft laying out his priorties to reauthorize ESEA. The discussion draft would revamp No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and significantly reduce the federal role in education.

If the bill is passed, current funding structures would be changed by consolidating most programs into block grants and allowing states to decide how to best utilize their federal dollars. In addition, programs such as Investing in Innovation, Race to the Top, and School Improvement Grants (SIG) would be terminated. AFSA has long opposed the four SIG turnaround models, as they require the immediate dismissal of the principal. However, we are disappointed the draft does not include any dedicated resources for school improvement activities.

Senator Alexander’s draft would also greatly increase funding levels for the teacher and principal preparation and recruitment block grant, Title I and Title II, by over $500 million each but likely limit their growth in future years. While the increase to these programs is welcomed, we are concerned the draft allows the transfer of 100% of funds appropriated for Title II and Title IV, “Safe and Healthy Students,” between the two programs. While it remains unclear how much transferring would occur, this proposed flexibility raises the specter of bleeding funds from principal professional development programs to the drug and violence prevention programs, before and after school programs and various school-based mental health and mentoring services housed within Title II.

Under Alexander’s draft, all of the highly qualified teacher requirements established by NCLB would be eliminated. States would not be required to set performance targets for schools. The Secretary of Education would be prohibited from establishing, implementing or approving state standards, assessments or educator evaluation systems.

Alexander included two testing options in the draft bill. The first option would provide states great latitude in deciding how and when to test students. The second option would maintain the existing annual testing requirements. While we appreciate the option to move away from the current high stakes testing requirements under NCLB, AFSA strongly believes any locally designed assessment systems must be based on multiple measures and be done in conjunction with the input of local principals.

A major issue for school leaders is the draft’s failure to recognize that principals require different preparation, training and supports than classroom teachers. While the draft allows for funds to flow to districts to support local activities, including professional development for principals and other school leaders, it does not set aside a specific percentage of funds for principal professional development, something that AFSA has championed, and will continue to advocate for

Another area of particular concern to AFSA is the portability provisions included in the draft, that would give districts the ability to allow Title I funds to follow low-income children from school to school within the district. In a joint letter to the Senate HELP Committee leaders, AFSA, NAESP, and NASSP expressed opposition to any proposal that would transform Title I into a private school voucher program. While the draft does not allow for vouchers to private schools, this type of portability could pave the way to a full-blown voucher program.

AFSA has long called for major changes to the NCLB law, and we welcome the opportunity to provide our input on how to best improve the law.

At its core, ESEA must focus on ensuring all children, regardless of their economic background, have access to a quality education. In order to achieve this, AFSA believes a reauthorized ESEA must focus on supporting principals and other school leaders, an increase in resources to schools that need it most, a reduction in uncessary high stakes testing, and expanding access to early learning programs.