Big George's big speech

Just as a centrist consensus around NCLB reauthorization appeared to be in sight (see here), House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (and longtime NCLB supporter) gave a speech this week that made quick passage of an updated law much less likely. "Throughout our schools and communities, the American people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair, not flexible, and is not funded. And they are not wrong," he said. So far so good (at least on the fairness and flexibility points). And he even had kind words for merit pay. But then he lurched left, proposing "multiple measures" to judge schools by more than just reading and math scores. Ed Trust's Ross Weiner was right to comment, "the devil is definitely in the details." The addition of, say, history exams is a good idea, but opening the door to non-standard measures (like portfolios or student grades) could be a disaster. Unless you're the NEA, that is. The union's Joel Packer boasted that Miller "is changing his view based on what he is hearing from educators." If so, say goodbye to the Washington Consensus, and say hello to partisan rancor, as expressed by Ranking-Member McKeon's angry reaction: "Changes to the law that weaken any of these three pillars of NCLB--accountability, flexibility, and parental choice--will be met with strong opposition from House Republicans and are likely to be a fatal blow to the reauthorization process." If the parties want to return to the days of Kumbaya--and actually write an NCLB version 2.0 that might do some good--they could start with the blueprint provided by Checker Finn and Rick Hess in the latest issue of Policy Review (see here). Otherwise, mark your calendar for a busy 2009.

"Miller Outlines Proposed Changes for NCLB," by Mark Walsh, Education Week, July 30, 2007

"‘No Child' Needs to Expand Beyond Tests, Chair Says," by Amit Paley, Washington Post, July 31, 2007