Will ESEA/NCLB Reauthorization Proceed in 2010?

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner, November 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan aims to release the Administration's proposals for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by the start of the new year. Reauthorization is three years overdue. Members of Congress aim to move legislation in the first half of 2010, but deep divisions in both parties will make reaching agreement difficult. ESEA is the long-standing federal law now called No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

"Race to the Top" (RTTT) requirements as well as new guidelines for use of "School Improvement Grants" (SIG) are expected to prefigure the Administration's proposal, expected early in 2010, but those say little about contentious issues such as “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP). And the Administration has to get Congress to pass a law, not just promulgate rules for distributing the RTTT and SIG funds. (See RTTT story, this issue.)

Both houses of Congress remain deeply divided on many ESEA/NCLB issues. Republicans are split between those who seek less federal interference and those who still hold to former President George W. Bush's signature domestic initiative. Some Democrats want NLCB unchanged or even intensified, while others look to end the disaster caused by the law's over-test and punish approach. If Duncan recognizes the need to overhaul testing, AYP and sanctions while maintaining disaggregated data and establishing clear guidelines to prevent schools, districts and states from ignoring underserved populations, he might put together a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress.

A move to push through a law with only minimal changes or an intensified version of NCLB would generate great opposition, though with enough pressure from the White House it might pass. Meanwhile, NCLB supporters could block movement on a new law, thus retaining it for another one to two years. Moving legislation forward will also depend on overall Republican-Democrat willingness to work together. If something cannot emerge from committees by Memorial Day, the looming fall 2010 election campaigns are likely to preclude passage.