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A reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, unveiled on Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, would disband the Adequate Yearly Progress system and hand much of the responsibility for education back to the states.
Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, proposed a drastic overhaul of the 2001 education law less than a month after President Barack Obama announced his administration would issue waivers from some of the law's more unpopular policies in return for states undertaking certain reform efforts.
The bill, which will be opened next week for amendments by the committee, most notably ends the controversial AYP system. When President George W. Bush signed NCLB in 2002, it included a mandate that all American students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Annual AYP evaluations were established to monitor the schools' progress toward that goal. Schools were labeled "failing" if they failed to meet their AYP targets, and many educators argue the system led to a "teach to the test" mentality.
Harkin's reauthorization of NCLB would allow the states to develop accountability systems with guidance from a national organization of state superintendents. The bill requires those systems still identify chronically struggling schools and break out testing data to evaluate the progress in closing the achievement gap for minority students.
As Obama proposed in his education speech in September, the bill would call for curriculum that left students ready for higher education or a career. That would include renewed efforts to improve early education and a focus on so-called "dropout factories": the 12 percent of schools that enroll 50 percent of high school dropouts.
For teachers, Harkin's bill would continue to encourage improved evaluations for educators and administrators, giving states the flexibility to develop their own systems. Teachers would also be recruited and trained to teach in high-needs areas such as math and science. To close the achievement gap for low-income students and English language learners, funds would be funneled to school districts seeking to place quality teachers in classrooms with those students.
Generally, the bill aims to diminish the direct role of the federal government, leaving states and localities to manage education. The federal government would be expected to provide funding for struggling schools and those with large achievement gaps. It would also encourage a more cohesive educational experience, running from pre-K through high school graduation, and streamline federal programs while allowing flexibility for funding.
"We are moving into a partnership mode with states, rather than telling states you've got to do this and this and this," Harkin told the New York Times.
American Federation of Teachers president Rand Weingarten praised the effort to overhaul NCLB, a move that has widespread support. But she cautioned that the organization would need to review the 865-page legislation in its entirety, particularly where it relates to teacher evaluations.
"When done correctly, evaluation with tools and supports for teachers can lead toward a path of vibrant instruction," Weingarten said in a statement. "When done incorrectly, it becomes just a human resources sorting mechanism that devalues teachers, limits their growth and undercuts our children's education."