By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO / NY Times
September 11, 2007
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 — The draft House bill to renew the federal No Child Left Behind law came under sharp attack on Monday from civil rights groups and the nation’s largest teachers unions, the latest sign of how difficult it may be for Congress to pass the law this fall.
At a marathon hearing of the House Education Committee, legislators heard from an array of civil rights groups, including the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, the National Urban League, the Center for American Progress and Achieve Inc., a group that works with states to raise academic standards.
All protested that a proposal in the bill for a pilot program that would allow districts to devise their own measures of student progress, rather than using statewide tests, would gut the law’s intent of demanding that schools teach all children, regardless of poverty, race or other factors, to the same standard.
Dianne M. Piché, executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, said the bill had “the potential to set back accountability by years, if not decades,” and would lead to lower standards for children in urban and high poverty schools.
“It strikes me as not unlike allowing my teenage son and his friends to score their own driver’s license tests,” Ms. Piché said, adding, “We’ll have one set of standards for the Bronx and one for Westchester County, one for Baltimore and one for Bethesda.”
Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, who is chairman of the committee, countered that district tests would have to be approved by the federal Education Department, which he said would safeguard against any watering down of standards.
The law, a signature initiative of the Bush administration that passed in 2001 with bipartisan support, requires schools to test all students annually in reading and math in grades three to eight and to show all students progressing toward 100 percent proficiency regardless of background. Schools in high poverty areas that fail to show sufficient gains face potentially harsh penalties, including possible closing.
The proposals for changing the law, which has so far tagged 10,000 high poverty schools for state and district intervention, move away from relying solely on test scores in math and reading as a gauge of school progress. They would allow schools to include test results in other subjects, as well as indicators like attendance, promotion, performance in advanced placement courses and graduation rates to demonstrate academic strength.
The draft has also come under criticism from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Congressional Republicans.
Mr. Miller said he was not discouraged by the opposition, and indeed, many witnesses praised the proposals as offering much-needed flexibility to the law.
“I think we’re doing well,” Mr. Miller said after the hearing. “It’s not easy, but that’s not a surprise.”
Leaders of the teachers’ unions — Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, and Toni Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers — told the committee that they would not support the bill in its current form and that they objected to a proposal to count student test scores in granting pay bonuses.
Mr. Weaver’s testimony produced the sharpest exchange of the day, when Mr. Miller accused the unions of reneging on an earlier agreement to support the measure when it was incorporated into a 2005 bill proposed by Democrats and that was never adopted by Congress, which was then controlled by Republicans.
But Mr. Weaver and Ms. Cortese disputed that account, saying that while they supported the 2005 bill over all, they had expressed concerns about any provisions that would mandate test scores be included in determining pay.