'No Child' Commission Presents Ambitious Plan
By Amit R. Paley
A commission proposed a wide-reaching expansion of the No Child Left Behind law yesterday that would for the first time require schools to ensure that all seniors are proficient in reading and math and hold schools accountable for raising test scores in science by 2014.
The 230-page bipartisan report, perhaps the most detailed blueprint sent to Congress thus far as it considers renewal of the federal education law, also proposes sanctions for teachers with poorly performing students and the creation of new national standards and tests.
The recommendations from the Commission on No Child Left Behind underscore that the emerging debate over the law is not over whether it will continue, but rather over how much it will be expanded and modified. Even the panel's leaders acknowledged that their proposal is more sweeping than many politicians had expected or wanted.
"You're never going to hit a home run unless you swing for the fences, and this is swinging for the fences" said Tommy G. Thompson, a former secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration and a former governor of Wisconsin. Thompson, a Republican who is weighing a run for president, co-chaired the commission with former Georgia governor Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat.
In a Capitol Hill news conference, the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees and the ranking Republican members praised the report. "I believe so many of their recommendations are going to see life," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But critics of the law attacked commission proposals that they said would expand the reach of a law that is already too onerous.
"The current No Child Left Behind requirements are challenging enough," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. "We certainly don't need any more that are unworkable."
The 15-member commission, sponsored by the nonpartisan Aspen Institute, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other sources, recommended a number of new testing requirements that would take effect sooner than elected officials had proposed.
The law requires testing in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, with a goal of universal proficiency by 2014. Schools that fail to make yearly progress toward that target face sanctions.
If the commission's recommendations were adopted, schools would have to test students in science three times from grades 3 through 12 and in reading and math in 12th grade. The commission recommended sanctions for schools that do not make adequate progress toward 100 percent proficiency on those tests by 2014.
That aim is more ambitious than the Bush administration's plan, unveiled last month, which proposed sanctions for schools that did not make adequate progress toward full proficiency in science by 2020. The administration did not suggest testing for high school seniors to be taken into account when calculating sanctions for schools.
Senior Democratic lawmakers said yesterday that they were open to the commission's testing recommendations. "We certainly support it. The question is whether we can work it into the authorization," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.
Kennedy added, "My own hope is that following science, we can get into history."
Among 75 recommendations, the panel also proposed evaluating teachers on how well their students perform. The law requires that teachers be highly qualified and demonstrate mastery of the subjects they teach, but the commission said the law also should require that teachers be highly effective. Teachers would have to meet that requirement by showing that their students improved on tests.
The group also suggested creating national standards and tests that states would be encouraged to adopt. If they did not, the Education Department would publicize where state standards fall short.