FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

House Education and Workforce Committee Holds Hearing and Markup on Bills Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Aline D. McNaull
Number 34 - March 2, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on February 16 on HR 3989, the Student Success Act and HR 3990, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act.  Chairman John Kline (R-MN-2) introduced both bills in an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The witnesses who spoke at the hearing included Tom Luna, Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Idaho Department of Education; Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President of Programs of the National Council of La Raza; Bob Schaffer, Chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education; Robert Balfanz, Co-Director of the Everyone Graduates Center of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University; Felicia Kazmier, art teacher at Otero Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Jimmy Cunningham, Superintendent of Schools of the Hampton Arkansas School District. 

The provisions of the Student Success Act include those that amend the requirement that local education agencies (LEA) and schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward state academic performance standards or be subject to specific improvements, corrective action, or restructuring.  This legislation also requires states to adopt academic content and achievement standards in mathematics and reading or language arts to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for secondary education or to enter the workforce.  It includes provisions regarding the implementation of assessments of student progress towards standards and allows states to adopt alternative academic achievement standards and assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities.  Also, it eliminates the requirement that teachers be highly qualified and implements a system where student performance growth is weighed more heavily than in the current law. 

The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act includes provisions which would provide information to parents regarding teacher evaluations, provide flexible grant options to school leaders, offer local competitive grants giving states more control of funding options, provide assistance for students to attend magnet schools, and offer education programs that would allow for increased family engagement.

The testimony of the panelists included comments about the federal versus state role of government in the US education system, an emphasis on the education gap between minority students and their white and Asian counterparts, suggestions on improving accountability, teacher quality, and resources for students who are English language learners.  There was a candid description by Balfanz on the subject of high school graduation rates, the need for federal guideposts and “guardrails” to appropriate funding.  Kazmier offered her views on a pay for performance system to improve student learning.  Overall, the panelists kept their remarks to broad education issues and did not mention STEM education specifically.  

The partisan discussion that followed the witness testimony was predominantly on the role of the states versus the federal government in supporting students in the classrooms.  Chairman Kline and many of the Republican Members of the committee stated that the states should be given more freedom in decisions about funding, curriculum, assessment and testing.  Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) pointed out, and many Democrats on the committee agreed, that the federal government needs to be involved in education to verify that inequalities and discrimination problems at the state level are eliminated.  There was some discussion about measuring and tracking student absenteeism, particularly in the lowest-performing schools. 

Rep. Phil Row (R-TN) highlighted that the public-private partnerships, which exist in schools in his district, have allowed students to use technology in distance learning in order to gain access to excellent math teachers who are based out of other areas of the country.  Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) asked the panel of witnesses how the US will compete globally if science standards do not appear in the legislation.  Witnesses were not given a chance to answer to her concern due to timing rules.  Holt expressed his concern regarding the lack of science standards in each bill.  He stated that the word “science” hardly appeared in either the 163-page or the 323-page bill as he pressed the panel to address how students will grow to understand the sciences without federal standards.  Balfanz shared the concerns raised by Holt but Luna mentioned that science is hard to test since it is not as sequential as math and reading. 

AIP, along with over 40 organizations including its Member Societies, the American Physical Society and the American Geophysical Union, signed the STEM Education Coalition letter that was addressed to Chairman Kline regarding the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act.  That letter, sent on February 10, expressed concern with both bills regarding the removal of the existing requirements for testing in science and also the elimination of the US Department of Education’s only existing dedicated STEM education-focused program – the Math and Science Partnership Program.

The four and a half hour markup session for this legislation occurred on February 28.  There was much partisan discussion on many aspects of the bills.  Some comments on STEM education include:

“Science, it is not just another elective, you can comb through the Kline bills from page to hundreds, and you will not find the word science anywhere.  It’s not just a matter of standing up to international competition; it is about providing a reasonable good quality of life for Americans. It is about learning to think critically and ask questions, and learning to deal with evidence, critically important to any person’s education,” said Holt.

“I too believe in the STEM education and how important it is, one of the universities in my district, a rural university, has a STEM program and it is to make sure that the teachers have the substance of what they are teaching and I know that the president of the university said so many times that the teaching in the universities is how to teach, but what we really need to do is to have them know the subject matter that they are teaching and I think that that is provided in STEM education,” said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL).

“Mr. Chairman, the message couldn’t be any clearer from Americas business community and the committee ought to listen to them, we need to be doing everything possible to make science education accessible to all students regardless of geography and social economic background so that they have the skills needed to compete in the 21st global economy, particularly girls and minorities that are underserved. Our future success as a nation requires that we educate all of our children, that we do a better job of educating them and this Democratic substitute would reinstate the requirement that schools maintain science curriculums and ensure that students will be college and career ready in science and other essential subjects,” said Woolsey.

“The STEM workforce is exploding and is expected to continue to grow well into the future.  From 2000 to 2012, STEM jobs grew nearly 8%, from 2010 to 2018 that increase is expected to jump to nearly 17%. That is why STEM education is vital to the careers of the future and what better way to encourage student participation than by putting before them teachers who have a passion and experience within STEM fields. President Obama called for 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next ten years, now even though the President and I don’t agree on many things, on this we do agree that the importance of STEM education and putting those types of teachers in the classroom is paramount,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN).

The bills were passed out of the Committee on a partisan vote of 23 to 16, with all Republicans voting for the bills and all Democrats voting against them. 

Aline D. McNaull
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics