The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, often referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has been due for reauthorization since 2007. While there is widespread bi-partisan agreement about the negative impact of many requirements of NCLB, there is also agreement that the law was well-intentioned and that the underlining principles should be at the forefront of discussions about K-12 education. Where there are significant partisan debates lies in the role of the federal government versus the local and state governments in curriculum development, standards, and assessments.
Legislation that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has recently passed through committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The full House of Representatives approved H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, on July 19, 2013 by a generally party line vote of 221-207. The bill provides increased control to state and local education agencies to develop standards, assessments and accountability systems. It eliminates more than 70 existing elementary and secondary education programs and repeals some federal accountability systems. According to this bill, teacher professional development should be “evidence-based, job-embedded, and continuous.” The bill language includes provisions explicitly calling for “subject-based professional development for teachers.”
H.R. 5 states that “core academic subjects” include math and science and that academic standards in these subjects will be determined at the state level. The bill maintains current requirements for states to develop and implement annual assessments in science and math and the assessments in science would occur at least once in each of the grade spans 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. H.R. 5 would modify teacher training grant programs under Title II and would authorize the appropriation of $2.4 billion for teacher training programs for each of fiscal years 2014 – 2019. Of note, the Student Success Act would replace the current Math and Science Partnership program at the Department of Education with the Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant Program.
Democratic Members of the House Committee on Education and Workforce unanimously opposed the Student Success Act. According to the Minority Views statement, the bill “fails to provide adequate support for professional development to improve teaching and learning,” “does not support the national consensus for college and career ready standards” nor does it “establish parameters on quality standards.” Democratic Members were also opposed to the funding levels of the bill since the funding levels take sequestration cuts into consideration.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act along party lines on June 12. Improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) instruction is discussed and grants, performance metrics, and methods of evaluation are defined in the bill language. Also included in this bill is the establishment of a STEM Master Teacher Corps Program.
S. 1094 requires states to adopt science standards that are “aligned with the knowledge and skills needed to be college and career ready.” Science is also mentioned in sections of the bill focused on early learning. Science assessments are called for in each of the same grade spans as H.R. 5, grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12.
Additionally, S. 1094 addresses the high need for teachers in STEM fields through the establishment of the STEM Master Teacher Corps. This Master Teacher Corps is aligned with the President’s initiative and with the recommendation of the President’s Council of Advisors of Science and Technology. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) had introduced S. 758, the STEM Master Teacher Corps Act in 2011 and language from that bill has been incorporated into S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act.