Turning the Corner on NCLB?

For months now, one of the greatest parlor games in DC education policy sectors has been when No Child Left Behind will be reauthorized.  Depending on who you listen to, it’ll happen next month, this fall, or maybe 2009.  We’ve seen a number of “alternative” bills proposed, and we’ve heard the calls for outright elimination of NCLB.

A few weeks ago, we heard from Congressman George Miller on his views of NCLB.  Again, nothing earth-shattering there, other than the good congressman floated the trial balloon of multiple assessments in evaluating student achievement.  The rhetoric seemed to stick, if this week’s proposal is any indication.

I’ll leave it to the policy wonks to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Miller-McKeon “draft” for NCLB reauthorization.  From the cheap seats, Eduflack is glad to see key components of NCLB remain intact, is a little disappointed in the proposed perceived weakening of accountability provisions, and concerned about the future of full funding for Reading First.

No, what is really of interest is HOW Miller and McKeon are working this reauthorization, and what it says about the future of NCLB 2.0.

First, they are offering a bipartisan solution.  At a time when rhetoric and vitriol is at its best (or worst) on Capitol Hill, we’ve got a powerful Democrat and an equally powerful Republican joining together to offer a meaningful solution to a politically charged problem.  Just as NCLB was positioned six years ago, this is not a blue or red issue.  Providing all students with a high-quality education, an effective teacher, and opportunity is an American issue.  We entered the NCLB in bipartisan fashion, and we now enter 2.0 the same way.

Second, the two demonstrate they understand the challenges stakeholders, bomb throwers, and status quoers pose to meaningful legislation.  They opened the tent, leaving no voice out at this point in the process.  This week’s announcement is intended as the start of the dialogue, purposely released so all concerned can comment, criticize, and offer improvements.  Miller and McKeon may know well, but they admit that the views of others are equally important in improving the law.  They opened the lines of communication, versus cutting them off from the start.

Finally, they issued no ultimatums.  There is no line in the sand.  Just the commitment that we are continuing the law, and we are seeking to improve the law.  Opponents can’t shoot down this draft … yet.  And if one seeks to wait to criticize after the reauthorization bill is dropped, they are guilty of refusing to participate in the process.   You gotta play the game in the early innings if you expect to win it in the ninth.

Yes, there are still many miles to go on NCLB reauthorization.  And this draft still needs a lot of work before it is a true improvement in the law.  But if this week is any indication, Miller and McKeon understand how to marketing and promote their vision and their intentions.  A bipartisan approach, an approach that invites input and offers the time and space for continued improvement, is just what the current situation calls for.  These two congressional leaders have reduced the temperature a little on NCLB, and provided a tad bit of hope in what was once seen as a hopeless situation.

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