All week, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) has been talking about his accelerated plans for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We are hearing of deadline like Easter for when the Senate will either entertain a new draft of the reauth, pass the reauth, or acknowledge the reauth.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of details as to what may be in Chairman Harkin’s ESEA bill. Eduflack suspects it will resemble the ESEA Blueprint put forward by the U.S. Department of Education nearly a year ago, with some emphasis on rural education and special education mixed in for good measure. The naming, last month, of Senator Jeff Bingaman (NM) as Harkin’s ESEA wingman only strengthens the thinking on the Blueprint approach to reauth.
Well, it seems the Republican side of the HELP desk is not going to be left at the side of the road. In a briefing with reporters this week, HELP Ranking Member Mike Enzi (WY) and his education wingman and former Ed Sec Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) highlighted their “nine areas” to address in reauth.
The Senate GOP starting lineup for ESEA reform includes:
* Fixing the 100-percent proficient by 2014 goal (now that we see we can’t reach it)
* Reforming that darned AYP designation, an acronym that ED won’t even utter these days
* Refocusing on results-based testing, as opposed to that worrisome high-stakes testing
* Showing the rural districts some love
* Fixing high quality teacher provisions, particularly for those rural districts
* Offering greater flexibility to states and school districts
* IDing duplicative or wasteful efforts in ED
* Providing greater flexibility in general
* Engaging parents and families in the process
So is this the sort of staring lineup that strikes fear in the opposing team? At face value, these are all items we’ve heard before. But sometimes, a team is far greater than its individual players, and this could very well be the case with Enzi and Alexander’s concerns. The list is a major hat tip to EdSec Arne Duncan’s Blueprint, particularly the revised language he has been touting since the November 2010 midterm elections. There is some major love here for House Republicans, particularly the calls for flexibility, local control, and rural schools. Even a little something for the teachers unions, by acknowledging that the current approach to student testing just doesn’t work and current HQT provisions missed the mark.
And it also embraces one of the strongest components of NCLB — parental engagement — and incredibly powerful tool that was all but abandoned (other than on the school choice issue) soon after NCLB was passed in 2002.
What is the expected outcome? Chairman Harkin is still writing the law, let there be no doubt. But by placing their markers down like this, Enzi and Alexander have set the ESEA agenda. Most, if not all, of these issues were likely to be on Harkin’s wish list in the first place. Now, his draft will either need to signal an alignment with GOP concerns, or he will need to defend why these issues don’t warrant his attention. And that’s a game no HELP chairman should want to play.
It is time for that Harkin trial balloon.