Reports: Deal Reached on Overhaul of Federal No Child Left Behind Law

The Washington Post today confirmed rumors that congressional negotiators have struck a tentative deal to replace No Child Left Behind, the main federal K-12 education law.

Leaders of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) have been busy preparing for the next steps in the ESEA reauthorization process.  A House-Senate conference committee reportedly will be convening soon and a reconciled bill could be considered by both chambers in December.

While no written draft of the tentative deal exists, sources familiar with the framework of the proposal indicate it would shift authority for schools back to states and free them from many federal demands that have been in place for 13 years. The exact details of the proposal will be worked out in a conference committee comprised of members of both houses of Congress.

The WASB has learned that the U.S. House of Representatives will likely approve the formation of a conference committee and appoint its members tomorrow (Tues., Nov. 17)  with the Senate to do the same on Wednesday (Nov. 18). Meetings of the panel could begin as early as Wednesday or Thursday and a brisk schedule of meetings is expected. The conference committee will follow an open process, which means there could be additional amendments proposed to the deal.

It will likely be after Thanksgiving break before the proposal will be ready for a vote, and probably early December before it could be sent to the President for his signature.

According to the Washington Post, the tentative deal largely follows the contours of a measure passed by the Senate with strong bipartisan support in July, according to several anonymous sources. A number of ideas were also borrowed a few ideas from a bill passed by House Republicans in July, including the elimination of some programs that were deemed ineffective by the federal government or had never been funded.

The agreement maintains the federal requirement that states test students annually in math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and publicly report the scores according to race, income, ethnicity, disability and whether students are English-language learners.

The Washington Post reports it also requires states to intervene in schools where student test scores are in the lowest 5 percent, where achievement gaps are greatest, and in high schools where fewer than 67 percent of students graduate on time.

Under the proposal, states, not the federal government, would determine which actions to take, and states would set goals and timelines for academic progress. Their plans would have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

For schools that are not struggling, states would decide how to measure their progress, how much weight to give to their standardized test scores, and whether to use test scores to evaluate teachers.

The negotiators — staff members for House and Senate committee chairmen and ranking members — told the Washington Post the deal straddles the differences between Republicans, who want to dramatically reduce the federal role in education, and Democrats and the Obama administration, who say the federal government has a duty to make sure states educate all children, especially those who have been historically underserved.

The deal would significantly reduce the U.S. Department of Education’s authority, prohibiting the secretary from influencing state academic standards and assessments, requiring teacher evaluations or using grant programs to influence state education policy.