The administration’s budget proposal would essentially flat-fund Title I grants, transform several other formula streams into competitive programs, and cut the Title II teacher-quality state grants by $500 million. It would also consolidate 38 smaller programs into a number of new competitive programs.
For their part, lawmakers on the panel generally gave few clues about whether they were inclined to follow the administration’s proposal. They chose instead to focus most of their queries not on the upcoming budget cycle, but on the impact of the 2009 economic-stimulus legislation.
But subcommittee Chairman David R. Obey, D-Wis., in his sole reference to the 2011 budget cycle, expressed skepticism about moving ahead with reform proposals amid a battered economy.
“While the sailboat is sinking, I wouldn’t be concerned with putting another coat of varnish on it,” he said. “At a time when districts are in big trouble because of the economic situation in the country, to be focused as much as we are on the reform aspects of the administration’s budget is a mistake.”
The unions are hitting back heavy against both the funding proposals and the new testing and data collection requirements the administration wants to impose upon schools and teachers:
The blueprint also spells out several new conditions for states accepting Title I and Title II formula aid. States would have to commit to adopting “college- and career-ready standards,” linking individual teachers to performance data on their students, and incorporating student-achievement data into overhauled teacher-evaluation systems.
The president of the 3.2 million-member NEA, Dennis Van Roekel, characterized the requirements as an overreaching of federal authority.
Administration officials “say they don’t want to micromanage, and then they tell 15,000 school districts how to evaluate and pay teachers,” Mr. Van Roekel said in an interview. “That’s micromanaging.”
In addition to raising concerns about the administration’s education funding plans, the leaders of both teachers’ unions detailed their objections to its blueprint for the reauthorization of the ESEA.
Mr. Van Roekel argued that the blueprint would continue to rely too heavily on standardized tests to gauge student progress.
The plan unveiled this month by the U.S. Department of Education proposes expanding the subjects in which states could test students in making accountability determinations. But it does not say that they may use non-test-based measures in doing so. The NEA, in contrast, has long argued that such “multiple measures” should be used, including student-attendance rates, student work samples, and parent surveys.
“There ought to be multiple measures, and that doesn’t mean three or four tests instead of one—it means multiple ways of measuring,” Mr. Van Roekel said.
Ms. Weingarten of the AFT focused on the school improvement requirements in the ESEA plan, which are identical to those the administration put forward for the $3.5 billion in federally appropriated School Improvement Grant money.
To receive those federal funds, states would have to agree to reform the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, including high schools with low graduation rates, through one of four options: closing a school and enrolling its students elsewhere; adopting a “turnaround” model that entails firing the principal and rehiring no more than half the staff; reopening the school as a charter school or under new management; or making wholesale changes by revamping curricula, adding alternative pay systems, and introducing extended learning time.
An affiliate of the AFT in Central Falls, R.I., has been engaged in a nationally watched dispute with its district’s superintendent over teacher firings under the “turnaround” model.
The NCLB law currently allows districts with schools that have repeatedly missed testing targets to replace principals and staff members, but few have actually opted to do so. Instead, most districts have favored an option of implementing “any other major restructuring” of the school, such as by hiring an outside consultant or using a new curriculum.
In essence, Ms. Weingarten urged the federal lawmakers to preserve that option, allowing schools to draw on “research-based approaches” to customize interventions for students in struggling schools.
“We can’t fire our way to an improved education system, and we can’t wish our way to it,” she said.
I'm still not optimstic that Obama won't forge a coalition of Republicans and pro-deform Democrats to have a bipartisan Kumbaya moment and get his NCLB Jr. proposals passed into law.
But at least the unions seem to know the stakes here and at least one powerful member (Obey) seems skeptical of turning federal education funding into a yearly Race to the Top competition.
As for the federal micromanaging of schools and teachers from Washington, we'll just have to see if the Republican hypocrites - who say they hate the overreaching of federal power but seem to like it in so many areas like the WoT, abortion rights, gay marriage, etc. - line up on Obama's side or on Rick Perry's "Screw Washington" side.
Hard to know just yet how all this plays out