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Democrats Criticize Proposed Changes To US Education Law January 24, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.

WASHINGTON (AP)–Democrats and teachers’ unions are criticizing the Bush administration for proposing to let school officials override collective bargaining agreements and state laws in an effort to reshape the No Child Left Behind law.

The recommendations are part of a plan that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings released Wednesday. It details changes the administration wants in the five-year-old education law, which is up for renewal this year.

The law seeks to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level by 2014, requirements that have placed unprecedented demands on schools. They have had to increase testing, raise teacher quality and pay more attention to the achievements of minority children.

Spellings told reporters in a conference call that some proposals would meet resistance. But she said it was important to address the problems facing chronically failing schools; her department estimates there are about 1,800 such schools.

“How do we answer the question, ‘What are we going to do for kids who are trapped in schools that continue to underperform?”‘ Spellings asked.

The goal is to free school administrators from parts of local contracts that govern teacher assignments. This is promoted as a way to get good teachers into troubled schools and help push out bad teachers.

Edward McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the proposal doesn’t make sense.

“To have a superintendent who is a party to the contract…then have the authority to override it is silly beyond words,” McElroy said.

He said trying to force experienced teachers into troubled schools would lead them to seek jobs elsewhere. “Getting people to go to a school can’t be as a result of a coercive act,” McElroy said.

A second proposed change would allow local officials to close failing schools and turn them into charter schools, regardless of any state limits on the number of charter schools. These are public schools that sometimes are run by private entities and usually are free of many of the regulations that govern traditional public schools.

The administration says the federal government has the right to include the charter school and contract language in a renewed No Child Left Behind law as strings attached to the billions of dollars in aid it provides to these schools.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate committee overseeing education issues, said he was disappointed that the administration has proposed “circumventing state law.”

Kennedy and union leaders also criticized a proposal that would give students in failing schools private-school vouchers. Each scholarship would be worth an estimated $4,000.

“School vouchers divert scarce dollars from underfunded public schools and move us farther from achieving a great public school for every child,” said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union.

The top Republican on the House committee overseeing education indicated the measure would have GOP support.

“If we are truly serious about meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind, we must equip parents with every available option so their children can learn, succeed, and grow,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.

Some aspects of the administration’s proposal won bipartisan praise.

Republicans and Democratic leaders back the administration’s plan to stick with the law’s 2014 reading and math goal, though some have said it is unrealistic.

A proposal to allow schools to consider how much students progress each year, not just whether they meet specific benchmarks, was applauded by all.

In addition, lawmakers appear willing to consider a proposal that would hold states accountable for students’ science scores in addition to the math and reading assessments.

There also seems to be support for requiring states to create standards and tests linked to what students should know when they start college or go to work.


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