NCSL Education Committee
Letter to House Committee on Education & the Workforce on Markup of H.R. 3889, the Student Success Act, and H.R. 3990, the Encouraging Innovative and Effective Teachers Act.


February 13, 2012

The Honorable John Kline
Chairman
House Committee on Education and the Workforce
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable George Miller
Ranking Member
House Committee on Education and the Workforce
2205 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Re: House Education and Workforce Committee Markup of the Student Success Act (H.R. 3989) and the Encouraging Innovative and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990)


Dear Chairman Kline & Ranking Member Miller:

We are writing on behalf of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in response to legislation the House Education and Workforce Committee is considering as part of its work on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in its current incarnation as No Child Left Behind. NCSL’s policy on ESEA reauthorization is attached for your reference.

Because state legislators have a constitutional responsibility to establish and fund public education, they have a compelling interest in the reauthorization of this statute. In February 2005, NCSL’s bipartisan Task Force on No Child Left Behind issued a report that recommended changes to the law, and discussed a productive and efficient role for the federal government in what has traditionally been an area of public policy funded and administered by the states. The law is now almost 10 years old and has not been reauthorized. Reauthorization of this statute will allow all states to benefit from corrections to the current law.

First and foremost, we applaud the committee’s recognition that the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) metric based on achieving a 100 percent proficiency standard in reading/language arts and mathematics based on standardized tests was a flawed and static measure. NCSL believes states must have the ability to focus on student growth over time, and the ability to use multiple measures of achievement rather than relying exclusively on standardized tests to evaluate performance. Such an approach would provide a more robust and appropriate measure of how schools are performing and enable states to build on the work they are already doing in content standards and on assessments.

Standards and assessments should be under state and local control.   Federal involvement in developing common standards and tests should be based upon and circumscribed by the language Congress used in Public Law 96-88 in 1979 to create the Department of Education, which did not include a directive regarding state allocation of their own funds, or for determining what paths states must follow to enhance student performance. The true virtue of the standards movement is its genesis in the states and its adaptability to state-specific conditions.

One of the biggest problems with NCLB was that it was set up to over identify failing schools based on AYP. H.R. 3989, the “Student Success Act” allows states to choose intervention strategies that make sense for their own schools, and NCSL believes this freedom from prescribed federal interventions is a beneficial change.

H.R. 3990, the “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act” eliminates NCLB provisions regarding highly qualified teachers. There is no disagreement that well-prepared teachers with strong subject matter expertise can provide the kind of instruction every child needs; however, NCSL believes that the determination of who is or is not an effective teacher is best made by state and local policymakers.

States are firmly committed to evaluating teachers and principals. However, decisions about these evaluations and how they should be used are best left to the states, and NCSL would oppose the federal mandate your bill would establish. Such a mandate is unnecessary as states are already developing evaluation systems on their own.    Half of the states passed legislation on teacher evaluation within the past two years, and more will consider these reforms this year. However, these changes are very complex and expensive, and even those states with funding and data systems in place are struggling to implement this reform with accuracy and integrity.   Particularly if a state does not yet have the data systems, infrastructure, funding and buy-in from educators, a federal mandate would greatly jeopardize the chances of enacting these reforms successfully. 

The “Student Success Act” eliminates maintenance of effort requirements for receiving federal Title I funds. NCSL appreciates the recognition that current budget circumstances or the effects of previous grim budget cycles make maintenance of effort requirements difficult for states. NCSL believes federal maintenance of effort requirements on states must be reasonable and must be accompanied by waivers from the requirements where warranted.    While the maintenance of effort changes in the bill and the flexibility in using Title I funds are attractive for many states, these changes need to be examined along with the proposed freeze in federal education spending at FY 2012 levels as we together pursue the best way to educate America’s children.

While these bills do not contain every change in NCLB that NCSL is seeking, they represent a step forward in correcting some of the worst imbalances of a well-intended but flawed federal law. We applaud the House Education and Workforce Committee for advancing the process of reauthorization. NCSL looks forward to continued refinement of this legislation.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact NCSL state-federal affairs staff Lee Posey (lee.posey@ncsl.org) or Michael Reed (michael.reed@ncsl.org) or call NCSL’s D.C. office at (202) 624-5400.

Sincerely,

The Honorable John Goedde
Idaho Senate
Co-Chair, NCSL Education Committee

The Honorable Roy Takumi
Hawaii House of Representatives
Co-Chair, NCSL Education Committee


Attached: NCSL Policy: “Reauthorization of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act.”

Additional Information:
NCSL Summary of the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovative and Effective Teachers Act.