Apparently House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline didn’t want to be left out of the fun of offering a plan for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act. Why else would he follow up on the moves made by Senate colleagues Tom Harkin and Lamar Alexander by dusting off the Student Success Act (one of the No Child reauthorization bills his committee passed last year) and offer it up again? The best news about Kline’s plan is that fewer words can be devoted to tearing it apart.

wpid-threethoughslogo.pngAs readers know by now, one of Kline’s main goals as chairman of the House panel is to eviscerate No Child altogether, and not just its Adequate Yearly Progress provisions which have spurred a decade of successful systemic reform as well as revealed the low quality of teaching and curricula in urban and suburban districts. Kline’s original goal was to move away from an omnibus approach to federal education policy as represented by No Child and offer up five bills that would essentially revert back to the days before the passage of No Child, when federal dollars were handed out to states without showing any results. And traditional districts would essentially be let off the hook for failing to provide high-quality teaching and curricula to poor and minority students. But as with Harkin’s own plan to reauthorize No Child, Kline’s proposals went no further than his committee room.

There are a few changes this time around. For one, Kline’s plan is an omnibus one, signalling that he is no longer going to try a piecemeal approach to reauthorization. The latest version of Kline’s plan also won’t outright eliminate Title VII programs — including funding for traditional district programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native children — as he attempted to do last year; apparently his colleagues Don Young (who chairs a House subcommittee charged with overseeing education and other issues involving Native communities) and others with substantial Native populations in their districts have convinced Kline to kibosh original plan. So the programs will be around, albeit as separate funding streams in a consolidated Title 1 subsidy formula that districts can commingle based on how the legislation is written. [Updated: This move still worries tribes and Native groups such as the National Indian Education Association, for good reason. For full disclosure: DN Editor RiShawn Biddle is an adviser to NIEA through RiShawn Biddle Consultancy, a firm operated independently from the parent of this publication.] A proposed provision that declares that nothing in future education policy would prevent the passage of Parent Trigger laws or other Parent Power efforts would be meaningful if it also proposed a competitive grant program to encourage states to enact such laws; as is, there is nothing in federal law that restricts states from passing Parent Trigger laws or keeps families from using them. [Given that only seven states have Parent Trigger laws on the books, the real problem lies with state legislatures and governors such as those in Florida, where Rick Scott orchestrated a kibosh of a proposed Parent Power law in the state’s senate.]

Kline also added provisions that would address Impact Aid, which provides dollars to districts whose boundaries either include military bases and other federal property not subject to taxes, or serve Native students who live on reservations (from which districts also cannot collect taxes). Native organizations and districts  have been in an uproar over the $60 million in cuts to Impact Aid that came earlier this year as a result of sequestration, largely because, unlike other federal education subsidies, Impact Aid actually funds budgets in the current school year; this includes the Red Lake district in Kline’s own district, most of whose students come from the White Earth reservation, which lost $900,000 in aid as a result of the triggered cuts. Under the Kline plan, the U.S. Department of Education could no longer delay handing out Impact Aid subsidies beyond three years, as well as changes the formula for compensating districts with federal property within their boundaries. 

The most-positive aspect of Kline’s plan lies with its requirement that states develop teacher evaluation systems that use student test score growth data (along with other “multiple measures) in evaluating teacher performance. This was required in another bill Kline’s committee passed last year, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act. This time around, Kline’s proposal resembles the teacher quality reform efforts being advanced by the Obama Administration through the sensible Race to the Top grant competition and the counterproductive No Child waiver gambit. It would also redirect federal dollars currently used to finance class size reduction efforts to providing districts with funds to implement evaluations. Whatever one generally thinks of the rest of Kline’s plan — and the general useless of the multiple measures approach it champions — at least it is a step in the right direction on the federal role in advancing teacher quality reform.

But as with so many of Kline’s proposals for scaling back federal education policy, much of what his No Child reauthorization plan is not worth the paper it is written upon. As with the No Child reauthorization plan put together by Alexander, Kline’s proposal would restrict the Obama Administration and its successors from requiring states to implement high-quality curricula standards or specific accountability systems as condition of receiving Title 1 dollars or funds from competitive grant programs such as Race to the Top. From where Kline sits, this would end “excessive federal intrusion in our classrooms” even though No Child hasn’t done anything of the sort. What Kline essentially proposes to do is allow states and districts to spend federal education subsidies as they see fit without being accountable for providing all children — including those from poor and minority backgrounds — with high-quality teaching and comprehensive college-preparatory curricula.

As with the last version of the Student Success Act, Kline proposal would gut AYP. Even worse, the current draft of the Student Success Act doesn’t even require states to still subject the nation’s 5,000 dropout factories and the five percent of schools with wide achievement gaps, something that Harkin’s plan and the Obama Administration’s waiver gambit requires. While Kline’s proposal to end the federal School Improvement Program, one of the three key aspects of the Obama administration’s school reform efforts, makes sense because school turnarounds driven by districts, are a fool’s errand, he doesn’t offer anything that would address the critical question of what to do with dropout factories and failure mills. Essentially it is another white flag declaring an unwillingness to pursue strong vigorous school reform efforts from the federal level.

One shouldn’t be too worried about Kline’s plan making it to the House floor this time around. House Speaker John Boehner, who helped craft No Child 11 years ago, still stands in the way of Kline’s plans, as does divide among House Republicans overall. Nor is Kline interested in reaching compromise with Harkin, whose bill is more-likely to win Senate approval. At best, Kline is playing to movement conservatives who haven’t noticed his constant push for increasing federal special ed subsidies that have helped spur policies that have condemned far too many kids to the economic and social abyss. All in all, his plan is good fodder, but bad policy.