In the din of swift criticism (pdf) of the proposed Harkin ESEA overhaul bill over its accountability rules – or lack thereof – it’s easy to overlook that there is some good language in the bill. In fact, that’s the irony – the proposed bill actually reflects a lot of smart learning about policy over the past decade-plus, including some that hasn’t shown up anywhere else.
Some examples: In considering gaps it explicitly calls for averaging student achievement data over three years rather than leaving it to states to make bad decisions (yes, flexibility not always great, some of the flexibility in the 2001 law led to silly policies). It introduces “mutual consent” (meaning teachers and their school have to agree to a placement, no force-transfers) in a few places. And it closes the comparability loophole that shortchanges poor students under Title I (though it seems that was the price of admission for Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado – a former school superintendent familiar with the inanity of that rule). It includes language on teacher evaluations and would protect Teach For America from efforts to eliminate the program using federal regulations. It also includes good policy on special education and limiting some abuses there. And it has a few things on teacher prep programs that – if adequately enforced – could make a difference.
But on the big question of accountability it takes the federal policy back to an approach on accountability that didn’t work in the 1990s under the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act, and really before that. In other words the plane has some lovely wings and some nifty new stuff in the cockpit, it just wants for an engine.