Congress has had a hard time lately getting work done on major education issues (and in this case, lately means years). Here are five lousy lessons that Congress is sending to kids in this regard:
1. It’s okay to blow deadlines.
Legislators let pass a July 1 deadline for preventing student college loans from doubling even though they had plenty of warning about what would happen if they didn’t take action. Meanwhile, the No Child Left Behind law was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007. SIX YEARS AGO. NCLB went into effect in 2002 and was supposed to be reauthorized by Sept. 30, 2007. Congress passes laws with the intent that they will expire after a certain period of time, most often five years, at which time lawmakers can update and/or fix a law, with some history of implementation to back it up. But even if Congress doesn’t take up the law again, its authority stays intact until a new law is passed. There are now competing Democratic and Republican bills in Congress to rewrite it but nobody is expecting much movement on it anytime soon. Why? Look at Lesson No. 2.
2. It’s okay to refuse to compromise (even when doing so sometimes literally hurts people).
There are very few people who do not recognize that No Child Left Behind was a failure and that it needed to be rewritten a long time ago because school districts were being held accountable under rules that were impossible to follow. Congressional inaction pushed the Obama administration to issue waivers from the most onerous NCLB mandates to states that agreed to school reforms it championed, creating a new controversy — all because Congress couldn’t meet its reauthorizing deadline in the first place.
Also for this lesson let’s consider the Keeping All Students Safe Act, legislation from Democratic Rep. George Miller of California that sets minimum federal standards for how students can be disciplined. Back in 2009, a U.S. government investigation found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and deaths of children who were subjected to seclusion and restraints in public and private schools over the previous two decades. The probe by the U.S. Government Accountability Office also revealed that there were no federal laws restricting the use of these disciplinary tactics in schools. State laws on restraint and seclusion vary widely; and a good number have none or they have laws that are insufficient to protect all students. Enter the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” in 2010. To make a long story short, it still hasn’t passed; the 2013 version is languishing in committee. Why would anybody oppose legislation that prevents kids from being harmed? Republicans said it tramples on the rights of states. You know, the states that don’t think kids need such protection.
3. Ignore evidence and people who can give it to you.
In March, the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing about problems with the federal student loan program. Can you guess who were not among the witnesses called to testify at the hearing? Students and their representatives, of course, the Hill reported here.
Of course, not a single teacher was involved in the writing of the No Child Left Behind bill. NCLB was something of a flight of fantasy to begin with; its standardized testing accountability system was based on a proposition that even its authors knew was impossible to achieve: that virtually all students could be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
4. Don’t learn from your mistakes.
On June 29, 2012, Congress voted to keep federally subsidized student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent, just before the July 1 deadline, after which the rates would have doubled. Sound familiar? Because that 2012 vote only extended the rates for a year, Congress found itself in the very same position this summer, but as noted above, couldn’t manage to compromise on even a temporary solution before rates doubled on July 1.
Meanwhile, neither the Republican-led House nor the Democratic-led Senate legislation that aims to rewrite NCLB will eliminate the flawed standardized testing accountability regimen that research has shown to be detrimental to schools and students. The evidence is clear that high-stakes standardized testing does not improve student achievement, but Congress is ignoring it.
5. Accountability for thee but not for me.