- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

House Democrats want a September vote to renew the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, and their bill will make some changes, such as using more than test scores to gauge progress and providing performance pay for educators, a top Democrat said yesterday.

“This legislation is really about changing some of those things we didn’t get completely right,” said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat who helped craft the original law. Mr. Miller, who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, said his bill will retain the law’s accountability and high standards but also will address “strong feelings” from many Americans that the law “isn’t fair or flexible enough.”

The 2002 No Child Left Behind law — one of President Bush’s signature domestic accomplishments — requires states to test and track student progress, with the goal of ensuring all can read and perform math at grade level by 2014. Schools that fail to make adequately yearly progress face penalties.

Mr. Bush has made the law’s renewal a top priority this year. But many in Mr. Bush’s own party don’t like the education law and want to reduce federal involvement in the classroom. Sixty-three House Republicans have signed onto a bill by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, that would essentially gut the law by letting states opt out of it.

Mr. Miller defended the law in a speech yesterday, while also outlining his proposed changes. He said under his bill, a school’s progress will be judged using a variety of measures. He has not given specifics, but he suggested graduation rates and advanced placement could be factors.

His bill also would help states develop different types of tests for students who don’t speak English fluently. It would let states use “growth models” to track student progress over time rather than comparing different groups of students year to year.

The legislation will retain the accountability provisions and penalties for schools, Mr. Miller said, but it also will provide more assistance for struggling schools.

It also will aim to hire, train and retain more top-notch educators, in part by financially rewarding teachers and principals who perform well, he said.

Mr. Miller also called for more education funding and urged Mr. Bush not to veto a Democratic spending bill that contains steep increases for education. He said his education bill is being crafted with input from Republicans and ongoing talks with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Mrs. Spellings thanked Mr. Miller yesterday for his leadership and said it will be essential to passage. She added, though, that “weakening our schools’ accountability … would be a disservice to American children and families.”

The ranking Republican on the Committee on Education and Labor, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, also warned that weakening the law’s accountability, flexibility or parental choice provisions “will be met with strong opposition from House Republicans and are likely to be a fatal blow” to the effort.

Mr. Miller said his proposed changes won’t weaken the law, but approving a final bill won’t be easy.

“When you have narrow margins in the House and Senate, it doesn’t take much to put sand in the gears,” he said. He added, however, that among parents and students “there is general agreement on the need and the purpose and the interest of what we want to do — and that’s a pretty good place to start.”