- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Leaders of the nation’s teachers unions yesterday told lawmakers that Congress is not doing enough to loosen the tough requirements set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The leaders of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) were among representatives from more than 40 civil rights, business and education groups who testified before the House Education and Labor Committee about a bipartisan draft proposal of changes to the law.

Committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on the panel, created the draft. The law is up for renewal this year.

NEA President Reg Weaver said the draft “makes only minor tweaks in the divisive and dysfunctional law” and that his 3.2-million-member group opposes the proposals.

AFT Executive Vice President Antonia Cortese said the draft does not give enough flexibility to teachers.

“We have a long way to go,” she said.

Mr. Miller is trying to strike a middle ground between teachers unions and education groups that want to relax the testing and tracking requirements and the business groups and the administration that generally hope to keep in place much of the same level of accountability.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Weaver had a testy exchange yesterday over a provision in the draft that encourages merit pay for teachers, which the NEA opposes. Mr. Miller said the NEA supported the same language in past legislation, but Mr. Weaver said his group did not, according to the Associated Press.

“You can dance around all you want. You approved the language,” the AP reported Mr. Miller as saying.

The 2002 law requires states to test students in reading and math and track their annual progress. It holds schools accountable if their students don’t make adequate yearly progress. Mr. Miller’s draft would relax the requirements, but not enough to suit the NEA.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is skeptical of a draft provision that would give states more time to test students who are learning English in their native language.

The law allows states to test English language learners in their native language for three years, with the possibility of an additional two years on a case-by-case basis. The draft proposal would extend that to five years, with the possibility of the two-year extension.

“That’s simply too long,” Mrs. Spellings wrote last week in a letter to Mr. Miller. “This would allow a third-grade student to reach the tenth grade before ever being tested in English.”

The draft proposal also would require states with 10 percent of English language learners who share the same language to develop native language tests for that group and provide extra funding for it.

Peter A. Zamora, attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, supports the provisions.

He said “bad politics” surround the English-language debate but that if children are learning English, there is no harm if they are tested in their native language to accurately determine their understanding of subject matter.

“Native-language assessments are not a threat to English-language acquisition,” he said.

He said only a small percentage of English language learners would fall under the extension, mostly recently arrived immigrants or those in dual-language programs. He said most English language learners are U.S. citizens.

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