If Only President Obama Would Listen. “It Doesn’t Make Sense . . . . “

by theschoolprincipal on February 1, 2011


If you have not yet read Yong Zhao’s analysis of President Obama’s State of the Union speech as it regards education reform, please read it here. Thank you, Nancy Flanagan, for making it available on Facebook.

I’m worried.

We thought that Congress would not act on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top until later in the year.  Following the assassination attempt on  Gabby Giffords and after the President’s State of the Union address, our Senators and Congressmen have caught bipartisanship  fever. Why oh, why oh do they feel they must follow through by taking up education reform now? I suppose it’s because no other issues — the budget, the deficit, the national debt, our two wars, etc. — lend themselves to bipartisanship. But no, not education! Please. Not yet.

Do you recall the last occasion where they felt this congenial? That’s when they spawned the beast that ended up dismantling public education across the nation. No Child Left Behind was that baby. Here’s one time they need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  I tremble to think what the new stepchild will look like this time around.

Below is the transcript of the January 26, 2011 national press call, which was published in the U.S.Department of Education’s Ed.gov Blog. Present were U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) The Senators, who currently serve on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Harkin chairs, called for fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind.

You’ll notice these fellows make mention of all of the hearings they’ve held, of all of the input they’ve received– and now they feel ready to make some big decisions. But they have  had very little input from educators and parents whose perspective is from the trenches where learning takes place. With our Save Our Schools March.org  national grassroots movement just getting underway and our D.C. march scheduled for July 30 — and with the word from Washington that no action would be taken on NCLB until much later in the year — we thought we had time to marshal public awareness before Congress voted. We will continue with the march and the 4 days in D.C. If Congress does reach agreement this spring, we will certainly have a lot more people at the march. Because unless Congress gets rid of NCLB and RTTT and simply re-enacts most of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the state of public education will continue to be a mess.

I have marked passages in boldface that you should read. I’ve also added numbers to make it easier for you to follow. When I left a comment, I called myself “me” and put my comments in italics.

PSC-ED-OCO-PRES

Moderator: Jim Bradshaw

January 26, 2011

10:00 am CT

Coordinator:          All participants will be in a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session of today’s conference call. At that time please press star 1 on your touchtone phone. To withdraw your question it would be star 2. Today’s call is being recorded. If anyone has any objections you may disconnect at this time.

I would like to introduce your host for today’s call, Secretary of Education Duncan. You may begin.

Arne Duncan:        Thank you so much and thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. I’m really pleased to have on the phone with us Chairman Harkin, ranking member Enzi, and Senator Alexander — who as you know used to be the Secretary of Education.

We will each make brief statements and then we’ll open up to questions from you. I’d like to turn it to Chairman Harkin to lead us off.

Tom Harkin:          Thank you very much for bringing us together Mr. Secretary, and Senator Enzi, Senator Alexander. I just – first of all I’ll just say I appreciate the President drawing attention to the urgency and opportunity for education reform last night.

We — and I say we, Senator Enzi, and Senator Alexander, and our side — have completed a significant amount of work last year in preparation for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We had ten hearings. We had hundreds of stakeholder meetings, months of bipartisan discussions.

And I think we’re at a position now to move quickly. And our students need this change, we’re years past due. And I believe that we should be able to agree on a bill that will fix the flaws of No Child Left Behind and improve our nation’s public schools.

There are important areas of consensus which include 1) fixing the accountability system, 2) targeting interventions at the lowest performing schools, 3) advancing teacher evaluation and improvement systems, and 4) restoring flexibility to states so they can provide innovative and localized ways to help students succeed.

We have seen tremendous leadership on the part of the states to improve our country’s education through the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. The Obama Administration has supported that move with an important investment in common assessments. In this reauthorization we can help states ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for success in college careers in the global economy.

We must continue to advance the goal of the original ESCA to ensure that all studentsall students, especially disadvantaged students — have access to great schools and great teachers. And we must protect the bipartisan move forward of the last ESCA to set high expectations for all students, and to expect continuous progress towards a common goal and focus on closing achievement gaps and addressing the needs of low income and minority students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. (Me: Can anyone tell me — what is ESCA?) [I think he meant ESEA! a sure sign that he doesn’t have a serious grip on the issue of education!]

I’m also very personally invested in ensuring that federal resources support states and districts in providing students with a well-rounded curriculum, well-rounded curriculum – including the arts and music, physical education — and that time is built into the school day and the school year for this to happen.

So regarding the process we’re committed to working on this bill in a very bipartisan fashion. We’ve already started that process and look forward to working with Senators Enzi and Alexander, and of course Senator Bingaman will be a partner in this work. I guess he had to chair a hearing this morning and couldn’t join us for the call.

I especially look forward to working with you, Secretary Duncan, and all our members here to make sure that we get this job and get it done in a timely fashion, but in a fashion that really moves us forward in this country.

With that I thank you very much Mr. Secretary.

Arne Duncan:        Thanks so much Chairman Harkin, now ranking member Enzi, please.

Mike Enzi:             Thank you, Secretary Duncan. I am committed to working in a bipartisan way to fix the problems with No Child Left Behind. And I want to applaud Secretary Duncan for his continued perseverance in getting this done. We’ve been able to have numerous meetings with him and – both as Republicans, as Joint Committee, and I assume as Democrats, as well.

I have heard from my state that there are problems that need to be fixed within No Child Left Behind. I thank Secretary Duncan for coming to Glen Rock, Wyoming — a very small school district in Wyoming — to listen to students, and teachers, and parents, and people in the community about the problems that there are. And it turned out to be pretty much what’s being reflected across Wyoming.

And now we have Senators who are actively involved in this work and looking for a way to be sure that it gets done. I think we do need to identify the problems in No Child Left Behind and make those as clear as possible, that need to be fixed before we come up with the solutions, and that Senator Alexander and I identified nine key areas that make up the core of No Child Left Behind that we think need to be fixed and the focus — just to mention a few of them – (1) the 100% proficiency by 2014 is a delicate goal.

(2)The annual yearly progress with its prescriptive 64-part formula results in every school eventually getting a failing grade, and (3) the teachers focus too much on testing and no one understand what the results mean.

(4) The sanctions impact rural schools more, (5) highly-qualified teacher requirements create unusual restrictions; particularly again with respect to rural special education and English as a second language.

(6) State and local flexibility is limited and there are predicative and overlapping problems. (7) Money use is limited and restrictive. Some schools wind up with $10 to run a federal program. (8) And we have kind of a one-size-fits-all mentality and that (9) parents are feeling like they’re left out of the equation.

And I know that Senator Harkin and Senator Alexander and Secretary Duncan and others have suggested solutions to those that I think can easily be incorporated in it. I think we have to focus on those issues as the primary target before we move off into other areas.

And that again, I want to thank Senator Alexander for the focus he’s had on this, and Senator Harkin for his diligent work. And I need to mention House Chairman Kline and ranking member (Miller) who have been involved in it.

So we not only have a bipartisan but we have a bi-camera where we’re working with the House already on this, too. And I think down the road that will lead to much faster more agreeable solutions and that’s what we want to have.

I’m pleased with how much collaborative effort’s already gone into this and how much people seem to be together on it.

Arne Duncan:        Thank you so much, Senator. I’d now like to turn to Senator Alexander.

Lamar Alexander: Thanks Arne. As a former Education Secretary I want to congratulate Senator – I mean Secretary Dunkin, for writing so much of the State of the Union address. (Me: Now we know why the section on education was incoherent. The President was right when he said: “It makes no sense.”) All the cabinet members compete to get the President’s attention and the President gave a lot of attention to the importance of education as – in our country’s future. And I was glad to see that.

I agree with what Senator Harkin and Senator Enzi and Arne have all said. I think we’ve settled on the idea, our goal should be to fix No Child Left Behind rather than to – and to make a list of the problems with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and just fix those problems. And the Senators have already mentioned some of those.

We need a more realistic goal. We need to get away from Washington announcing whether schools are passing or failing. I’ve heard Senators Burr and Senator Isakson, Senator Coburn all say we need more flexibility, more local control of federal dollars so principals and school superintendents can make decisions. I’ve heard Senator Bennet on the Democratic side talking about focusing on over-testing which I certainly agree with.

We should be able to consolidate some programs and provide more flexibility to local school districts. As a former Governor, I’m very much aware that some of the regulations that local school districts complain about are state regulations and not federal regulations.

And I think we ought to take a look at that and whether we have some (me: !!!) unintended consequences  that when we pass something here by the time it makes its way all the way down to the local classroom, it looks awfully complex. (Me: Wrong. It IS awfully complex.)

I want to make sure that in what we do that we understand that federal doesn’t equal national. For example, I believe in national standards on education but I don’t think Washington ought to set them. And I think Secretary Duncan’s done a good job of encouraging states to do that. And they’ve come toward the common standards. I don’t want to cross the line to have Washington set them.

And I don’t want us to become a national school board. We have – we all have good ideas for what ought to happen in our states, but we ought not to try to impose them on the hundred thousand schools, and the three million teachers, and the 50 million students that are out across our country. We just can’t do that. We don’t have any right to do that with just providing maybe 10% of the money.

So Senator Harkin’s done a good job of creating an environment in which we can work toward a consensus. And it’s been helped by the actions of the President and Secretary Duncan. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s going to be a piece of cake or too easy, but we’re off to a good start. I appreciate the chance to work on it and I look forward to coming up with a consensus that both Democrats and Republicans can support in this year to — and the President can sign — to fix the problems with No Child Left Behind.

Arne Duncan:        Thank you so much. And I just want to say how honored and, frankly, fortunate I feel to be able to work on this issue with all of you. Your collective leadership and courage to talk on this issue, I think you’re just going to extraordinarily invaluable as we move forward. And I just appreciate the time and the energy and the thoughtfulness that all of you have put into this so far, that you’ll put into this going forward.

And as Senator Harkin said, Senator Bingaman wanted to join us this morning — he may still join us — but was stuck, was caught chairing a committee hearing.

Last night President Obama clearly signaled his commitment to education and his desire to fix No Child Left Behind. This strong interest in fixing NCLB from both sides of the aisle, as you’ve heard this morning, as well as from Governors of both parties and local education leaders from across the country. People realize that the current NCLB law has many flaws; from mislabeling to overreaching to lowering standards. On many issues Democrats and Republicans can share a common sense agenda.

First of all, we all want a fair accountability system. No one likes how NCLB labels schools as failures even when they are making significant gains. We need to award schools that are succeeding and focus support on the schools and the students most at risk.

We’re committed to recognizing and rewarding the schools and the districts and states producing great growth. We also believe in flexibility. Washington shouldn’t provide one-size-fits-all mandates. Communities and teachers, parents and principals, they know what’s best for the student. We need a law that provides most schools with flexibility to decide how to improve and accelerate student achievement.

We all believe that high standards are needed to prepare our students to compete in a globally competitive, knowledge-based economy. Thankfully, states are voluntarily doing that, as Senator Alexander said. And we’re supporting their courageous leadership. (Me: Let’s be sure not to mention lighting a fire in the minds of our students.)

We also support a narrower, more targeted role for the federal government. We want to be the engine of innovation rather than a compliance-driven bureaucracy. We need to reduce the federal footprint and promote efficiency in how we operate. And that’s why our proposal consolidates 38 programs into 11 programs to support great principals, great teaching, a well-rounded curriculum, as Senator Harkin talked about, and other critical priorities.

Finally, we all share a commitment to reducing the size of the SCA. We don’t need a huge bill to explain how the federal government supports state and local reforms. (Me: What’s SCA?)

Thank you so much. Operator, we’re open for questions now.

Coordinator:          Thank you. If you would like to ask a question please press star 1 on your touchtone phone, to withdraw your question please press star 2. We do ask that if your line is open for a question, please state your name and media affiliation.

Thank you, one moment please.

Fawn Johnson, your line is open. Please state your media affiliation.

Fawn Johnson:      Hi, I’m with National Journal. How are you guys doing today?

Arne Duncan:        Okay.

Fawn Johnson:      I was wondering if I could get reaction — particularly from Senator Harkin and also from Secretary Duncan — about a bill that House Speaker John Boehner and Joe Lieberman will be introducing today on the D.C. Voucher program.

This was something that, you know, they are asking that that program be reinstated and I think, in my (unintelligible) from the Speaker’s office it said something that he would consider if there was support of that among the Administration as a gesture of good faith towards, you know, more negotiation on No Child Left Behind. I‘m curious to what your reaction is on that proposal.

Arne Duncan:        I’m sorry – go ahead Senator, I’ll follow you.

Tom Harkin:          Go ahead.

Arne Duncan:        Okay, I’m glad the speaker is talking about education. And he’s been a real leader on education for a long time. As you know, he worked very hard in a bipartisan way on the current law. And we look forward to working with him going forward. I just think the more we’re all talking about education and working on these issues together, that’s very positive. (Me: Let’s don’t answer the question, Arne.)

Fawn Johnson:      Do you have any Administration comment on the D.C. Voucher program?

Arne Duncan:        Well I – you know, our position on it hasn’t changed. We were supportive of keeping the students there in the current program. And, again, I’m just really pleased that Speaker Boehner, like all of us, is increasingly focused on education. I think that’s a very positive sign.

Tom Harkin:          I would just add, this is Senator Harkin, I would just add look, this is a particular narrow program only for the District of Columbia. We’re talking about reauthorizing ESCA for all of America. And I think it would be a mistake to get tangled up in an issue that focuses only on the District of Columbia.

That may be a separate issue that needs to be addressed. I know how I feel about it, but I don’t think that it really is a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It’s separate and apart from it. And it can be addressed separate and apart. I think we can keep our eye on the ball. We’re trying to pass a bill for the entire country and not get distracted by narrow programs that only apply to a certain area.

Fawn Johnson:      Okay, thank you.

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi and I’d just mention that that actually comes into the jurisdiction of government affairs rather than health education, labor, and pensions.

Fawn Johnson:      Okay.

Tom Harkin:          Good, I’m glad to hear that.

Coordinator:          Lauren Smith, your line is open. Please state your media affiliation.

Miss Smith, your line is open.

Lauren Smith:       Oh, I’m sorry. I had my phone on mute. This is Lauren Smith. I’m with Congressional Quarterly. Thanks for taking my call, I appreciate it.

I just had a – wondering  if Secretary Duncan could explain a little bit about what President Obama meant in the new State of the Union last night about modeling a re-write of No Child Left Behind off of Race to the Top.

Arne Duncan:        Well I think what he was fundamentally getting at is the best ideas in education are the ones that come at the local level. Frankly, not from any of us here in Washington D.C. Race to the Top was fundamentally, it was a program designed to award state and local leaders who are coming together to implement comprehensive, thoughtful, courageous reform plans based on their local ideas. (Me: But within parameters set at the federal level.)

And so we want to really support that leadership and creativity at the local level. And we think we should continue to do more of that work. NCLB was very punitive, very prescriptive, very top down. We want to flip that. We want to be much more flexible and reward success.

The final thing I’ll say is just structurally I think what NCL got – NCLB got wrong, it was a very, very tight on how you get there, but very loose on the goals. I think reversing that — having the high bar — is very important, really challenging students and having that, you know, college and career expectations for everyone, but giving a lot more flexibility on how you get there is the direction we want to go. And Race to the Top incorporated those themes.

Coordinator:          Alyson Klein, your line is open. Please state your media affiliation.

Alyson Klein:        Hi. This is Alyson Klein from Education Week. Thank you for taking my question. This question is really for everyone. Certainly it sounds like there’s a lot of talk this morning about bipartisanship. But there are a number of folks who think they sort of intraparty divisions between Republicans and Republicans on whether there should be a Department of Education and kind of between Democrats and Democrats, particularly on teacher quality issues; this idea of tying teacher evaluations in part to test scores is really what could trip up this legislation.

And I’m wondering if you can speak to how you’re going to address those intraparty divisions in each of your parties?

Arne Duncan:        I thought we all agreed on everything. So maybe I’m wrong.

Lamar Alexander: Well, this is Senator Alexander. I – you’re exactly right. I mean I myself have had about every possible position on the federal role of education over the years. You know, it’s possible to make different arguments about it.

But I think the way we avoid getting hung up on that is — and you may have heard this word from all of us today — is that we’re focused on fixing the problems that exist with No Child Left Behind or the Elementary Secondary Education Act.

And if we take them one by one or step by step, for example, a new realistic, but challenging goal, what do we do about adequate yearly progress? How can we consolidate programs? We get beyond some of the larger issues and we get down to basics and come up with something, hopefully, that makes sense to teachers in the classroom and principals, and school superintendents.

And we leave a lot of the decisions that divide Washington to the Governors and to teachers and to the principals which is where most of the decisions ought to be.

((Crosstalk))

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi. And of course what we are planning on doing on this is taking it through the regular process, having the committee work on it and in committee there are a lot of opportunities to resolve difficulties. There will be some of the big questions that probably will result in other pieces of legislation. (Me: Oh boy. Here we go. Once they start they won’t be able to stop.)

But as Senator Alexander and Secretary Duncan and Chairman Harkin had said, we’re going to concentrate our efforts on fixing No Child Left Behind.

Tom Harkin:          This is Tom Harkin. I – interesting that – to see that there are some intraparty fights within the Republican Party. I thought that was only Democrats that did that.

No, we always have those. But, you know, look, but we got a lot of expertise. Senator Alexander lot of background, Senator Enzi’s been through this before as Chairman of the Committee and ranking member. And I’ve been on the Committee a long time. And Speaker Boehner has been on the Education Committee. I’ve done a lot of work with him in the past.

Look we’re always going to have intraparty little squabbles and things like that. I understand that. That just goes along with it. But again I think we have a lot of expertise here and a lot of goodwill and I don’t believe we’ll be distracted by those.

That’s not to say we won’t listen to people, of course, within our party structures and they’ll have input, but it’s our responsibility — our Committee’s responsibility and the Secretary’s responsibility — to get this job done and I think with goodwill and perseverance I think we’ll overcome those little squabbles.

Coordinator:          Once again, to ask a question please press star 1, to withdraw your question please press star 2.

Bill McKenzie, your line is open from the Dallas Morning News. You may ask your question.

Bill McKenzie:      Yes, I have a question for Secretary Duncan. You said a second ago, I believe, that you wanted NCLB to focus on the most at risk kids. So who will focus on those who do not fall in the category of most at risk?

Arne Duncan:        Well to be real clear, what we want to focus on is growth and gain for every single child. And so I think one of the things that NCLB got wrong is it’s focused just on that small percent of students at that cut score. And those students that were accelerated focused and concentrated on them. And those who were far behind, that didn’t get concentrated on either. (Me: Huh?)

And so going forward if we’re focusing on growth and gain, how much students are improving each year, how are students, schools, districts, states, improving each year, raising the bar for all children, closing the achievement gap, I really think that levels the playing field and gives every teacher, every school the right set of incentives to help every single child fulfill their potential whether they’re advanced, or average, or behind.

And what we have done at – for those drop out factories, those bottom 5% of schools around the country where we as educators where unfortunately too often we’re perpetuating poverty and social failure, we’ve put a massive investment there and not in the status quo, but in a very different vision of what education can be. And as you know, we have almost 1000 schools around the country as we speak now who are being turned around and trying to get radically better outcomes for children.

Bill McKenzie:      If I may follow-up quick, I got what you’re saying about the drop out factories. But what about the schools that are kind of in-between dropouts and really superstar schools. Who’s going to over – who’s going to be holding them accountable? Is that going to be Washington or the states?

Arne Duncan:        Well again, we will all be looking at those results and have a high bar. What we want to do is we want to be less prescriptive. I think the tradeoff we want to make here is to be much less prescriptive, much less top down, hold folks accountable for moving that.

And again, when you’re focusing on how much every single student is improving each year then what is high-performing schools or schools in the middle, schools in the bottom, you start to level the playing field and see where the real progress is happening and where it’s not. If you have a school with a lot of really smart students, get your students, but they’re stagnating, they’re not moving, well, that’s a challenge, too.(Me: when Arne speaks, is he always this incoherent?)

And I think again, that this shifting from AYP, this shifting from looking at Absolute Test Scores to looking at growth and gain, looking at college – high school graduation rates, starts to create a very different sent of incentives for every single school around the country.

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi and of course, the responsibility that you’re talking about falls on school boards, parents, principals, teachers, virtually everybody not the federal government. There will, I’m sure, from our bipartisan talks know that there will be the annual reporting requirement.

And that way parents will know where their child stacks up and sub-groups will know where those kids stack up so that we can be sure that kids are getting the education that we think we’re paying for. And I think that’s a goal by everybody.

But there will still be the emphasis on local control on this, but us wanting to concentrate on that lowest 5% that aren’t getting an education.

Coordinator:          Mike Makowitz, you may state your media affiliation. Your line is open.

Mike Makowitz:    Yes, I’m with Fox New Radio and I just wanted to pin something down on terminology here. You’ve been talking about fixing No Child Left Behind, but the President last night called for replacing it.

Can you explain that and is it fixed or is it replaced?

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi. As – what we didn’t want to do was threaten all of the people in education — which is virtually everybody in the United States because they all went to school, that makes them all experts –we didn’t want them to be thinking about how drastic a change we would be making that they would now have to adapt to after No Child Left Behind. (Me: senatorspeak )

And we’ve had about eight years of experience with No Child Left Behind. So what we’ve concentrated on was collecting the problems that people have had with that and I’m certain that we’ll call it something different when we do it, which I guess would be a replacement.

But our goal is just to make sure that it’s a system that works for every kid that’s gone to school. We want to build success and that requires fixing the problem.

Mike Makowitz:    So is this dialing back on what the President had said last night, since he did call for replacement?

Arne Duncan:        I don’t think it’s dialing back at all. Again, I don’t know, you know, every little word, but if we fix this and come back with something new that we’re replacing parts of it, so I think what we’re all aiming the same direction here. I don’t think there’s a split there.

Mike Makowitz:    Thank you.

Tom Harkin:          Again, this is Tom Harkin again, words, words, words. If I had a metaphor for that I’d say that, you know, No Child Left Behind is a part of the total ESCA, not the total thing. And so I would say that both of them are right.

I mean, you might fix a car that has a flat tire by replacing the tire. You’re fixing the car. So we’re replacing the elements of ESCA that were No Child Left Behind. But we’re not replacing the entire Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Arne Duncan:        I think that’s exactly right.

Coordinator:          Christi Parsons, your line is open. Please state your media affiliation.

Christi Parsons:     Hi everyone. It’s Christi Parsons from the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. Thanks so much for doing this call.

I want to follow up a bit on what was just said by asking you, Speaker Boehner was Chairman of House Ed when No Child Left Behind passed. And I’m wondering if you see him being on board with what you’re talking about here; whether it is characterized as fixing a tire on the car or replacing the car altogether. It seems like that – by the question you just heard it sounds like that’s at least colorable.

And I wonder more broadly if you think this is an opportunity where the President can actually work with Republicans and perhaps even a test of whether – if he can’t work with Republicans on this, can he work with Republicans on anything?

So that’s to the whole field if anybody who wants to weigh in, I’d love to hear it.

Arne Duncan:        I’m happy to start and anyone else can – I think Chairman Boehner, as you know, played a integral role in a very good, tough bipartisan work the first go-round. And I think he’s absolutely prepared to be supportive this time.

And I spent time on Friday in Minneapolis with Speaker – with Chairman Kline, and very good conversations, visit schools with him. And again, there are parts that worked in the current law. We don’t want to, you know; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. (Me: Unbelievable!)

But there are parts that don’t work. And I think there is a practical, pragmatic approach to fixing this that all of us are taking. And I’m very, very hopeful that Speaker Boehner will be the same constructive leader in this go-round as he was last time.

Lamar Alexander: This is Senator Alexander. As far as the President working with Republicans, of course the President’s going to work with Republicans. And Republicans are going to work with Democrats in the Senate, because as the President said last night, if we don’t nothing happens.

I mean we don’t have a situation now where we won the election we’ll write the bill. We have a situation where we have divided government. So whether it’s a tax agreement of last November, whether it’s a new start treaty, or whether it’s No Child Left Behind, I hope it’s a significant effort to reduce federal spending and reduce the debt. You’re going to find Republicans and Democrats in the Senate working to find a consensus because if we don’t find a consensus nothing happens.

So we’re here to get things done where they need to be done; debt, education, whatever. And this is an example of us working to find a consensus. And as Senator Harkin said when he began his remarks, we’ve been doing this now for several months looking forward to the beginning of the year as a time when, if there is a consensus here, we can find it. And I think there likely is.

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi. I don’t think it was put forward as a test. I think he was putting forward ideas and the House and Senate — I have to keep emphasizing that — a lot of times we work on it just down here as the Senate. And sometimes we feel like we send a perfect bill over to the House and then they mess with it and that creates animosity between the House and the Senate more so than Republicans and Democrats.

So I have been talking to Chairman Kline and I know that he’s working with Leader Boehner, Speaker Boehner to make sure that the House Republicans can move forward with fixing No Child Left Behind.

But through the regular process that’s been the only emphasis that I’ve heard. We wanted to be done through the appropriate committees and get those opinions. The reason we have 535 people in Congress is so that we have a lot of opinions reviewing every bill to try and overcome as many possible oversights as there can be.

And I think it will work particularly with education. And the conversations that we’ve had so far; Republicans, Democrats, House, Senate, have been very, very congenial and productive.

Christi Parsons:     And when you say you think it will work particularly with education, can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Mike Enzi:             Sure. Education’s one of the toughest things to work on because everybody went to school and so they’re all experts. (Me: You fellows are not experts.) And so you get a lot of opinions. But from the meetings we’ve had, the ten hearings that Chairman Harkin mentioned, there’s been a lot of agreement. We’ve learned a lot. We know what the problems are. And I should also mention that every major education bill has been partisan and that since – has been bipartisan. And that’s been since, I don’t know, the early 60s.

Christi Parsons:     Thank you very much.

Coordinator:          Once again, to ask a question please press star 1, to withdraw please press star 2.

(Christina Mario), your line is open. Please state your media affiliation.

(Christina Mario):  The Associated Press. Thanks for taking my call. One of the areas that’s been discussed as a point of contention are the four methods that have been outlined to improve failing schools. Where do each of you stand on that and where do you think a consensus might be found?

Tom Harkin:          I’m sorry, this is Tom. I did not hear that. Would you repeat that question, please?

(Christina Mario):  Sure. One of the areas that’s been discussed as a point of contention are the four methods that have been outlined to improve failing schools. Where do you stand on that and where do you think a consensus might be found? The question is for all of you.

Arne Duncan:        I’ll begin and then the Senators, feel free to jump in. So we’re happy to talk about any of these issues and other concerns. What I’m not happy to do is to perpetuate the status quo. And what we saw, what we were reacting to is under No Child Left Behind almost 90% of schools picked other. And other — we know what other was, other was the status quo. And, in fact, the majority of schools that four to five years ago were labeled as failures have actually gotten worse, not better.

And so we challenge the country to challenge the status quo and to try and get dramatically better results for children today, not five years from now. And we’ll be happy to get you to some remarkable examples of what schools are doing very differently and early indications, you know, huge reductions in violence, discipline issues, significant increases in attendance, these places are starting to go the right way.

So we’re open to any conversation that is part of raising expectations, getting great talent to support these students, and giving every single child a chance to be successful. (Me: Don’t let him forget he said this!) And we know today, in today’s economy if you drop out of high school you’re basically condemned to poverty, social failure. There are no good jobs out there.

And where you have schools where every single year 50, 60, 70% of students drop out of school, what does that mean for those children, for their families, and for their communities?

And so I think we all share the sense of urgency to get better. How we do that, I’m more than open to that conversation. (Me: So are you saying, Arne, that you’re finally ready to talk about poverty?)

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi and Secretary Duncan and I have had conversations on this. And, as I mentioned, he even came to Glen Rock Wyoming, a very small school district, and listened to what is kind of a cross section of Wyoming, because when we’re talking about Wyoming it’s kind of all rural. Our biggest city is 55,000 people.

But one of the things that I’ve discovered is that there are – that the whole nation is rural in places so all of the states are interested in it. And the only problem with the four alternatives is needing something that deals with rural schools a little bit more. And that’s what we’ve been working on.

Ones where there was maybe one teacher and two or three grades, they’re a long way from any other school. And that presents some different kinds of problems that can’t be solved the same way by allowing them to go to another school. It’s the only the school within an hour drive of their place, just things like that.

And we – so we’ve got to make sure that the alternatives make sure that the problems with those schools get solved, too. And we’ve been working on that.

Tom Harkin:          This is Tom Harkin again. I would just second what Mike just said. Of course, we have a lot of rural schools in Iowa and I went to one of those. And he’s right. It just – some of these things just don’t fit in rural schools and we’re going to have to look at perhaps some additional models that we might incorporate.

Coordinator:          Frank Wolfe, your line is open. Please state your media affiliation.

Frank Wolfe:         Yes, hi this is Frank Wolfe from Education Daily. Thank you for taking my call. Just wanted to – sort of what is sort of a target month for getting the reauthorization done and how this will be done in your view, whether it’s going to be a series of stand alone bills on ESCA Authorization or one comprehensive bill that would fix No Child Left Behind.

And as sort of a follow-up, I just wanted to see what specifically worked that you don’t want to change in No Child Left Behind. And how the fixes can be done given the House’s pledge to cut back on domestic discretionary non-security spending to the (unintelligible) 2008 levels.

Tom Harkin:          Well I guess – this is Tom Harkin. I guess we’ve had – as I’ve said we’ve had a lot of preliminary hearings. I think we’ve had all the hearings kind of we need to have. We had those all last year. We’ve been meeting together over here.

Again, if I had a goal I would just say my goal is to have a bill ready for markup by our Easter recess. And hopefully, ready for the President’s signature by late summer.

Of course, I have no control – we don’t have any control over the House. But I’m hopeful that they will move expeditiously also, in that regard. And I can just say that on this side we’re looking at one bill, one comprehensive bill.

Again, I don’t know what the House is planning on doing. Maybe the Secretary knows better than I do. I don’t know what the House is planning on doing. And that’s all I can tell you about that.

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi again. And of course what we need to have is the involvement of the Senators to expedite the process in the Senate. And the forms that we use will have to be one that does that.

There’s always some concern over comprehensive, but it sounds really good to do a comprehensive. But when you do you have one piece that four Senators don’t like and another piece that 11 Senators don’t like and another one that five Senators don’t like. And we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t get over 50 Senators, or we don’t have the capability to do it.

So sometimes breaking it down into component parts, four votes never stopped a bill, 11 votes never stopped a bill, five votes never stopped a bill. So we can get – we’ve got a lot of options on how we get it done but we need to just make sure that we’re getting it done and getting it all done.

Arne Duncan:        Frank, to quickly answer two other parts of your question, just to be really clear. The policy debate that we’re talking about today around reauthorization and the spending debate on the budget, those are two totally separate issues. And one should not hold up the other. And as you know there’s no price tag for fixing NCLB, it won’t cost a nickel.

And then, secondly, what are some of the things we’d like in the current law? I think this idea of just aggregating data really focusing on those achievement gaps, whether it’s among minority students, whether it’s the lack of support historically the students with disabilities have received. As a country we’re no longer sweeping those real challenges under the rug. And we want to continue to address them openly and honestly and courageously.

Frank Wolfe:         Thank you.

Coordinator:          Joseph Weber, your line is open. Please state your media affiliation.

Joseph Weber:       Washington Times. Thank you for taking my question. I wanted to go back just briefly to just clarify one point in which Senator Enzi, he said, “Certainly we will call it something different.” He was referring to No Child Left Behind. And if my notes are correct on that, does anybody have a working title or is it of interest to you that the lawmakers of the 111th and the 112th might want to change the name to put sort of their signature on their efforts?

Mike Enzi:             This is Senator Enzi and no there isn’t any new name yet. I think there’s a lot of feeling that we ought to go back to calling it Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That’s kind of bland, but what we want to do is get it fixed. And so there’s just – there’s some animosity that comes up if you mention No Child Left Behind because of some of the problems that people have discovered over the eight years that it’s been in effect.

There are a lot of things that people recognize that have made a difference, they do feel that the testing has made a difference and the reporting in particular. So that it’s done by subsets and parents get to find out how their child is doing.

But the name, that will come out later as we figure it out and then different things get generated.

Joseph Weber:       Thank you, sir.

Tom Harkin:          I just might add – this is Tom. I just – the more I’ve been thinking about this, thinking about making sure that we focus on every child, that every child should have the ability to learn and to progress. It seems to me that what we’re talking about is that every child counts. Every child counts. (Me: Here we go . . .)

Coordinator:          Our last question comes from Jackie Borchardt. Please state your media affiliation.

Jackie Borchardt:  This is Jackie Borchardt from the Casper Star-Tribune in Senator Enzi’s home state. I know from educators in our state that reporting and following the requirements of No Child Left Behind have become a burden, especially in our rural districts where the person, for example, who might handle ten to one also does five other things.

Lawmakers in our state are talking about cutting off all federal education funding because of this burden and a sense of federal intrusion. And I was just curious how you guys plan to involve the interest in this and alleviate, I guess, this burden.

Arne Duncan:        So I’ll start and I’ve traveled to almost every state in the nation. And those challenges are real in Wyoming. And unfortunately, they’re not unique. I’ve heard those complaints and issues as I’ve traveled throughout the country.

So whatever we can do to reduce those bureaucratic requirements, as Senator Alexander said at the start of the call, unfortunately, they’re not just federal regulations. They’re sometimes state and local and then the combination of all those things can be very tough for the hardworking educators at the local level.

So we want to be smart. We want to be systematic and where we can reduce, you know, paperwork, reduce bureaucracy, we are absolutely committed to doing that. And I said in my opening statement that we’re looking to have a narrower, a smaller, more targeted federal footprint. And we’re very, very sincere in that.

And those concerns I’ve heard in rural remote communities, heard in suburban communities, and also heard them in urban communities. Those are real challenges that folks doing the hard work every single day shouldn’t be burdened with. And we’re going to do everything we can to get better in those areas.

One thing we’ve already done, as I said earlier, is we’re trying to reduce and consolidate from 38 programs to 11 to make it much easier to deal with us, to not have so many (side lows) here. And so we’re trying to lead by example there and let folks know how serious we are about moving from this compliance driven culture to becoming an engine of innovation.

Mike Enzi:             And this is Senator Enzi. And the – what we’re trying to do, of course, is to make the law more simple and put in more state and local control. As we mentioned we were looking at focusing on the bottom 5% from the federal level. And that kind of leaves the rest up to the state, whatever they want to do there.

As far as states turning down the money, states have always had the right to turn down federal money. So far I’m not familiar with any state that’s ever done that because once they get to looking at it they find out how many dollars it is. And in this instance there will be a lot less control so there would be less desire for them to eliminate the money. (Me: What’s he saying?)

Arne Duncan:        I would just like to thank Senator Harkin and Senator Enzi for their support. I think Senator Alexander had to jump off the call. The press should look at the statement they issued jointly last night, which is fantastic.

And again, I just wanted to, you know, I just feel so lucky to have a chance to work with them moving forward on this. Thanks to all of you for joining us this morning.

Tom Harkin:          Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Mike Enzi:             Thank you.

Coordinator:          Thank you for your participation. Your call has concluded. You may disconnect at this time.

Me: Those of you who’ve read to this point don’t see anything wrong, do you? Unless of course you live in the trenches as an educator or a parent. I am no longer worried. I am frightened. How do I describe what just took place here? Incoherence. These nice fellows don’t have a clue. Lots of hot air just blew your way because they don’t truly and deeply understand the issues. What kind of a bill can they possibly cobble together? For the next few days, I will post comments from people such as Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Nancy Flanagan and teacherken so that they can shed a little light and let you see what’s really going on as Congress begins the great debate all over again.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Patrick Aliffi
February 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm

The arrogance, the ignorance, and they simple unawareness of the reality we face every day as parents is honestly hard to comprehend. NBC did their big Education Nation…lots of noise, lots of experts, and no one with a lick of common sense. Big deal for a couple of weeks afterwords. Last time I checked, not a new posting or comment in days.

Here is my take – parents and teachers had better quit bickering and unite. DOE needs to be shut down and all the experts sent home. Teachers who retired years ago but remain in the classrooms need to be redirected to other professions. And we need a revolution in this country to take back our schools. Our kids deserve so much better!

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2 theschoolprincipal
February 2, 2011 at 1:38 am

You and I certainly agree. The good news is that a new national grassroots movement is underway. Check out the endorsers. You will be happy to see powerful parent groups there as well as educators. We plan to take our schools back — and put the public back in public schools. Real and meaningful school reform must take place at the local level. Thanks for your comment!

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