House Readying K-12 Bill for Floor

Fawn Johnson
National Journal

Legislation that would fundamentally rework the K-12 education system is headed for the House floor this month, according to Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., The bill passed out of his committee last month. Now its members are promoting it with videos emphasizing different aspects of the legislation. The most recent video deals with one of the more emotional elements of the law--how to hire and evaluate teachers. The Republicans on the committee are touting the bill's removal of federal qualification requirements that they say get in the way of hiring the best teachers.

"Outdated federal policies are making it hard to get the best teachers into our schools," said Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., in the video. The House legislation would eliminate "ineffective federal teaching requirements" that he says are based more on credentials than ability in the classroom. The House bill would leave teacher credentials to states to determine how best to get effective teachers into the classroom. Importantly, the legislation would eliminate the current federal requirement for "highly qualified teachers" that many education reformers—both liberal and conservative—say has little bearing on actual teacher effectiveness. It also would consolidate teacher quality programs into block grants for the states.

Democrats on the committee hate the bill, saying it would dismantle most of the federal protections now in place for disadvantaged students. When it comes to teachers, they complain that the legislation would eliminate professional development funding for teachers and require that teacher evaluations simply "inform" the personnel decisions rather than driving them. (They also note that there are no protections for collective bargaining in the measure, but that shouldn't be surprising since it's a GOP-sponsored bill.)

The K-12 action is all in the House at the moment. The Senate has also passed its own reauthorization bill, but there is no schedule yet on when it will come to the floor. A Democrat-driven measure, the Senate bill doesn't go as far as the House bill in terms of ceding school controls to states. But it would ease up on some of the teacher evaluation requirements. It, too, would require evaluations to "inform" personnel decisions. It would keep the highly qualified teacher criteria in place, but it would add some variations for schools with their own evaluation programs and for teachers on alternative routes.

Should the current "highly qualified teacher" credential be eliminated? If so, what should replace it? The teaching provisions of No Child Left Behind are the least popular of the landmark legislation. Why? What makes it so difficult to write into law a workable system for teaching credentials and evaluations? Should states be solely responsible for credentialing and evaluating their own teachers? If not, what input should the federal government have? What is the best way to analyze the House bill overall? What about the Senate bill?