June 17, 2013
Last week the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up a partisan bill to reauthorize (rewrite) the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind. This week the House Education panel is expected to similarly mark-up Republican legislation introduced to rewrite the federal education law. However, both bills are considered highly partisan with little chance of actually becoming law.
STEM legislation in the partisan bill introduced by Senate Democrats, titled The Strengthening America’s Schools Act, is largely the same legislation the Senate HELP Committee passed two years ago. It includes funds to states to increase student achievement in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and creates a STEM Master Teacher Corps.
During the markup, Senate Republicans offered an alternative proposal to the Democrat bill. In a press statement Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican Ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee stated, “Over the last decade, the U.S. Department of Education has become so congested with federal mandates that it has become, in effect, a national school board. This congestion of mandates is caused by three things: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the administration’s use of waivers …. Senate Democrats have offered a 1,150-page plan that would not only freeze these mandates in place, but double down, creating more than 25 new programs as well as more than 150 new reporting requirements for which states and local school districts must secure approval from the Secretary of Education.”
In the Republican-led House, Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline introduced the Student Success Act on June 6, and plans to mark up the legislation on June 19.
In a statement Chairman Kline promises his bill will restore local control, support more effective teachers, reduce the federal footprint, and empower parents. This partisan legislation is also similar to the bill House Republicans put forth last year, but with one notable addition that was cheered by STEM education advocates—this bill reinstates the requirement that states have in place academic standards and assessments in science. As in current law, science assessments would not be required elements of a state’s accountability system and would be administered at least once during grades three through five, six through nine, and 10 through 12.
A Democratic alternative bill is expected to be introduced at the markup. Read more about the bill at www.edworkforce.house.gov/StudentSuccessAct.
No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002, and expired in 2007. Congress has tried to rewrite the law several times but could not come to agreement on fundamental issues such as accountability and funding. In 2012 President Obama granted waivers to states from the law’s requirements, notably the requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. To date, 37 states and the District of Columbia have received a NCLB waiver.
The Administration’s recently released Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan was the subject of a hearing last week in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
The strategic plan lists five priority areas. The top two priorities focus on preparing and supporting 100,000 new K–12 STEM teachers by 2020 and providing more support to current classroom teachers, and providing students with more opportunities to get engaged and excited about science and STEM.
The Administration’s strategic plan proposes a reorganization of federal STEM education programs into four key areas: K–12 instruction; undergraduate education; graduate fellowships; and education activities that typically take place outside the classroom.
The proposal identifies the U.S. Department of Education as the lead for K–12 instruction and the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the lead on undergraduate and graduate STEM education. The Smithsonian Institution would lead the administration’s work on informal education activities that take place outside the classroom.
The Administration is proposing to significantly decrease the number of federal STEM programs by more than half, resulting in program changes for many mission agencies such as NOAA and NASA (the proposal would significantly reduce NASA’s STEM education portfolio by nearly one third).
Concurrent to the plan, the President’s FY2014 budget proposes $3.1 billion to support federal STEM education programs, a 6.7 percent increase over FY2012/13 levels, but it consolidates or restructures 114 of 226 currently existing federal programs, 78 of which would be terminated. Funds totaling $176 million would be directed to other agencies, (the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian.) The budget proposes 13 new STEM initiatives, most of which would require separate Congressional authorization.
Both Democrats and Republicans had concerns with the proposed consolidation and voiced them repeatedly during a June 5 Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on plan.
Testifying before the committee were John Holdren, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Executive Office of the President; Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Assistant Director, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation (NSF); and Leland D. Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education, NASA
On June 6, President Obama announced a new initiative which would “jumpstart learning technology across our nation’s K–12 schools.”
Within five years the Administration claims the ConnectED initiative will connect 99 percent of America’s students to the digital age through next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless in their schools and libraries.
The ConnectED initiative will provide teachers with support and training to use technology to help improve student outcomes and work with businesses, states, districts, schools and communities to support the learning technology vision.
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