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Looking at No Child Left Behind v. 2.0

Attention this week has been on President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he outlined his vision for education and set the stage for the rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, a.k.a. No Child Left Behind). Viewers noted that he touched on familiar issues: expanding Race to the Top, increasing college access with better federal financing programs, and strengthening STEM education by training 100,000 teachers in 10 years. As we look ahead to NCLB v. 2.0, let’s consider where we are headed, two years into an administration that has put an unprecedented amount of (one-time) money into education reform.

The Good: U.S. Department of Education launches dashboard.ed.gov.

Also this week, the DOE launched the Education Dashboard, an easy to read, top-level report-out of 16 indicators that tracks student outcome data at the federal and state levels. The effort at transparency and common metrics should be commended.

The intended use of the Dashboard is what’s most interesting to me – using data to increase civic engagement about education! The website urges readers to use the data to “spur and inform conversations about how to improve educational results – conversations among families, teachers, administrators, policy-makers, the business community, and other interested stakeholders.” Implicitly, this instruction encourages us all to become part of the solution and raise public accountability.

This is a welcome shift from the previous administration that reflects a sensitivity to how data is used by people (and institutions) we care about. It’s GreatSchools.org’s philosophy of user interface applied to national policy. Parents, teachers, students, and voters can all understand the data as it’s presented here. But what kind of engagement can we hope for? No dashboard can have enough influence on Congress’s votes to approve another round of Race to the Top-like funding levels for NCLB v. 2.0...

The Bad: Another unfunded mandate?

All signs on the proverbial wall point to an enormous funding vacuum once ARRA/Race to the Top funds dry up. The Republican Congress is taking a hardline approach to cutting spending across the board and a return to 2008 funding. When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2002, the economy had hit a bump with the dotcom bust, but state budgets were nowhere near as grim as they are today. Even Arne Duncan is quoted in EducationWeek this week as arguing that money doesn’t matter: "There's no price tag for fixing NCLB, it won't cost a nickel."  But is that really true? Is it possible to get the results we are looking for with no additional monies, or, more likely, the shrinking budgets that we are seeing in states like California?

The Bold? What will NCLB v. 2.0 look like?

As President Obama sets the stage for rewriting NCLB, the “boldness” of the effort is in question. Realistically, the political climate is not interested in “bold;” it’s unclear whether Obama will be able to rally his own party to support his administration’s vision. But I, for one, think the best possible outcome here would be to see thoughtful, ambitious policy approved with bi-partisan support at a level of funding that makes sense for states and rewards what works for kids.

At the end of the day, are we willing to put our money where our mouth is?

We welcome your thoughts on how NCLB v. 2.0 should be realized. For some thoughtful commentary on the State of the Union address, check out this post from Justin Cohen of MassInsight.

Ellen Martin

Former Associate Director of Partnerships, Shared Value Initiative