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Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Michael Enzi (R-Wyoming) announced new legislation to revamp the 2001 No Child Left Behind law yesterday, garnering some strong reactions from the education policy world. The senators said the 865-page bill would provide more support to “dropout factories,” which they defined as schools with a graduation rate of less than 60 percent, and would scrap a central NCLB measurement called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), replacing it with a promise from states to make “continuous improvement.” Some are praising the bill for putting more control back into the hands of states, while others believe it lacks clear goals. Some reactions:

RiShawn Biddle, who writes the conservative blog Dropout Nation, warned against lowering accountability and said the new bill was contrary to traditional Republican views on education.

“Stepping back accountability at the federal level — especially when congressional leaders are unwilling to force states to adopt Common Core standards in reading and mathematics — means setting back reforms, especially the very school choice measures Republicans and conservatives proclaim they support,” Biddle wrote. “But these days, when it comes to No Child, the plans being offered for its re-authorization merely declare that helping all children succeed in school and life is not in anyone’s thoughts.”

The national teachers unions, The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, both came out in support of the new legislation. The AFT released a statement saying it recognizes the need for higher standards and more robust teacher evaluation systems.

The AFT: “The Harkin-Enzi proposal attempts to address a broken accountability system and acknowledges the importance of adopting higher standards, including the Common Core State Standards.”

Education Sector, a think tank, praised the elimination of the “unattainable target like 100% proficiency by 2014” under AYP, but was disappointed that there is  “no new accountability yardstick in place.” It also offered an initial analysis of other elements of the bill here.

Bob Wise, president of The Alliance for Quality Education, thought that the bill was a step in the right direction, especially in how it will deal with “dropout factories.”

“The legislation unveiled today by Senators Harkin and Enzi is especially important for the nation’s high schools. For too long, high schools have been overlooked by federal education policy. This proposal would concentrate improvement efforts on high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent, often referred to as ‘dropout factories.’ It would establish a common, accurate calculation of graduation rates, helping to ensure that the nation’s high schools are held accountable for preparing students for college and careers. It would also support comprehensive efforts by states to strengthen the literacy skills of all students, including young people in high school.”

Six organizations, The Education TrustChildren’s Defense FundThe Leadership Conference on Civil and Human RightsThe National Council of La RazaThe Center for American Progress Action Fund and The National Center for Learning Disabilities sent a joint letter to Senator Harkinexpressing their concerns that the bill’s achievement goals are vague and could harm special-needs students.

“The loss of goals and progress targets would dismantle the positive aspects of NCLB’s accountability system and be a significant step backward that we can ill afford to take,” the letter said. “Your proposal contains much that could help low-income students, students with disabilities, students of color and English-language learners. But without goals and progress targets it is all but impossible to ensure that these good intentions will actually add up to better outcomes for students.”

Grover Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told theNew York Times:

“Harkin’s bill would return control to the state departments of education and the local school districts, and they’re the ones that got us into the mess that No Child was designed to fix,” Whitehurst said. “Districts and states have not been effective in delivering quality education to children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, so why should we think they’ll be effective this time around?”

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Nick Pandolfo writes for The Hechinger Report. A native of New York City, he majored in education at Eugene Lang College and later taught ESL for four years in New York, China and South Korea. Before entering...

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