The original bill, in my opinion, was an effort by Harkin to legitimize the power grab by the education arm of the Obama administration.
(Here's where things get confusing for me. I am a staunch Democrat but find myself agreeing with Republicans on this go round. Even Rand Paul's speech to the committee had me nodding my head. But Paul is a "less government is good government" kind of guy.)
In reaction to Congress's inability to take action on anything in the past two years, Duncan unilaterally agreed to release states from their accountability to AYP--and the unreachable goal of 100% pass rates by 2014--in return for state agreements that would hold teachers accountable for student scores.
In my opinion, that was a power grab--skipping over Congress and creating law independently.
Harkin's bill essentially reinforced Duncan's proposal: States could waive AYP if they instituted a huge, bulky plan to track and measure teacher effectiveness--even though the tools proposed to measure teacher effectiveness are basically unproven or non-existent.
Harkin also mandated the same sanctions Duncan proposes for the bottom 5% of low-performing schools (Won't there always be a bottom 5%? Just sayin') which means closing, restructuring, or turning poor performing schools into charters. Another set of strategies that have little statistical support for improving schools.
The good news about the bill is that the "teacher effectiveness" portion has been stripped. Which means students will not be subjected to more testing just to see if their teachers are doing their jobs. From the New York Times:
But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who had long criticized Congress for failing to rewrite the law, on Friday criticized the Harkin-Enzi bill, saying it compromises too much, particularly on teacher evaluations and student-achievement goals. “There are huge — significant problems with the current draft,” he said. “Though there are some things in this that I consider positive, others are quite concerning.”
Rand Paul argues that the Department of Education needs to be scaled back and that states and localities need to resume local control. He advocates involving educators in the reform.
Stay tuned. The revisions to NCLB may not see the light of day yet.