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Franken, Kline ask education secretary about No Child Left Behind

Posted by: under 2nd District, Minnesota U.S. senators Updated: March 17, 2010 - 7:52 PM

Minnesota lawmakers on both sides the aisle expressed their support today for the Obama administration's blueprint to remake No Child Left Behind.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put in appearances before the House and Senate committees on education today to discuss the Obama administration's blueprint for remaking (and renaming) the controversial education act. Sen. Al Franken sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee; Rep. John Kline is the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor committee.

In the Senate hearing, Franken said he was "very, very happy to see the emphasis that you're putting on principals." The Minnesota Democrat, who has proposed legislation to improve principal training, said those administrators set the ethos of a school and seemed pleased to hear Duncan say that "ninety percent of [principals'] education is not going to be in some textbook."

Franken also asked if the blueprint will allow for quicker, more flexible evaluations. He said Minnesota principals and teachers have told him the current tests are more like "autopsies," because the results come too late to fix anything. Duncan said that there would definitely be more real-time diagnostic testing for students to allow educators to more effectively adjust their teaching styles.

"There should be no guessing, there should be no surprises," Duncan said, adding that the blueprint would encourage teaching these kinds of strategies in schools of education.

In the House hearing, before discussing the issue at hand, John Kline voiced concern that the Department of Education had not yet released the reasoning behind the results of the Race to the Top competition to states. Duncan replied that information would be released at the end of the first round of the competition. The second round of the competition begins on June 2.

As for the blueprint, Kline said he like the blueprint's "tight on goals, loose on means" approach, but raised some concerns about how much oversight the proposal gives to the federal government. For example, he said, it excludes public school choice and tutoring requirements from the bill, making those optional interventions for struggling schools.

"The federal requirements are too prescriptive, and the measures of success are not nuanced enough," Kline said.

Nevertheless, the Lakeville Republican said the blueprint was a jumping-off point for a remade bill and that Duncan's "open and bipartisan process has truly been a breath of fresh air."

On a sidenote, Duncan made an unexpected reference to the North Star State when discussing student performance before the House, saying that he wished "we all lived in Lake Wobegon"—  referencing Garrison Keillor's assertion that all the children there are above-average — but that sadly wasn't the case.

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