DC Shuttle: HELP Still Coming for NCLB; Five NE States Rank in Top 10 in Student Loan Debt

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) scheduled a final hearing on legislative language to reauthorize the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law for Tuesday, Nov. 8. Educators and administrators are expected to testify to the burdensome requirements of the NCLB law, which the new legislation is intended to ameliorate. Although the HELP Committee voted 15 to 7 to approve the bill on Oct. 20, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) argued that members had not had sufficient time to vet the bill before it heads to the Senate floor. Committee Chair and legislation author Tom Harkin (D-IA) agreed to hold an additional hearing on the legislation, the first HELP Committee hearing on the subject in 2011. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised to present the bill for a Senate vote as soon as possible, but with much work still to be done on provisions from President Obama’s jobs bill proposal and the anticipated proposal from the deficit reduction Super Committee, it is uncertain whether Congress will be able to complete work on the NCLB reauthorization before the end of the year. If they do not, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is poised to offer waivers from the law’s stringent requirements to states, in exchange for their implementing certain of the administration’s priority reforms. Read the draft of the NCLB reform legislation as submitted to the HELP Committee on Oct. 17.

According to a report that the Project on Student Debt released Thursday, student borrowers who received four-year degrees in 2010 left school with an average of $25,250 in student loan debt. Of all the New England states, Massachusetts is the only one not in the top 10 states with the highest average student debt. New Hampshire is the highest, with an average of $31,048 in debt at graduation among students who took out loans.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was released on Tuesday, reporting math and reading proficiency levels for fourth- and eighth-grade students across the country. Math scores continued on a 20-year trend of improvement, but increases in reading scores were slight (eighth graders) or stagnant (fourth graders). David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board and former education commissioner for Massachusetts, noted that math scores were more directly tied to classroom instruction, whereas “reading instruction is a shared responsibility,” with a significant portion of learning taking place in the context of other subject areas or outside school. Overall, about 40% of students scored “proficient” in math, and about one-third scored “proficient” in reading. Hispanic and African-American students’ scores continue to improve, although the achievement gap with white students has proved difficult to mitigate. Massachusetts students scored the highest for reading and math in both grade levels, with Vermont and New Hampshire also in the top 10 for both fourth- and eighth-graders. Connecticut students also averaged in the top 10 for reading.


From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, Nov. 7, 2011. NEBHE is a member of the Council and publishes this column each week.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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