Rep. George Miller drives education legislation

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, says he will push to bring to a vote early this summer legislation to reauthorize the federal No Child Left Behind program.

Miller spoke to the editorial boards of the Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune this afternoon.

As one of the architects of the original legislation, Miller concedes that the program needs an upgrade but rejects critics’ calls to abandon it. No Child Left Behind requires students in K-12 schools to meet minimum proficiency levels in reading and math.

The key change under discussion would change how the federal government measures performance.

Instead of comparing the test scores of one year’s class of students against the scores of the next year’s class, the committee is evaluating a growth model system that measures every student’s progress from year to year.

Under the current system, for example, a teacher may help a sixth grader jump in a single year from third to fifth-grade proficiency in reading. But the teacher has still failed under the rules because the student did not reach sixth-grade proficiency level.

“You can’t have a system where a hard-working teacher is called a failure every day,” Miller said. “It’s bad for the profession. It’s bad for the school. It’s bad for the community. We have to find a way to give credit for progress while holding schools accountable for meeting high standards.”

Miller may have to exercise his considerable clout in the coming weeks — he is a close adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — as he advances what he hopes will be a bipartisan education bill.

Not only will the legislation potentially contain controversial elements and propose billions of dollars in new spending, it will surface during one of the most partisan environments in recent Washington history.

The Democrats and President George Bush are locked in a stalemate over the Iraq War. And the looming 2008 presidential contest will serve to further polarize the public and the parties.

“All you can do is keep going,” says Miller, who has served in Congress for 32 years.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen