U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today raised questions about the administration's proposed reform of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), saying proposals to help the lowest-performing schools improve won't work in states with lots of rural and remote communities such as Alaska.
Murkowski made her comments at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing to consider the administration's recently released NCLB reform blueprint. Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared before the panel to defend the proposal.
Murkowski explained that in Alaska, as in many parts of the country, teacher and principal turnover are a major problem -- not a solution. The blueprint would compel the lowest-performing schools either to fire principals and teachers, close the school and send the students elsewhere, or bring in some other entity to run the school.
Noting that many villages are without indoor plumbing, potable water, and have poor housing, Murkowski told Duncan that "these are not conditions that most people will be able to handle."
"So when we talk about the options, such as replacing the principal, this is our problem. We can't keep good people there," she said.
Murkowski said that reforms made to NCLB should work for all schools, whether urban or rural, and allow for flexibility - not a one-size-fits-all approach.
"I think we've got to have the ability to be flexible, to look at different things, to say what might work in Iowa or Wyoming, even though they're rural, doesn't necessarily translate to Alaska," said Murkowski. "So I would hope that you have, within your blueprint a level of flexibility and ability to resolve things like this."
Murkowski has introduced her own bill, the School Accountability Improvement Act, that, like the administration's NCLB blueprint, gives schools credit for improvement based on individual students' achievement. Murkowski's proposal also would provide additional flexibility for Native language immersion schools to show that children are learning, improve Highly Qualified Teacher provisions to address teacher effectiveness, reform NCLB's school choice and tutoring provisions, improve opportunities for parental involvement in schools, and improve how schools are held accountable for the performance of students with disabilities and English language learners. Murkowski will work to incorporate the elements of her bill once the HELP Committee begins to write a reauthorization of NCLB.