A retired top liberal House lawmaker urged his former congressional colleagues not to adopt an education reform bill favored by teachers unions, saying the version they want would undermine the recent progress made by minority students.

Former Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a close ally of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and usually a staunch supporter of organized labor, made the plea in a Tuesday op-ed he co-authored for the Hill.

"Congress and all of us can do better than 'not our problem' for our nation's students. They deserve more than Congress doing what is easy, such as rolling back accountability for student achievement," Miller said.

The plea came as the Senate took up debate Tuesday on legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the main federal education funding bill. Debate is expected to continue until later in the week.

The Senate legislation, dubbed the "Every Child Achieves Act," would undo some of the main elements of the previous reauthorization, known as No Child Left Behind.

The reauthorization bill would eliminate most federal testing and evaluation of schools and educators, leaving that to the states. Union leaders have long railed against the testing, which can threaten union members' job security if they fare poorly. They have urged the Senate to quickly pass the legislation.

Other groups on the Left argue that, while flawed, No Child Left Behind has made measurable improvements for minority students and that is largely a result of the testing. They have urged Congress not to drop that part.

Among those critics is Miller, who was formerly chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, where he pushed for pro-union legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act.

"By all indicators, student achievement is improving under current law. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card, shows consistent growth for poor and minority children, and faster growth than at any other time since 1980," Miller said.

While acknowledging that testing was not popular, he said it was still crucial to improving outcomes for students.

"No one's school will improve without apples to apples information on how students are doing," he wrote. The column was co-authored by Celine Coggins, head of Teach Plus, a Boston-based nonprofit.

Others who have made the same argument as Miller include the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. It sent a letter to the Senate last month saying it could not support the reauthorization, citing the lack of any significant testing system for teachers and schools.

"States must be required to identify schools where all students or groups of students are not meeting goals and to intervene in ways that raise achievement for students not meeting state standards," the letter said.

Teachers unions disagree and have applauded the reauthorization bill's removal of federal testing. After it passed the committee in April, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said it "moves away from the increasingly counterproductive focus on sanctions, high-stakes tests, federalized teacher evaluations and school closings."

Ironically, the teachers unions have found common ground with some conservative groups, who oppose federal testing for other reasons. Heritage Action, for example, has argued that No Child Left Behind hurts the ability of local school boards to set education policy.

Republicans touting the reauthorization bill, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, have made the same argument.

"We should respect the judgments of those closest to the children and leave to them most decisions about how to help 3.4 million teachers help 50 million students in 100,000 public schools," Alexander said during Senate debate Tuesday, adding that Washington should show "a little humility" in the matter.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., countered that the federal government still had an important oversight role.

"It's certainly not asking too much that we who are putting million and millions of dollars from the federal government into a system that there is some accountability for these dropout factories," he said.