House Passes Every Student Succeeds Act to Overhaul NCLB

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The US House of Representatives has approved a bill called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that will revise the controversial No Child Left Behind law and end the era in which the federal government patrolled public school achievement. ESSA will restore control to the individual states and local districts, writes Emmarie Huetteman and Mokoto Rich of The New York Times.

When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, it had significant bipartisan backing and was the signature initiative of President George W. Bush, who believed that low-income and minority students were not being educated in public schools. He called that the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

But the result included high-stakes testing used to measure reading and math progress between the third and eighth grades. The mandate was to have every child in the country at the “proficient” level in math and reading by 2014 as measured by standardized tests.

If schools failed to meet certain guidelines along the way, they were open to sanctions required by the federal government. The penalties could range from tutoring to the closing of schools. Both parties eventually saw that the law was unfeasible.

Now, the overhaul begins, and states and districts will be allowed to set goals and make decisions about how to rate schools and help students who are underperforming. The months of negotiation ended when a conference committee of the House and Senate voted unanimously for approval two weeks ago. The bill is expected to pass next week in the Senate.

The House bill keeps the yearly standardized testing component in reading and math, and schools will still have to report the results of the testing according to pupils’ disability condition, income, and race.

“The real question is what authority is left to the federal government to intervene should the states in one way or another fall short of what the hopes are?” said David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and a former New York state education commissioner. “We all are concerned that we not go to a place where based on where you happen to be born or which state you’re in, you face very, very increasingly different opportunities.”

In 2007, No Child Left Behind was supposed to be revised, but both parties spent the next eight years coming to an agreement on a renewal that “balances federalism with accountability,” reports Lyndsey Layton, writing for The Washington Post.

The new proposal would do away with an accountability system that was implemented by the Obama administration. The administration granted waivers to 43 states and the District of Columbia that released them from certain NCLB regulations in exchange for using preferred policies of the government. The waivers will be eliminated by August if the bill is passed.

Under the new law, says Jennifer C. Kerr of the Associated Press, states would be expected to step in for the 5% of schools that are the lowest-performing, where drop-out rates are too high, and that have recurring gaps in achievement. These safeguards were insisted upon by Democrats.

The Journal News’ Brian Tumulty says the five-year bill will support federal funding increases for multiple education programs if the legislative appropriation committees designate the money. Such educational systems as magnet schools, charter schools, and Title I school improvement could have funding increased.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) of the New York delegation said:

The law will give “states, schools, and teachers.. flexibility to make local educational decisions. It also extends valuable initiatives that expand access to preschool and after-school activities.”