In a bipartisan 85-12 vote today, the United States Senate has approved the Every Student Succeeds Act — the replacement for No Child Left Behind, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — in the ESEA’s first overhaul in over a decade.
The Senate’s approval comes after the House of Representatives voted 359-64 on December 2 to move forward with the ESSA.
The bill was sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA).
ESSA represents a major shift in the influence of the federal government on education policy. States, rather than the federal government, will gain significantly more responsibility for turning around failing schools, evaluating teachers and holding schools accountable for achievement.
No Child Left Behind expired in 2007, but legislators failed to produce a viable alternative in the 8 years that followed.
ESSA will bring an end to the era of state waivers from NCLB provisions. It will also curtail the power of the Secretary of Education — something critics of Secretary Arne Duncan insisted upon after charging him with overstepping the authority of his position by issuing waivers. Duncan announced months ago that he would step down. Next month he will be replaced by former New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr.
Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers is hopeful that ESSA is a welcome departure from NCLB’s approach, which was heavily criticized by unions:
“This new bill makes clear that ‘test and punish’ is no longer the law of the land. It is a proud day when the Senate and Congress listen to parents and teachers across this country and respond to our shared concerns.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said replacing NCLB gives all stakeholders an opportunity to improve education:
“The new law will give us the chance to press the reset button so public schools can be places where teachers want to teach, parents want to send their kids and students are engaged.”
Critics of the rewrite include Heritage Action for America, which recommended a “No” vote last week. Their concerns included a failure to address Title I funding portability and to expand school choice, as well as not keeping ever-increasing federal education spending in check.
Despite broad bipartisan agreement, many questions remain about how individual elements of ESSA will be implemented. Expected to roll out in full for the 2017-2018 academic year, the details of the devolution of responsibility and oversight are thin. States and local entities are expected to grapple with how to fix their schools, who will be involved and funding.
ESSA will continue to mandate that states intervene in the bottom 5% of schools, schools in which 2/3 of students fail to graduate, and schools that have persistent achievement gaps between demographic subgroups.
Sandy Kress, a former education advisor to President George W. Bush and architect of No Child Left Behind, excoriated what he sees as ESSA’s retreat on accountability:
“While annual testing and the provision for states to put together accountability plans with certain features continues to be required, this legislation fundamentally finishes off the evisceration of accountability begun by the Administration four years ago.
The Secretary will have virtually no authority to enforce the meager “requirements” that remain, and the Federal government will have no power whatsoever to require any consequences for schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps.”
Representative Bobby Scott (D) of Virginia, however, defended reducing federal involvement in education by saying the government “wasn’t doing so hot,” reports Mary Troyan of USA Today.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign the Every Student Succeeds Act into law on Thursday.