House and Senate negotiators have come to a rough agreement on the overhaul of No Child Left Behind, the federal law governing K-12 education, which could mean that Congress will complete its efforts to fix the law within the next few weeks.
NCLB, the latest incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was introduced by former President George W. Bush and offered a number of mandates to the education system in the country, forcing states to take school accountability seriously. However, recent years saw Secretary of Education Arne Duncan refer to the law as "broken," as over-testing, ineffective accountability systems, poorly planned interventions, and federal oversight of state policy through the introduction of waivers have all resulted from the law.
Congress sent two education bills, one from the House and one from the Senate, to a conference committee this week where lawmakers combined the two in an effort to compromise. The bipartisan bill will then be sent to President Obama to be signed into law. Because the White House has already announced its support of the move, it is likely that the bill will be approved.
The compromise put an end to a mandate requiring 100% of students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. However, it did keep the transparency provisions, including a mandate that all students be tested in reading and math each year between grades three and eight and again in high school in order for states to receive federal Title I funds. Students must also be tested in science once in elementary, middle school and high school. The requirement for those grades to be reported and broken down into various demographic subgroups was also retained.
In addition, states must maintain an accountability system that makes use of the data obtained through those exams. It will be left up to individual states to create those systems and determine how to provide aid to "failing" schools. States will be required to flag schools in the bottom 5% of those accountability systems for intervention.
With regards to federal oversight of the education system, the new bill carefully words the powers that the Education Secretary will hold, while also taking away his ability to shape state policy. The Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs will also come to an end, and federal officials will be prohibited from holding influence over state academic standards, as well as teacher evaluations, writes Frederick M. Hess in The Hill.
A vote on the final product could be seen before the month is over.
"Our efforts to improve K-12 education will continue to reflect regular order, providing conference members an opportunity to share their views and offer their ideas. Because of the framework we've developed, we are optimistic that the members of the conference committee can reach agreement on a final bill that Congress will approve and the president will sign," said a joint statement released by the top Republicans and Democrats on congressional education committees.