The No Child Left Behind Act education law could be getting a new look after Republicans swept into control of the United States Senate and firmed up their majority in the House of Representatives.
Senator Lamar Alexander, the incoming chairman of the Senate committee overseeing education, has said his top priority is to fix the landmark law and have President Barack Obama sign a new bill next year.
The law, the latest update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires schools to show an increase in student achievement on a yearly basis. In addition, all students are expected to show proficiency in reading and math. Failure to do so could bring on consequences for schools, including the loss of federal funding.
While supporters believe the measure highlights the handling of minority, low-income, English learners and special needs students by schools, critics suggest that it has caused teachers to teach to standardized tests under unrealistic mandates and ineffective penalties.
Since 2012, schools have been allowed to get waivers from the more stringent requirements associated with the law. However, in order to do so, they must agree to adopting new measures like Common Core, in addition to implementing tougher teacher evaluation systems. Waivers have been issued to 43 states and Washington, DC.
New guidance was recently issued by the US Education Department concerning the waivers, which requires states to show that they are working toward closing achievement gaps and turning around low-performing schools using measures supported by the Obama administration.
As education secretary for George H.W. Bush and president of the University of Tennessee, Alexander has been around education policy for quite some time.
He feels that "excessive regulation of local schools by Washington is getting in the way of better schools." He believes that the federal government should not be in the practice of controlling making decisions concerning low-performing schools, education standards and teacher evaluations.
"We'll work with Secretary Duncan and the president in hopes we can persuade them that what we want to do is also what they want to do," Alexander said, referring to Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan.
This is not the first time that a lawmaker has tried to push a new bill to update the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2013, a bill that would have offered more leverage to the federal education secretary passed the Senate Education Commission with full Democratic support, but with no Republicans on board.
In addition, Alexander had put forth a separate bill the same year, which would not have rolled back the annual testing requirement.
"It's challenging because a lot of the decisions are made at the local level, and No Child Left Behind built in some ways a huge federal incursion into what has been a state and local set of issues," said Sen. Michael Bennet, former superintendent of schools in Denver who sits on the committee. "Figuring out how to get that calibrated correctly is going to be the tough work of the committee, and that's what we got to do."