In 2002, President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law and educational reformers rejoiced. The bill aimed high in terms of performance (total proficiency in math and reading by 2014), promised transparency in terms of student, teacher, and school performance, and what a great name! Both political parties supported it, until it sorta failed, and then everyone ditched it like a senior year class at 2pm on Friday.
NCLB expired in 2007 and Congress has been fighting about what comes next ever since. But in July, the Senate voted 81-17 for an overhaul called the Every Child Achieves Act, which supposedly addresses much of what was ultimately deemed wrong with NCLB while salvaging what was right — like a really awesome name. It’s not yet clear that ECA will become law, but here’s a quick guide on the act to get you up to speed. No teachers will be fired if you forget any of this. Hopefully.
State And Local Government Would Get More Flexibility In Assessing Their Students …
NCLB implemented mandatory federal testing of reading and math for third-through-eighth graders, but ECA would shift the decision of how — or if — to use these test scores as a measure of accountability to states and local government. Also, the feds could no longer require specific standards, which means the oft-lamented Common Core could be ignored entirely, so long as states adopt a “challenging” level of academic standards. All of this would allow states to experiment with their testing and assessing by, for example, doing away with high stakes end-of-year exams in favor of periodic testing throughout the school year (presumably, your kid is all for this).
… And Their Teachers
ECA gives states wide berth on how to decide who teaches in what classroom, with evaluations no longer mandated and test scores not a required element of those evaluations. The act would encourage states to implement evaluation systems and require them to report on how they’re addressing inequitable distribution of qualified teachers between high and low-income schools. There’s also a provision for funds to be allocated to recruit new teachers, strengthen induction programs, expand collective bargaining protections and give them more opportunities for professional development.
Not Everybody Is Sold
By no means is an ECA victory guaranteed. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan isn’t too thrilled with it, and neither is his boss. Conservatives want even less federal oversight, and civil rights groups say it’s not clear how, exactly, the act will work to rehab persistently underperforming schools in economically disadvantaged districts. Federal intervention when states proved incapable of educating their most vulnerable students was a big part of NCLB and ECA sort of abandons that.
The House’s Current Plan Is Different
Republicans in the House have plan on the table called the Student Success Act. A lot of what’s in ECA shows up here, with a few nuances popular among conservatives, such as letting public money follow low-income students if they change public schools. Parents could also opt children out of federal testing without any academic penalty. Obama has said he’d veto SSA, so if Speaker Boehner wants to push a piece of legislation he knows won’t go anywhere so he can polish his “Willing To Fight With Democrats” bonafides, then reconciling SSA with ECA might take a while. Which is to say, expect reconciling SSA with ECA to take a while.
In The Senate, There’s Bipartisan Support!
Quick, name one thing that Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul have in common, beyond both being U.S. Senators who breath oxygen … ECA! All 22 members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor And Pensions voted unanimously for the Act — Lamar Alexander, the Republican who chairs the committee says he got “80 percent” of what he wanted; Pat Murray, the ranking Democrat, praised the bill as a “compromise.” So, even if the House is still spoiling for a fight over education reform, at least the Senate is finally working together. That, or they just hated No Child Left Behind that much.