U.S. Senate Begins a Multi-Day Debate on Fixing No Child Left Behind Act

The U.S. Senate today began considering the Every Child Achieves Act, aiming to leave behind the multiple follies of the No Child Left Behind Act and of the Race to the Top program that furthered NCLB’s test-and-punish agenda. Many amendments are due to be debated over the next few days, but it’s worth noting how big a change this bill would make in federal education policy, regardless of what happens to those amendments.

The Every Child Achieves Act—technically a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—represents a bipartisan rejection of federally determined educational standards, federally determined sanctions for falling short of those standards, and federally determined implementation of school-improvement efforts. Under this replacement for NCLB, the choice in all these matters would be left to the states. They would still be required to conduct annual tests in grades 3-8 and report the results of those tests for disaggregated subgroups, but the states, not the feds, would decide not only which tests to use but also what use to make of the results. States could not be required to follow policies on teacher evaluation set by the U.S. Department of Education.

On her blog today, education historian Diane Ravitch posted an assessment of the bill by another prominent critic of the NCLB/RTT status quo, Leonie Haimson. Though Haimson says the bill could go even further, she deems it “a critical step forward, because it places an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in the decision-making of states and districts as to how to judge schools, evaluate teachers or implement standards.” She adds:

In particular, it expressly bars the feds from requiring or even incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as [U.S. Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan has done….It would also bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive, by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging test prep to the exclusion of all else. The bill would prevent the feds from imposing any particular school improvement strategy or mandating which schools need improvement—now based simplistically on test scores, no matter what the challenges faced by these schools or the inappropriateness of the measure. Finally, the bill would prevent the feds from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, as Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.

You still have time to add your voice to the call for passage of the Every Child Achieves Act to replace NCLB. You can send your message to your two U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/pass-the-every-child-achieves-act.