In an 85-12 vote on Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that will replace a majority of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act and returns most of the power over education to the states and local school districts. After No Child Left Behind established a high watermark for federal involvement in education, the new bill slashes the federal role by historic proportions, experts say. The bill — which the president is scheduled to sign Thursday — would dump the current law’s intense focus on test scores and the well-intentioned but impossible goal of having all students reading and calculating at grade level.
Democrats are using the bill as an opportunity to remove parts of the NCLB that are unpopular with constituents, while protecting poor and minority students. The bill requires states to track performance of such students closely and intervene when schools are failing. Because of this, it earned the backing of the president and overwhelming support from Senate Democrats. Senate Republicans supported the bill, with the exception of a handful of conservatives including 2016 presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who don’t think it walks back the federal role in education far enough.
The Every Student Succeeds Act bans future Education secretaries from forcing a Common Core like set of standards and limits what the department can and can’t regulate. Dozens of waivers from No Child Left Behind granted by the Obama administration would be void starting in August 2016. States would have more than a year to shift to the new system, which would take hold starting in the 2017-18 school year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the bill’s passage.
This forward-looking replacement for a broken law would open new opportunities for our kids and put education back in the hands of those who understand their needs best: parents, teachers, states, and school boards.”
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also weighed in on ESSA after it passed the Senate. She said it was “not perfect” but deserved praise for holding schools accountable for how they deal with minority and low-income students.
The bill retains a commitment to high academic standards, enables communities to strike a better balance on testing, requires districts and states to take action to turn around struggling schools, and allows states to take a holistic approach when measuring school success.”
Under ESSA, states will get to decide whether to stick with teacher evaluations through student outcomes (in place in 42 states and the District of Columbia) and the common-core standards in place in more than 40 states. The Obama administration pushed both those policies—plus aggressive school turnarounds—under its waivers from the NCLB law. Students still must be tested in reading and math, but state and local officials would have greater leeway in determining how to respond to underachieving schools.