There is finally a replacement for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law; the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (S.1177) gives education decision-making control back to the states and it lifts the imposition of the controversial common core standards. President Barack Obama signed the bipartisan bill into law Thursday morning, Dec. 10, 2015 in a White House ceremony. The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 9 with a vote of 85 to 12 following the House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of the bill on Wednesday, Dec. 2 with a vote of 359 to 64.
At the bill signing ceremony in Eisenhower Executive Office Building, President Obama was in good humor calling the Every Student succeeds Act, “an early Christmas present. After more than 10 years, members of Congress from both parties have come together to revise our national education law… A bipartisan bill signing right here. We should do this more often.”
Present at the ceremony was the bipartisan co-authors of the bill, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.). President Obama praised them, saying, “People did not agree on everything at the outset, but they were listening to each other in a constructive way. I think it’s really a testament of the four leaders of their respective committees that we set that kind of tone.”
The new bill puts Kindergarten through high school education decision making back in the states’ hands including local governments and school boards, where they will be allowed, “to set their own guidelines for rating schools,” setting goals, and improving underperforming schools.” There will still be mandatory testing in “grades three through eight” and one time in high school for math and reading. States however, will be required to intervene in the “bottom 5 percent of schools” where the graduation rates are less than 67 percent.”
The federal government will also still provide “oversight and restrictions.” The new law also prevents the Education Department and its secretaries from pushing the unpopular “Common Core-like set of academic standards.” In the future, the Education Department will be limited on regulations. The law will be implemented in next year, and mandatory starting in 2017-18 school year.
This is the first time there has been any major revisions to President George W. Bush’s then landmark education law, No Child Left Behind, which passed in 2001 with equal bipartisan support. The constant federal government interference, arbitrary testing and teacher rating ties to test scores made the law unpopular with educators, many who saw it taking away from teaching other subjects beyond reading and writing. The law expired in 2007, but there has been little progress towards a revision until recently. The Obama administration has been dismantling the law through waivers most of which expire in August 2016.
Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisles hailed the revision. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said about the NCLB “It wasn’t long after the law was passed that we realized it was full of flaws.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) expressed, “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. It’s conservative reform designed to help students succeed instead of helping Washington grow.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) praised the bipartisanship in creating and passing the bill, “This is the biggest rewrite of our education laws in 25 years. This shows what we can do when both parties work together.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emphasized the content of the law, “We have a great bill. It’s very good for our children. It’s about making schools a place where children can learn, teachers can teach, parents can participate.”
Educators have also been singing the law’s praises and the end of the “test-and-punish” approach. American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten commented, “You’ve had 15 years of test, test, test, test, test, test, test. This is a vast improvement over what we have right now.” president of the National Education Association Lily Eskelsen García hailed “the end of the ‘no child left untested”‘ law,” saying “This ends the federal dark cloud of test-and-punish mandates.”
Not everyone is satisfied; the Republican Senators running for president do not believe the law goes far enough. Texas Senator Ted Cruz voted against the bill with a handful of Republican Senators including Kentucky’s Rand Paul because, the bill “continues to propagate the large and ever-growing role of the federal government in our education system-the same federal government that sold us failed top-down standards like Common Core.”