Now that most of the federal government’s failed attempt at better regulating educational outcomes for millions of students has been officially shrugged off, it is imperative that states pick up the burden of improving education.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved, and President Obama signed, legislation known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, the 2002 landmark bill signed by President George W. Bush.
Washington will no longer hold such enormous sway over the nation’s 100,000 public schools. There will be limited federal oversight of education, but it will be the states and local districts with the most power.
Just as in the business world, when one model or method of doing things does not work, it is time to move on. Change the method and try again, which is what this latest legislation represents. Some could reasonably argue that it was long overdue.
No Child Left Behind endured stinging criticism for its overemphasis on testing. It was also seen as a punitive tool against school districts with many students whose circumstances – poverty, special needs, English language deficit – resulted in lower test scores. Educators objected, and eventually the Obama administration started granting states conditional waivers from certain aspects of the NCLB.
States are still required to test students annually in math and reading in grades three through eight and once in high school, and publicly report those results according to race, income, ethnicity, disability and whether students are English language learners.
But instead of the federal government imposing changes, states will decide what to do with the most troubled schools, those with the lowest test scores and widest achievement gaps. This change will particularly impact districts such as Buffalo, where many schools are considered underperforming.
And states will figure out how much emphasis to put on standardized test scores and whether or how to evaluate teachers. States would also set their own goals and timelines for academic progress, although their plans would require approval from the federal Department of Education.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said the new law “will unleash a flood of excitement and innovation and student achievement that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Bush had an ambitious plan to close the educational gap and “leave no child behind,” but in the end the law did not accomplish what it set out to do. Testing and preparing for tests took up much class time, and imposing one-size-fits-all reforms was unrealistic.
Those concerned that the new legislation will simply return the reins to states and districts that left those very children behind have cause to worry that Alexander’s prediction will not come true. However, continuing along the same track was not the solution.
In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Congress correctly decided that change was in order. Now it’s up to states and districts to make sure the right changes are put in place.