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Senate vote: first step toward dismantling No Child Left Behind

A Senate panel votes to drop a signature provision of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education reform. The new law would eliminate the mandate for 'adequate yearly progress.'

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It also produced a blizzard of federal waivers to schools unable to meet the requirements, as well as strategies to “game” the system that damaged the law’s credibility.

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Most significantly, the law provoked massive resistance from teachers unions, a key constituency for Democrats, who feared that teachers would be evaluated by the poor performance of their students.

A surge of conservatives into Congress also undermined support in GOP ranks. When Republicans won the House majority in 1994, they pledged to rein in government, including ending the US Department of Education. Instead, President Bush eight years later enhanced the federal role. Tea party conservatives, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, are now reviving calls to end the federal role in education.

“Let’s find out what we think of No Child left behind before we rush through a 868-page bill that no one has time to read,” said Senator Paul, whose bid to delay the markup produced a promise by chairman Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa to schedule a hearing on the law in November before it reaches the Senate floor.

The committee passed the overhaul by a vote of 15 to 7. Three Republicans – ranking member Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a former US Education Secretary – voted with all Democrats to support the revised bill.

Some advocates for poor children called the decision to drop federal accountability mandates a betrayal. “There’s now an unholy and unnatural alliance between the tea party and the NEA, and this bill is a product of that,” says Amy Watkins, vice president of governmental affairs for the Education Trust, which tracks national progress in closing “achievement gaps” for poor, black, and Hispanic students. “Together, they produced a bill that sells out students.”

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