Senate vote overhauls 'No Child Left Behind'

With bipartisan support, the Senate followed the House in backing legislation that would reduce federal oversight of schools. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law this week.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. prepares to sign legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, that changes how the nation's public schools are evaluated, rewriting the landmark No Child Left Behind education law of 2002.

The US Senate on Wednesday voted to effectively eliminate the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, a move that would hand substantial power back to state governments.

The new act would also limit federal power held by the US Department of Education since No Child Left Behind was installed in 2002 to better track student performance data based on a bevy of testing among the country’s 100,000 public schools, with 50 million students and 3.4 million teachers. 

The Senate voted 85-12 to impose comprehensive changes to the law after the House backed the legislation last week with the support of Democrats and Republicans. President Obama is reportedly set to sign the new bill, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, into law this week.

The legislation would allow states to create their own systems of accountability and halt federal overview of rules measuring the quality of schools.

“Whereas No Child Left Behind prescribed a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to struggling schools, this law offers the flexibility to find the best local solutions – while also ensuring that students are making progress," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

The bill also boosts funding for early childhood education by $250 million, while also requiring states to continue tracking categories such as race and poverty, and to close gaps on achievements and failing schools.

“It does that by establishing a competitive grant program for states that propose to improve coordination, quality and access to early child education for kids from low-income and disadvantaged families,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington.

But the new bill blocks the federal government from using incentives and mandates on teachers based on performance, stipulations in No Child Left Behind that were widely criticized by educators and parents.

Two national teachers unions supported the new law. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said to The Washington Post that eliminating No Child Left Behind would put an end to “our national nightmare" and mark the beginning of something better for students.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, indicated the unions supported the bill because it moved away from over-testing that many educators saw as counterintuitive to educating the nation’s children.

“It’s a fundamental course correction for education policy in the United States,” she said this week.

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, some argue that removing No Child Left Behind does little to amend a deteriorating education system.

“Since 1969, test scores in reading and math have hardly budged for public school students of all ages, even while per-pupil spending has nearly doubled and school staff has increased more than 80 percent,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah to The Wall Street Journal. “Our 1960s-era, top-down model of elementary and secondary schooling has endured, essentially unchallenged, for so many decades that the education establishment has come to take it for granted.”

Thomas Toch, an education policy expert at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, said the reason a federal system was launched in the first place was because local districts failed to act effectively on their own.

“Many students were left behind in the era of local control, and now we’re going back to that era. It puts school districts in charge of fixing failing schools, the same school districts that are running the failing schools now,” he said. 

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