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No Child Left Behind Replacement Plan Shifts Power to States on Education

A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers moved to replace the No Child Left Behind law, releasing a bill on Monday that would send significant powers back to the states and curb the authority of the secretary of education.

The bill, called the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” comes after years of complaints from critics who argued the George W. Bush-era education law spurred excessive testing in public schools and used unrealistic goals to label too many schools as failing.

Each chamber is expected to vote on the bill in December before adjourning for the year.

The compromise bill’s backers expressed optimism that, if passed, it would usher in more flexibility and stability after years of uncertainty about the future of No Child Left Behind. Critics said states would feel too little pressure to fix the worst-performing schools.

Under the bill, states would still have to test students yearly in reading and math in grades three through eight, and once in high school. But the bill would end the federal guidelines for defining school quality and require states to set up their own accountability systems to measure improvement. It would also let states determine how to intervene in the bottom 5% of schools and those with low graduation rates.

States would still have to show test data for children in different “subgroups” of students, such as racial minorities, students in poverty and English-language learners. But the bill would let states devise their own ways to address achievement gaps.

Lawmakers have tried and failed to fix No Child Left Behind since it expired in 2007, and its requirements have remained in place.

The Council of Chief State School Officers applauded the compromise. “This creates a stable federal policy that provides some predictability,” said Carissa Miller, deputy executive director.

A White House official said by email, “We’re pleased that the bill rejects the overuse of standardized tests and one-size-fits-all mandates on our schools, and enables a new federal-state partnership.”

But Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, who worked in the Department of Education under President Barack Obama, criticized the bill, saying, “The danger is there that local politics and inertia push states to not be aggressive about identifying schools that need to improve.”

Sandy Kress, a consultant to the George W. Bush Institute who helped design the original 2001 law, said the new bill lets states receive billions of dollars of taxpayer money with too little pressure to get academic results. “States will do whatever they want,” he said. “They’re scaling accountability way back.”

The bill bars the federal government from giving states incentives to use any particular learning standards, such as the Common Core, a set of expectations adopted by most states over the past five years. Critics of the Obama administration have argued that its encouragement of these standards through competitive federal grants has intruded on local autonomy.

The bill also prohibits federal mandates on how teachers should be evaluated. The Obama administration had given states incentives to link student results on annual tests to teacher evaluations. Teachers unions and others had criticized using test data that way, saying it led to excessive test preparation and anxiety.

The proposal would let states include additional indicators, on top of test scores, to judge schools, such as student engagement, safety and access to advanced course work—but quantitative academic measures must have more weight.

The American Federation of Teachers said the law’s overhaul will end the “test and punish system that has dominated in recent years.”

Earlier versions of the education bill encountered resistance from House conservatives. A key question now is whether House Republicans will rally around the latest bill.

Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, said Monday that the bill had become less conservative during the negotiations.

Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action, said the group is still reviewing the bill, but added that “there is no doubt the conference report has moved substantially to the left of the House bill.” Via wsj.com


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