The U.S. Congress will consider major education reform legislation during the week of July 6 when it debates a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind. Action will begin Tuesday, July 7, when the U.S. Senate begins debate on the Every Child Achieves Act. Later in the week, the U.S. House of Representatives will once again consider the Student Success Act, which was expected to pass the House on February 27 but was pulled from consideration after conservative members began to waver in their support.
Jointly written by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the committee’s top Democrat, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) was passed by the HELP Committee by a unanimous 22–0 vote in April.
ECAA maintains NCLB’s annual assessment schedule and requires states to report on the performance of various subgroups of students, but it removes NCLB’s adequate yearly progress requirement and the sanctions that accompanied it. Universally praised for the bipartisan nature in which it was written, NCLB has drawn criticism for its failure to include critical safeguards for low-performing schools and traditionally underserved students.
“To live up to ESEA’s legacy of advancing equity and providing opportunity for every child, we join with numerous civil rights and business groups in urging that further significant improvements be made to the bill to create the law that America’s children deserve,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Every family and every community deserve to know that schools are helping all children succeed—including low-income students, racial and ethnic minorities, students with disabilities and students learning English. And they deserve to know that if students in those groups fall behind, their schools will take steps to improve, with the strongest action in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools.”
The House’s Student Success Act would go even further than its Senate counterpart in dialing back the federal role in education. Specifically, it would remove accountability safe guards for underserved students, eliminate most federal education programs, and no longer require Title I funds for low-income students to go to low-income schools.
For these reasons and more, the White House issued a veto threat for the bill, saying it “abdicates the historic federal role in elementary and secondary education of ensuring the educational progress of all of America’s students, including students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English learners, and students of color.”
Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise credits NCLB for highlighting educational disparities between white students and students from low-income families, students of color, and other traditionally disadvantaged student subgroups. At the same time, however, he says NCLB is “too heavy” in its approach to school reform by mandating one-size-fits-all reforms that treat all schools alike rather than tailoring support to meet a school’s unique challenges. He believes that both the Senate and House bills go too far in the other direction and are “too light” when it comes to critical safeguards for low-performing students and schools.
“Both bills require states to collect and report data on schools and provide extensive flexibility on how states can respond,” Wise writes in a column for the Alliance’s High School Soup blog, “but neither actually requires states to act, instead permitting states to decide when, where, and if to intervene. Great discretion should be left to states, districts, and schools about how they respond; however, no discretion should exist about whether to respond.”
During floor debate in the U.S. Senate, several senators are expected to offer amendments to improve accountability and better ensure support for students and schools most in need. One amendment would ensure that schools receive targeted intervention and support when groups of students do not make academic achievement or graduation rate gains for two years in a row. Another amendment would provide comprehensive intervention and support for high schools that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students. A third amendment would add an updated version of the High School Graduation Initiative to support next generation high schools and dropout prevention and recovery.
To learn more about how these amendments would address shortcomings in NCLB and ECAA, download the Alliance’s infographic, “Getting School Accountability Just Right,” available at https://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/AEE_ESEA_infographic_FINAL.pdf.
For additional background on congressional efforts to rewrite NCLB, visit https://all4ed.org/esea/.