On April 14, the U.S. Senate education committee will consider a bipartisan bill to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The bill, titled the Every Child Achieves Act, maintains NCLB’s assessment schedule and requires states to report on the performance of various subgroups of students. Although the bill was universally praised for the bipartisan nature in which it was written, it has drawn criticism for its failure to include critical safeguards for low-performing schools and students.
“Our agreement continues important measurements of the academic progress of students but restores to states, local school districts, teachers, and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who unveiled the bill on April 7 in a joint announcement with U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the HELP Committee’s top Democrat. “This should produce fewer and more appropriate tests. It is the most effective way to advance higher standards and better teaching in our 100,000 public schools. We have found remarkable consensus about the urgent need to fix this broken law, and also on how to fix it.”
The bill requires annual math and English language arts assessments in grades 3–8 and once in high school and requires states to develop a statewide accountability system. For elementary and middle schools, the accountability system will incorporate test scores, English language proficiency, a statewide academic indicator selected by the state, and an additional indicator selected by the state. For high schools, the accountability system will incorporate test scores, graduation rates, English language proficiency, and an additional indicator selected by the state.
“While there is still work to be done, this agreement is a strong step in the right direction that helps students, educators, and schools, gives states and districts more flexibility while maintaining strong federal guardrails, and helps make sure all students get the opportunity to learn, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make,” Murray said.
Some organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education, have questioned the strength of the federal guardrails, especially as they relate to the nation’s lowest-performing schools and traditionally underserved students. For example, the bill requires states to report data on the performance of individual schools and student subgroups, including students of color, low-income students, and others, but the bill grants states the flexibility to determine when to intervene and how. It requires states to set goals for assessments and high school graduation rates, but the bill does not require states to take action when goals are missed.
For these reasons, Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise writes in a blog post that the bill “could start a major retreat from the recent historic increases in high school graduation rates.” Wise notes that the bill “provides extensive flexibility to states on how to respond,” but it does not actually require states to act. “That is like equipping the fire department with new tools and alarms, then giving each fire house the option to choose which fires to put out,” Wise writes.
Wise calls on the Senate HELP Committee to require states to target resources and focus reform on high schools with a graduation rate at or below 67 percent. According to a new Alliance report, there are more than 1,200 of these high schools nationwide and they enroll more than 1.1 million students, most of whom are low-income students or students of color. (See the article below for more information on the report, Below the Surface.) Additionally, Wise says the committee should require states to intervene in schools where students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and other subgroups of students fail to meet the state’s high school graduation rate goal for two years in a row.
“As it rewrites NCLB, the Congress has the opportunity to couple much greater flexibility for states and districts with proven requirements that continue increasing graduation rates for all students,” Wise writes. “Tuesday’s committee action should be about changing the provisions of the fourteen-year-old NCLB that do not reflect current education needs, not reversing the gains that have been made in improving high school graduation rates.”
For more information, read Wise’s blog post, “Alexander-Murray Bill to Rewrite NCLB Lacks Critical Safeguards for Low-Performing Schools and Students,” at http://t.co/7gWbZdMW7p.