By a unanimous 22–0 vote, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) approved legislation on April 16 to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Every Child Achieves Act, jointly written by HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the committee’s top Democrat, maintains NCLB’s annual assessment schedule, requires states to report on the performance of various subgroups of students, but removes the law’s adequate yearly progress requirement and the sanctions that accompanied it.
“The consensus that the committee found is the same that Senator Murray and I found,” Alexander said in a statement. “That consensus is this: Continue the law’s important measurements of academic progress of students but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement.”
The bill was universally praised for the bipartisan nature in which it was written, but it 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.”
While requiring states to report data on the performance of individual schools and student subgroups, including students of color, low-income students, and others, the Every Child Achieves Act grants states the flexibility to determine when to intervene and how. Similarly, it requires states to set goals for assessments and high school graduation rates but does not require states to take action when goals are missed.
During the committee’s consideration of the bill, several senators offered amendments to increase state accountability for improving low-performing schools and students. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) offered an amendment to ensure that traditionally underserved students receive support when they demonstrate low performance. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) offered an amendment to ensure that high schools failing to graduate one-third of their students are identified for improvement and made eligible to receive support.
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) also offered an amendment on high schools that would target students of color, low-income students, and other traditionally underserved students. Baldwin’s amendment would ensure that these students graduate from high school with the deep content knowledge, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and other skills that prepare them for college and today’s fastest-growing jobs, particularly those in science, technology, engineering, and math.
None of these amendments had enough support to pass so they were withdrawn before being voted upon, but all three senators plan to offer the amendments again when the bill goes to the Senate floor.
“I appreciate efforts by Senators Elizabeth Warren, Chris Murphy, and Tammy Baldwin that would have held states responsible for improving graduation rates in low-performing schools,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “These proposals would have delivered much needed attention and resources to help African American, Latino, low-income students, and other traditionally underserved students graduate from high school prepared for college and a career. As the Every Child Achieves Act moves to the Senate floor, I urge all senators to work to address these shortcomings.”
In the April 24 episode of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s “Federal Flash,” Phillip Lovell, vice president of federal policy and advocacy at the Alliance, said that the Every Child Achieves Act could hit the Senate floor shortly before Memorial Day or shortly thereafter. Lovell added that the bill is expected to be debated for about two weeks.
The Student Success Act, the House of Representatives version of a bill to rewrite NCLB, continues to languish. It was expected to pass the House on February 27, but was pulled from consideration after conservative members began to waver in their support.
Speaking at the Education Writers Association national seminar on April 21, U.S. Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, said the bill was “ready to be voted on” but did not give a definite date. Instead, Rokita said that he expected the House to vote on the bill sometime during this session of Congress, which could mean anytime in 2015 or 2016.