Obama Signs Bipartisan Education Bill Into Law

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Congress approves rewrite of No Child Left Behind, returns control to states.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calling it a “Christmas miracle,” President Barack Obama signed a sweeping overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law on Thursday, ushering in a new approach to accountability, teacher evaluations and the way the most poorly performing schools are pushed to improve. Local education officials and stakeholders agree: More localized control of standards and enforcement could pave the way for a more comprehensive, holistic look at student achievement with a minimized emphasis on testing. The legislation, which passed the Senate by a vote of 85-12, would restore authority for school performance and accountability to local districts and states after a lengthy period of aggressive federal involvement.

The bill keeps federal math and reading standards in place but prohibits Washington from pushing specific standards on states as preconditions for federal funding — a provision directly aimed at Common Core, a set of standards that conservatives hold up as an example of federal overreach. While it keeps the existing annual testing requirements in reading and math and requires that states act to improve the lowest performing schools, it allows more local control to set goals, determine school ratings and decide remedial measures. “It will unleash a flood of excitement and innovation and student achievement that we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Sen.

Instead, states and school districts can develop their own assessments for school and teacher performance, as well as intervention processes for struggling schools. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who leads the Education Committee. “But it will come community by community, state by state, rather than through Washington, D.C.” Obama is expected to sign the bill, the product of a conference committee of the House and Senate, which passed easily in the House last week with bipartisan backing.

Under the new law, the federal government will shift more decision-making powers back to states. “With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal that every child— regardless of race, gender, background, zip code — deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they want,” Obama said. “This is a big step in the right direction.” The overhaul ends more than a decade of what critics have derided as one-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and improvement for the nation’s 100,000 or so public schools. Bush decried as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The goal was audacious — by 2014, the law decreed, 100 percent of students would perform at grade level.

John Callahan, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said the Pennsylvania Department of Education has already begun to implement some of the provisions seen in this “next generation of the bill.” “This is a huge bill,” he said Wednesday. “There’s a lot already that we do. States and local districts now will set their own goals, design their own measures of achievement and decide for themselves how to turn around struggling schools. But the bill acknowledges that there are other ways to measure school district and student success in the classroom than by testing.” The legislation comes as the state looks to revamp its primary measurement of school evaluation — School Performance Profile scores. SAT scores have declined, as have the scores of American students, compared with their counterparts in other nations, on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exam. It pushed schools to be more accountable to parents by requiring them to adopt standards and use tests to assess how well they were meeting those standards.

Even though the one-size-fits-all approach Duncan described was criticized, the act did require schools to break down their standardized test scores based on categories that included income, race, and disability. But it would encourage states to limit the time students spend on testing, and it would diminish the high stakes associated with these exams for underperforming schools. State education officials want to add increased consideration of factors other than test scores, including graduation rates, school safety, participation in Advanced Placement courses and attendance.

At the same time, the law’s aspiration morphed into a high-stakes target for accountability — not for the politicians, with their unachievable demands, but for school officials who were given an impossible burden of meeting annual testing goals. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, as the rewritten federal law has been dubbed, states are still required to intervene in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, high schools with high dropout rates and schools with persistent achievement gaps. Teachers, parents, students, school board members and politicians of all kinds said the law ended up forcing schools to test too often and to teach to tests rather than helping students master subjects. Under the law, schools that didn’t make “adequate yearly progress” faced ever more draconian sanctions, including wholesale reorganization and closings.

After years of falling short, lawmakers credited this year’s success to bipartisan buy-in from key players who were willing to give a little to get a little, resulting in an overarching package that had something for everyone. But the act gives states the freedom to choose how to evaluate teachers and how to hold schools accountable for students’ performance on these tests. For their part, Democrats pressed for assurances that racial minorities and those from low-income families would be protected, ensuring that there would not be disparities in access to a good education from one state or district to the next. “I think the most important thing that we put in place is that we have federal guardrails to make sure that all of our students are getting access to a quality education, but have reduced the emphasis on high-stakes testing that has been so paralyzing,” Sen. States and districts will still be able to link scores or consider them as a factor in teacher performance reviews, but they will not be required to do so. “We will continue to be vigilant as work shifts to the states to fix accountability systems and develop teacher evaluation systems that are fair and aimed at improving and supporting good instruction,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. In 2012, Massachusetts received a waiver on certain aspects of the law, and had a new goal of reducing proficiency gaps by half by the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

In January, Murray, a former preschool teacher, and Alexander, a former university president and education secretary, agreed to work together on a new proposal, kick-starting the negotiations that culminated in the legislation passed by the Senate on Wednesday. More children from low- and moderate-income families will have access to preschool through a new grant program that is to use existing funding to support state efforts. While almost every state has gotten an official permission slip, federal bureaucrats retained the final word on whether a state’s plan would pass muster, and those waivers were conditioned on commitments to adopt administration-approved education reforms. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said the reforms provide guidance in broad categories without being a “one-size-fits-all, formulaic Washington prescriptive program.” Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said it now will be easier for Pennsylvania school districts to align their standards with skills needed in college and in careers. “We can be much more holistic in how we’re building accountability around schools,” Mr. The college and career-ready curriculum guidelines were created by the states but became a flashpoint for those critical of Washington’s influence in schools.

Toomey and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the measure forbids school administrators from knowingly recommending a suspected child abuser for a job in another district. Democrats, however, said such a voucher-type system drains money that public schools need. “The American people expect the Republican majority to do better,” Mr. If it were strictly applied, it would label nearly every school in America a failing school.” Katherine Clark, a U.S. representative from Massachusetts, was one of seven Democratic representatives from the House who was chosen to work with Senate members on the final version of the bill. The bill provides for more transparency about test scores, meaning parents and others in the community will get a better look at how students in their states and in local schools are doing.

The practice is known as “passing the trash,” and engaging in it now can cost school districts federal education funding because of the Toomey-Manchin measure. Cruz said. “And our children deserve better, which is why I cannot support this bill.” The campaign of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton said the bill “is not perfect” but provides states and teachers with flexibility to help needy students. Several states already have such laws, but they apply only to intrastate job changes. “Whatever legislation is passed in Pennsylvania can’t protect Pennsylvania from another state sending these monsters into Pennsylvania, and that’s why we needed federal legislation,” Mr. Senators facing tough re-election races next year voted for the bill and used the occasion to tout provisions they were able to tuck into the legislation.

The dread “annual yearly progress” requirement is gone, as are the escalating series of consequences inflicted on school districts that don’t measure up. Manchin also pressed for making background checks more stringent and for expanding them to include all school personnel who have contact with children. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who must defend his seat, highlighted a provision that bars schools from helping former employees find jobs if they have reason to believe the former employee has a history of sexually abusing students. “This legislation is a major step forward in getting Washington out of Arizona’s classrooms and putting states, teachers and parents back in charge of educating our students,” he said.

Working with two colleagues, however, he was able to get support for more competitive grants for states to improve coordination, quality and access for early childhood education. This multipronged approach should make it easier for educators to replace some drill-and-kill memorization with more hands-on learning and critical thinking. Johnson declared his education plan the “passport from poverty.” Clearly, that didn’t work.) Rewriting the standards of evaluation and giving states freer rein in bailing out weak schools, as this law does, is a good day’s work inside the Beltway, but it’s no guarantee that the quality of teaching and learning will change.

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