With the stroke of a pen, the No Child Left Behind Act became history last Thursday.
President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan replacement to the universally unpopular, nearly 15-year-old education law. At the White House ceremony, he was joined by legislators, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, his successor John King, and a middle school student.
“This is an early Christmas present,” Obama said. “After more than 10 years, members of Congress from both parties have come together to revise our national education law. A Christmas miracle.”
The signing of the new law culminates a period when schools were graded and deemed to be successes or failures based on their students’ standardized test scores. It marks a recognition by many educators, states, researchers and districts that what happens in a school is much more complex than a single number could ever show.
The new law still requires standardized tests in grades third through eighth and in high school, and the reporting of how all students do on those tests, but it gives states more authority. Instead of mandating specific punishments, the law says that states and districts can intervene in under-performing schools by whatever “evidence-based” method they choose.
Several Miami County local school superintendents agreed that it’s too soon to tell what exactly is in store in regards to changes in their district classrooms with the new federal education law.
“I look forward to learning more about this new legislation and how it will impact our students. It’s too early to fully understand every aspect of this new and extensive law,” said Piqua City Schools Superintendent Rick Hanes. “We will continue to discuss its impact with lawyers and analysts to make sure everyone has a thorough understanding of its impact.”
Troy City Schools Superintendent Eric Herman and Miami East Local School Superintendent Dr. Todd Rappold also said it was too early to grasp the nearly 1,100 page bill and how it will change education practices in Ohio.
“As we know, as a bill unfolds it takes many turns as it depends who is the driving force,” Herman said.
Herman said he hopes the new federal law means less testing time, more local control of the content of the test and hopefully a new format for students and teachers.
“Hopefully it will allow flexibility for local schools to make decisions about what is right for their district in the world of testing and accountability,” Herman said.
Hanes said the district will continue to review the new legislation to ensure they will take full advantage of new options it may provide.
“However, we are also committed to the unique pieces that make our local community special,” Hanes said. “Piqua City Schools is a place where opportunities matter both in and outside the classroom. We will continue our focus on providing a good value to our community and an excellent quality education for our students.”
“The new act was well over 1,100 pages long. I’m sure there is lots in there that we haven’t been clued into,” Rappold said. “I think some of the positives that is pretty apparent is that states are going to have a lot more local control over a different variety of items including testing and accountability — that could be a positive.”
No Child Left Behind was signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 to much pomp and promise. The law dramatically expanded the federal government’s footprint in America’s public schools by mandating annual standardized testing in math and reading from grades three to eight and once in high school. NCLB established a goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 and punished schools based on those test scores.
Under the law, states must identify schools that need extra help by creating an accountability system that weights academics much more than other factors, but also includes at least one non-academic factor. The law requires states to identify and work with the bottom 5 percent of its schools; schools where more than a third of students don’t graduate high school on time; and schools where specific groups of students consistently underperform. The law also requires reporting on college enrollment and expands high-quality preschool, and requires that states set academic standards that reflect college readiness.
“With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the ZIP Code where they live, deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will,” Obama said, adding that the administration would be talking to stakeholders to “make the promise of this law reality.”
Since NCLB’s expiration in 2007, Congress has taken up rewriting the bill in fits and starts, but divisions between Democrats and Republicans halted almost every effort.
Obama campaigned on rewriting No Child Left Behind, and he gave Congress a deadline of 2011 to get the job done. But when that didn’t happen, he invited states to apply for waivers to get them out of the law’s most cumbersome strictures, in exchange for agreeing to Obama-favored reforms such as tying teacher evaluations in part to students’ test scores.
— Joy Resmovits, Los Angeles Times, contributed to this article.
Reach Melanie Yingst at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Troydailynews