BREAKING! Senate votes to overhaul ESEA (No Child Left Behind)

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by Félix Pérez

It’s been 13 L – O – N – G years, but the Senate voted today, 81-17, to pass a bill that turns away from the Washington-dictated, one-size-fits-all test and punish culture that has hurt students, diminished learning, narrowed the curriculum and frustrated educators and parents. While not perfect, the bill represents a significant step in the right direction, according to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest educators’ union.

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Utah elementary school teacher and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia after the vote said:

Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by ‘No Child Left Untested.’ Educators enter their schoolhouses every morning with one desire foremost in their minds: that every student they encounter that day will know an educator cares for them and is dedicated to reaching, teaching, and inspiring them to reach their full potential. The unmitigated failure of the test and punish culture shackled educators, and we are now one step closer to ending that woeful chapter in American education policy.”

In addition to moving closer toward the original intent of the Elementary and and Secondary Education Act — providing more opportunity for all students — especially those most in need, the Senate bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, stands out for its bipartisan support in a law-making body not known for members of both parties working together.

Shaped and shepherded under the inclusive leadership of Senators Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Education Committee, and Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat and ranking member of the Education Committee, the bill marks some noteworthy victories. Among other things, it:

  • Moves decision-making to the education professionals who know the names of the students they educate
  • Maintains the right of parents and guardians to opt their children out of statewide standardized tests
  • Provides greater access to early childhood education
  • Preserves the historic federal role in protecting the most vulnerable: children in poverty, students with disabilities, and English-language learners
  • Empowers educators with a greater voice in educational and instructional decisions, and
  • Requires state-designed accountability systems that include, for the first time, indicators of school success or student support, such as access to advanced coursework, school climate and safety, bullying, and disciplinary rates, including rates of suspension, to name a few.

For a more detailed explanation of the bill, go here.

The bill’s bipartisan support was also evident in some of the amendments introduced, each of which received majority support but was unable to meet the 60-vote threshold. The amendments included:

  • One by Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to expand a series of school-quality indicators, dubbed the Opportunity Dashboard,  that allows parents, educators, and entire communities to track and quantify those things most helpful to students succeeding in the classroom.
  • A second by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) to protect LGBT students in public schools from discrimination.

Republican support also proved crucial to rejecting private school vouchers multiple times, with nine GOP senators joining Democrats in opposition to at least one amendment: Kelly Ayotte, NH, Roy Blunt, MO, Shelly Moore Capito, WV, Susan Collins, ME, Deb Fischer, NE, Dean Heller, NV, Mark Kirk, IL, Jerry Moran, KS, and Lisa Murkowski, AK.

Reader Comments

  1. Unfortunately the real damage has been; the mandatory testing, tying student test scores to teacher evaluation, salaries, and teachers’ future employment; have been made state laws in every state by the “destroy public education” crowd! Until we elect friends who will repeal these laws this change in Federal law will just sound good, but won’t have any real effect on our students’ lives. We must elect “friends of public education” to our state legislatures. (For me, that means, elect Democrats who are truly progressives!)

  2. My question is this: what happened to all of the passionate educators (like myself) whose careers were ruined by the teach-to-the-test mentality??? I used to be a passionate teacher who searched for so-called “teachable moment[s]” all of the time. Then “No Child Left Behind” came in during my first year of teaching. If I happened to be the last hired at a school, I got the lowest-achieving students. (Don’t let anyone tell you that tracking does not go on in public schools; it is rampant.) When my low-achieving students did not do as well on the test as did higher-tracked students, I was the first to go. The old adage “last hired, first fired” followed me for the rest of my career. I finally, finally, threw in the towel in frustration at my shattered dreams. NOW everyone is talking my language, when I am too old to go back to teaching.

  3. If I am not mistaken both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders voted no. Are their objections going to be understood and noted as we attempt to ensure that ALL students have the opportunity to receive a quality education. I am also concerned that there is so much talk about teacher accountability, but little to no discussion about student and parent accountability. If students don’t do the necessary preparation work outside of the classroom, they will never be truly successful in the classroom and taking standardized tests regardless of the format, including AP exams for high school students.

  4. This agreement showed the Senate at its best. The two sides worked together to see that their concerns were met. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray were masterful in crafting and explaining a bill that addressed the concerns of all stakeholders.

    No bill is going to be perfect, but this is about as close as it gets.

    1. Yes, BOTH Alexander and Murray deserve a lot of credit. As a 30
      year veteran teacher, this bill gives me (and STUDENTS and PARENTS)
      a lot of hope!

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