No Child Left Behind — the education reform bill signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 which has generated widespread criticism in recent years — is on its way out.
A new bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, now awaits President Obama’s signature after it passed the U.S. House and Senate. The final bill includes bipartisan amendments proposed by Sen. Gary Peters (D–Mich.).
After three failed attempts to replace NCLB, this is the first large scale education reform bill to achieve passage in recent years. Most notably, the bill states that it will end “the federal test-based accountability system of No Child Left Behind, restoring to states the responsibility for determining how to use federally required tests for accountability purposes.”
Education Prof. Don Peurach, who works with the University’s Center for Higher and Postsecondary Education, said he believes the ESSA will alleviate pressure currently placed on the states and allow for more positive growth.
“One of the big impacts will be that in many ways (ESSA) relaxes the tremendous pressure that schools have felt from the federal level down to the states to local districts and schools,” Peurach said. “It broadens the capabilities of states and districts in finding successful ways where they won’t be nearly as pressure labeled.”
The bill will strip the federal government of some of its power, which will be returned to the states, allowing them to decide on appropriate measures when tackling various issues, such as how to rate the success of individual schools. It also will allocate a higher percentage of federal funding to low-performing schools as identified by the individual state’s accountability systems, which may include graduation rates and English proficiency, alongside test scores.
“One of the things it will do is open up the opportunity to cultivate improvement-focused climates in schools and improvement-focused cultures that have been difficult to cultivate when the achievement level was so pressured,” Peurach said.
Sens. Peters and Cory Gardner (R–Colo.) proposed a bipartisan amendment supporting dual and concurrent enrollment in schools. This will allow high school students to receive college credit from courses taught by college-approved teachers while still in high school. The amendment will also permit fifth-year programs to allow students to continue with their concurrent enrollment and thus receive more credits.
“My provisions in this bill will support funding for dual enrollment programs that can help make college more affordable, arm students with the tools they need to make responsible financial choices in the future and protect our most vulnerable children from falling into the school-to-prison pipeline,” Peters said.
Peters also championed the addition of two other measures. One concerned supporting funding for financial literacy programming — particularly among at-risk youth and immigrants. The other additional measure worked to identify dual status youth.
In a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Peters described dual status youth as those who have “come into contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice system.” He wrote that these children are considered most at risk for not succeeding in school and contribute to the current “school to prison pipeline.” By more accurately identifying at-risk youth, as Peters pointed out in his letter, the government can work on improving intervention services to benefit them.
Despite the intended benefits of ESSA, Peurach said there are concerns about the implications of 50 different achievement standards from 50 different states.
“It locates a lot of the responsibility of making all of this work on to the state departments of education,” Peurach said. “Some departments are healthier and have more capacity than others so there is a risk in variability in what counts as success across states and variability in support for schools across states.”
Still, Peurach said the bill’s overall benefits should lead to greater trust in the educational system, and will perhaps inspire current college students to tailor their studies to the field of education reform.
“I expect to see a real change in the climate and culture of change in schools,” he said. “We’ll see a rise of students interested in program evaluations to continue to become more active in schools and educational innovations to make sure that what these people are trying to do actually works. I think it continues to open up the opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, interested in getting into schools and helping them get better.”