The U.S. Senate approved a bill that would replace the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the controversial education law Republicans and Democrats have heavily criticized.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) sponsored Senate Bill 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA). The Senate passed Alexander’s bill with an 81–17 vote on July 16. ECAA has to be reconciled with the House version of the bill before a final vote could send the legislation to President Barack Obama’s desk.
Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Education Freedom, says NCLB was well-intentioned but did not live up to its promise. Critics of NCLB say it relies too heavily upon standardized test scores, which McCluskey says do not fully capture a student’s progress.
“The House and now the Senate have passed No Child Left Behind rewrites, and on their faces, they are considerable improvements [compared to] the law they would replace,” McCluskey said. “Both would end illogical ‘adequate yearly progress’ requirements, for instance, and eliminate the cascade of punishments that go with them.
“Still, both bills still pose big dangers, with language that appears to give the secretary of education backdoor power to shape state standards, tests, and accountability by vetoing plans he or she decides would be ineffective,” McCluskey continued. “More fundamentally, the Constitution gives Washington, DC authority to do almost none of the things in this bill, and almost none of what it has done over the last five decades. Stagnant test scores during the time Washington, DC has been heavily involved suggest the expensive folly of shunting the Constitution aside.”
Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, says ECAA doesn’t fix some of the essential flaws in NCLB.
“This is a significant missed opportunity to restore state and local control of education,” Burke said.
ECAA consolidates, but does not eliminate, most programs, and it does not significantly reduce spending or eliminate all of the federal mandates that burden schools, says Burke. The bill also fails to allow states to opt out of the programs initially authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which the ECAA would reauthorize.
“On both sides of the aisle, most people agree that No Child Left Behind is broken,” Burke said. “It is not working.”
The House and Senate versions of the bill are each more than 600 pages long, and Burke says they would probably create new unintended consequences and increase federal intervention.
The National Education Association (NEA) says it is in favor of ECAA. The national teachers union says it made an “unprecedented member engagement” effort to get ECCA passed, with 26,000 petition signers and 2,000 face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and key staff.
Burke says it’s unlikely NEA would support a bill it knew would reduce spending on education.
“Conservatives should be wary of a proposal that has been praised up and down by the teachers union,” Burke said.
Reducing Federal Involvement?
Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a nonprofit organization working for education reform in Michigan, says he’s optimistic ECAA would reduce the amount of federal involvement in education policy.
“After years of inaction in Washington, DC, we are pleased with [the] passage of [Senate Bill] 1177, the ‘Every Child Achieves Act,’ by a strong bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate,” Naeyaert said. “While there are a number of issues yet to be finalized, such as intervention measures for failing schools; teacher evaluations; whether federal funds will follow students to the school of their choice; and additional testing or ‘opt out’ requirements; we expect the final bill to reduce the federal footprint in K–12 education and return local control to states and districts.”
Frederick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says even though the ECAA is an improvement, much could be done to strengthen the legislation.
“It’s hardly perfect,” said Hess. “There’s no Title I portability, it includes a new pre-K provision, and so forth. Given my druthers, I prefer the House bill. But ECAA is vastly better than NCLB and a massive improvement over Obama’s waiver-fueled status quo.”
Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily news site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Image by US Department of Education.
Senate Bill 1177, “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015”: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1177
“‘No’ On No Child Left Behind Reauthorization (S. 1177),” Heritage Action for America, July 6, 2015: http://heritageaction.com/key-votes/no-on-no-child-left-behind-reauthorization-s-1177/