The House narrowly passed a bill Wednesday rewriting the federal education law known as the No Child Left Behind Act. No Democrats voted for the measure, which would significantly reduce the role of the federal government in setting education policy and allow federal funding to “follow” low-income students to other schools. Twenty-seven Republicans voted against the bill. Meanwhile, debate on a bipartisan bill in the Senate is expected to stretch into next week.
Many blame the 14 year old education law for ushering in the era of high-stakes standardized testing as a way to hold schools accountable. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would maintain annual testing in reading and math, but give states more flexibility in how they use test scores and how they deal with low-performing schools.
“Right now, under existing law, the federal government dictates how they need to respond,” says Lanae Erickson Hatalsky with the centrist group Third Way. “Under this law, the states would get to dictate how they’re going to intervene in those schools.”
Civil rights activists worry some states won’t do enough to make sure low-income, disabled, and minority students are learning.
“Especially among our most vulnerable students, we need to make sure that we know not only how they are performing,” but that states will step in when students are falling behind, says Leticia Bustillos with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group.
The Senate bill does address what many see as over-testing in schools. States and districts, which often pile on additional tests, could use federal funds to study how they assess students — and how often. The House adopted an amendment to its bill allowing parents to opt their children out of testing.