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The end of No Child Left Behind

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The deeply divided U.S. Congress is poised to get one big thing accomplished before the end of the year. The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on an overhaul of the widely disliked federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, which officially expired in 2007. Its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed the House last week and could get the President’s signature before the holidays. 

If passed, the bill would dramatically scale back federal oversight of schools, said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“If one of the big conservative concerns in education has been that the federal government was gathering to itself way too much authority that it didn’t know how to use well, then this law is a huge and a really significant corrective,” he said.

No Child Left Behind established the lofty goal that all students be proficient on state tests by 2014. Schools faced stiff sanctions if they failed to make “adequate yearly progress” toward that goal. The new bill give states the right to decide what constitutes adequate performance, Hess said, and how to intervene in schools that don’t measure up.

Schools would still be required to test students in English and math every year from third to eighth grade, and once in high school, and states would be required to intervene in the lowest-performing schools. But in addition to test scores, schools will be judged on measures like graduation rates, student and teacher engagement and student participation in advanced coursework.

“It doesn’t just allow, but actually encourages state and local actors to use that full spectrum of information to see how our schools are doing,” said Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress.

School accountability systems already include those measures in many states that received waivers from No Child Left Behind’s strict mandates, Martin said – waivers which would be null and void as of August 1, 2016.


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