- The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved the Every Child Achieves Act, its reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
- The 81-17 vote indicated a continuation of the widely bipartisan effort by the Senate to adopt an education law that members of both parties can stand behind.
- With its passage, the Senate will now need to reach a compromise on a final bill that will require approval from the House, which voted on its Student Success Act along a sharp partisan divide, and a Senate supermajority, followed by a signature from President Barack Obama, to become law.
As you may recall, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was originally signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who aimed to utilize educational opportunity in his "War on Poverty." Last renewed during the presidency of fellow Texan George W. Bush as "No Child Left Behind," ESEA is the definitive educational law of the land.
The law, however, was seven years overdue for renewal — a detail compounded by the widely unpopular NCLB, which increased the role of standardized tests in U.S. education and established lofty accountability measures that became unattainable, resulting in numerous schools nationwide being labeled as "failing" and the U.S. Department of Education, under the Obama administration, establishing a system of waivers to alleviate states from the law's consequences. Those waivers, of course, were controversial themselves, carrying requirements that states adopt Common Core State Standards and institute high-stakes teacher evaluations tied to student test scores.
Should the Senate and House reach a compromise on a bill that ultimately becomes law, No Child Left Behind's "one-size-fits-all" approach to education will become a thing of the past, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's federal influence significantly limited. The U.S. Department of Education would no longer be able to mandate national standards to states, which would have more agency over when they test and how those tests (and other metrics of states' choosing) are used in accountability measures.
Among notable amendments considered during the Senate's debate were:
- Additional student privacy protections by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who had previously co-sponsored a standalone bipartisan student privacy bill with Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA)
- A "Pay for Success" program proposed by Hatch, expanding a Utah program providing funding for districts, non-profits, and small businesses to propose evidence-based educational programs
- Accountability measures from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Durbin (D-IL) that would require states to "assess school performance based on real and measurable results" with additional focus on historically disadvantaged groups of students
- A rejected measure from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) that would have prohibited harassment and bullying of LGBT students
- A rejected climate change education mandate from Markey