- The No Child Left Behind era of U.S. education came to a close Thursday morning as President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.
Obama praised the bipartisan effort behind the bill, calling the signing "a Christmas miracle" and praising the leadership of Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), and Reps. John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA).
The new law, Obama said, will ensure graduates are college and career ready, holding everyone to high standards; replace a one-size-fits-all approach by giving states control to implement standards and eliminate unnecessary standardized tests; expand access to high-quality preschools; and uphold the core value of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act by reaffirming that the right to an education is a civil right, regardless or race, income, or background.
In his remarks, Obama stated that No Child Left Behind had the right intentions, but in practice often fell short. For example, the one-size-fits-all approach didn’t always consider the needs of students from every community and forced schools and districts into cookie-cutter reforms that didn’t always succeed. Of his administration's own Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers, the president said those efforts "could only do so much," as well.
By comparison, the Every Student Succeeds Act, the president said, will put the United States in a better position to compete with other nations. “In today’s economy, a high-quality education is a prerequisite for success,” he said, adding that the nation's competitive advantage depends on students not just learning the basics, but picking up skills like critical thinking.
The law does keep some aspects of NCLB in place, including required annual standardized reading and math exams for grades 3-8, and notably scales back the U.S. secretary of education's influence. The latter move is seen as a response to the tying of standards like Common Core and measures like test-based teacher evaluations to programs like Race to the Top or waivers from NCLB's most stringent requirements.
Additionally, critics of the new law are pointing to its 'teacher academy' provisions, which they say could weaken standards when it comes to alternative teacher-prep programs.
Still, that a bipartisan agreement was reached with no grandstanding or posturing is indeed notable, and will become more so if the law succeeds in its efforts to raise U.S. educational achievement.