In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will vote on a major overhaul of the federal education law.
The final text of the Every Student Succeeds Act, designed to replace No Child Left Behind, was released Monday. If a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has its way, it will be headed for the president’s desk before the end of the year.
Next America summed up a few highlights of the full bill.
1. First, the basics. If passed, the law would reauthorize the nation’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act for four years instead of the standard five, which gives Congress the ability to change it during the next administration. The move to this law would take place from 2016 to 2017, meaning partially under the Obama administration and partially under the next president. Dozens of programs would be rolled into a single block grant and states have more flexibility with how they use funds.
2. Broadly, the bill marks a rollback of federal power. Washington wouldn't have a say in teacher evaluations, a big win for both Republicans and teachers’ unions, who have balked at the idea. While states would still be required to test students’ math and reading abilities each year between the third and eighth grades and once in high school, exactly what they do with the results would be up to them. And although states would still be required to administer tests to at least 95 percent of their students, the federal government would not be able to set consequences for schools that fall below that mark.
3. Despite the weakening of federal muscle, Democrats and civil-rights groups have some things to be excited about. States have to track how subgroups of students—including English-language learners and poor students—are doing, without lumping them together, and identify schools where different subgroups struggle.
4. After a bitter fight over so-called accountability measures, the final draft would still require states to file plans for intervening in schools where the nation’s most vulnerable students are struggling (see No. 3). States would have to intervene in the bottom 5 percent of their schools, high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent, and schools where subgroups are struggling. They, however, will get to lay out how they plan to close achievement gaps. And although states will have to include standard measures like performance on state tests as well as their choice of at least one new measure, such as “school climate,” states get to pick how much weight to give the different measures.
5. Common Core isn’t out, but it’s not in either. States would need to pick academic standards, but Washington can’t determine what those standards look like. In other words, one state might choose Common Core and another might go for something different. What would be more definitively “out” is tying teacher reviews to how students perform on tests.
If you’re looking for more details, Education Week has a roundup of where the bill comes down on Title I portability, preschool development grants and the potential for lawsuits, here (behind a paywall).
What’s next? Votes in the House and the Senate, no amendments permitted. As unlikely as passage has seemed for years, the final bill passed through conference with only one vote against it, from Sen. Rand Paul—a presidential candidate who last year said, “I don't think you'd notice if the whole [Education Department] was gone tomorrow.” While the proposal surely will receive criticism from both the Right and Left, it has already picked up support from both conservatives and liberals.
This story is part of our Next America: Workforce project, which is supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.