With Murphy’s support, Senate moves forward on education overhaul

Washington – A bipartisan compromise that would shift control of some education issues from the federal government to the states unanimously cleared a key committee Thursday.

Called the “Every Child Succeeds Act,” the bill would make significant changes to the No Child Left Behind law, signed by President Bush in 2002, which critics said placed too much emphasis on judging and punishing schools based on student test scores. The law was also slammed, especially by conservatives, for giving the federal government too large a role in local education.

The new bill, a compromise brokered by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., was approved on a 22-0 vote by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy is a member.

The act would still require students to take standardized tests, including two per year in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and one a year during high school. It also would require students to take a total of three science tests between grades 3 and 12. But the federal government could no longer use those test scores to punish “failing” schools by redirecting funding elsewhere.

The federal government also would allow states to set their own achievement goals, and states would be permitted to include measures besides test scores in their accountability systems to provide teachers, parents, and others with a more accurate picture of school performance.

States would also be allowed to determine whether to implement the controversial Common Core State Standards.

The bill would maintain, however, a requirement that states keep data on whether all students are achieving, including low-income students, minority and foreign-born students and those with disabilities.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the panel, said he voted for the bill because he opposed “No Child Left Behind’s stringent, inflexible requirements” and because it “puts us on a path to recognizing that good schools aren’t defined by testing alone.”

Despite his support of the legislation in committee, Murphy said he may not vote for the bill when it comes before the full Senate unless what he considers certain deficiencies are addressed.

“I voted to move this bill out of committee today because I believe it’s our best shot at making things better for students, but this bill is still a work in progress,” Murphy said.

Murphy said among the bill’s failings is that it does not do enough to push low-performing schools to improve, or require states to address achievement gaps.

“Education is a civil rights issue, and right now, this bill doesn’t do enough to ensure that all kids, regardless of what they look like or where they live, have access to top-quality schools,” Murphy said. “This bill needs to get better in order for me to support it on the floor.”

The bill was amended 29 times. One amendment, sponsored by Murphy,would require states to establish policies to prevent the unnecessary use of seclusion and restraint for disciplinary purposes in schools.

“The facts tell us that locking kids up in padded rooms and limiting their movement with tape or rope hurts our children instead of helping them,” Murphy said. “These horrific practices cause physical and psychological trauma not only to these kids, but also to their peers, and there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment of children.

Another amendment to the bill would change the distribution of a federal teacher development fund that’s tied to population and poverty changes in each state. The new formula would hurt Connecticut, but changes would be phased in so Connecticut would not lose significant funding overnight.

Supporters of the new education bill hope it will be considered by the full Senate in the next few weeks. The U.S. House of Representatives is working on its own education bill, but has had trouble reaching consensus.

A spokeswoman for the State Department of Education said the agency is tracking the legislation and does not yet have an opinion on its provisions.

“The legislation is still a proposal, and we are going to operate under the current law and statute,” she said. “Its too early in the process to make suppositions.”

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