Washington – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a new federal education bill Wednesday that would replace No Child Left Behind and turn back much authority over K-12 education policy to the states.
The 359-64 vote on the Every Student Succeeds Act sends the bill to the Senate, which is expected to approve it next week.
To what degree Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will use the freedoms given him by the bill is unclear. The governor has declined to comment on the legislation.
Malloy appointee Allan Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education, told the Connecticut Mirror Wednesday it was “highly unlikely” the state would retreat from testing students on the controversial Common Core standards.
Taylor and Dianna Wentzell, the state’s education commissioner, also said they are happy with the state’s present method of rating schools and its strategy for improving low-performing schools.
Connecticut’s delegation to the House was unanimous in support of the bill and enthusiastic about the legislation.
“This is what our school systems need, and this is what our kids need,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, in a speech on the House floor.
Courtney praised the bill’s support for new grants and programs to encourage the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines. So did Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.
“Unfortunately, outdated No Child Left Behind policies have allowed far too many of our children to continue to fall behind,” Esty said.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said, “It is far past time that we replaced No Child Left Behind, a law that never lived up to its name, failing to improve our schools or better educate our children.”
The bill is the result of months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. Many, including Malloy, thought the differences between the parties and the chambers could not be bridged.
Under the new education bill, states would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
Those tests would have to be a part of a school’s accountability system, but schools will decide how much weight to give testing and could incorporate other factors, such as teacher engagement and access to advanced coursework, to evaluate a school’s performance.
The bill also requires schools to break out data for different “subgroups” of students, including kids in special education, low-income children, racial minorities and English-learners.
States and school districts would also have to intervene in schools that perform in the bottom 5 percent and those where fewer than two-thirds of the students graduate.
The bill ends the federal School Improvement Grant program. But it provides other resources to help underperforming schools.
The Every Student Succeeds Act not only ends the controversial No Child Left Behind law, the landmark legislation championed by President George W. Bush that has influenced K-12 education policy for 13 years, it also ends the waivers from certain requirements of the bill granted to states like Connecticut.
The waivers were given to states that agreed to adopt certain education measures – in Connecticut the waiver involved linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. In return, states like Connecticut got flexibility from some core requirements of the law, such as that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
Connecticut’s teachers unions are pressing the Malloy administration to divorce test scores from teacher evaluations.
In her interview with the Connecticut Mirror Wednesday, Wentzell said the question of whether to continue to factor student performance into teacher evaluations will be left up to the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, a state-appointed panel of education stakeholders that sets teacher evaluation policy.
“The new bill challenges all those who believe in the promise of public education to achieve the equity called for in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965,” said American Federation of Teachers Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “Tonight’s vote in the U.S. House of Representatives is a historic point signaling the end of the failed ‘No Child Left Behind’ experiment once and for all.”
In a letter urging its members to press lawmakers to support the bill, the AFT said “this law will give us a fresh start — and will be a wake-up call to any state that wants to double down on what will now be the discarded test-and-punish system that has so dominated in recent years.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, lauded the bill’s increase in funding for early childhood education.
“There are few areas with a bigger return on spending than an investment in a child’s education at an early age,” DeLauro said. “Low-income children who attend preschool have higher graduation rates, are less likely to repeat grade levels, more frequently attend college, have higher lifetime earnings, and hold jobs longer.”
But not everyone is happy with the bill.
Conservatives criticized the bill because they said it would spend too much money and still give the federal government too much authority over education.
And, on the other side of the ideological spectrum, a coalition of 36 civil rights groups is concerned the bill would not provide protections for minority children and other subgroups of students.
“We believe the Every Student Succeeds Act is an improvement over the waivers and is a chance to move beyond the No Child Left Behind Act for the millions of students of color, students with disabilities, and English learner students we represent,”a statement from the coalition said. “However, the compromise that has resulted in the Every Student Succeeds Act is not the bill that we would have written.”
The civil rights groups said they would press states and school districts to craft policies that would hold schools accountable for the performance of all children.
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas contributed to this story.