Washington — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to repeal the controversial No Child Left Behind and send President Obama a bill that will eliminate most federal mandates and give states like Connecticut broad authority to change their K-12 education systems.
The 85-12 vote on the Every Student Succeeds Act follows an equally lopsided vote in the House last week to approve the legislation. Obama will sign the bill Thursday morning.
“I was proud to vote in favor of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a historic reauthorization bill that does away with the punitive, prescriptive provisions of No Child Left Behind once and for all,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
The Every Student Succeeds Act ends the Bush-era No Child Left Behind and Obama waiver mandates and returns considerable control of education policy to the states.
The new education bill continues to require that states test students annually in math and reading in grades three through eight and once in high school. But it doesn’t press states, through a withdrawal of federal funding, to administer a particular test.
States will also be allowed to determine the weight of testing in their accountability systems against other indicators of student performance, such as graduation rates. In Connecticut’s accountability system, testing accounts for 48 to 82 percent of a school’s performance rating, depending on grade level.
Gov. Dannel Malloy has declined to say how he would use the new authority the Every Child Succeeds Act will give him. He’s been invested in the K-12 education plan the state has engineered.
“Under Gov. Malloy’s leadership, Connecticut has been ahead of the curve in developing a holistic school accountability system and working collaboratively with teachers to strengthen classroom instruction,” said Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell. “We are pleased that the Every Student Succeeds Act maintains a focus on ensuring high expectations for all kids and creating equitable access to high-quality education.”
She also said, “We are closely reviewing the new legislation to see what this would mean for Connecticut should the president sign it into law.”
Wentzell joined other top state education leaders at the White House Tuesday for a day-long conference on the new law.
The state’s teachers’ unions are expected to press Malloy to delink test results from teacher evaluations, and the largest union says it will push to retreat, at least in part, from tough “Common Core” testing standards.
“To be clear, the bill passed today in the U.S. Senate is not perfect” said Jan Hochadel, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “With so much authority being turned over to the states, we’ll have our work cut out for us. But the new Every Student Succeeds Act sends a clear signal that the harsh and failed policies of ‘No Child Left Behind’ should be abandoned, not replicated.”
Hochadel also said the new education bill “is a significant step toward letting educators focus on their classrooms and ending the fixation on standardized testing.”
“Now that federal funds will no longer be tied to scores and evaluations, it’s an opportunity to reset a broken accountability system and restore the joy of teaching and learning,” she said.
State legislators may also seek changes in the K-12 system.
The waiver that sets current federal requirements over state education policy will expire in August.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Health, Labor and Education Committee that helped write the Every Student Succeeds Act said in Connecticut “it may be that not a lot will change.”
“But it will be up to the governor and the state legislature to determine that,” Murphy said.
He said the bill replaces “federal bureaucrats” with local control. “We’re back in charge.”
Congress has tried to reauthorize an Elementary and Secondary Education Act for years, but was bogged down by ideological disputes.
But the animosity toward No Child Left Behind finally pushed lawmakers to compromise.
“It’s kind of wild how relatively under the radar this has occurred given the fact the bill achieves a revolution in education policy,” Murphy said.
Murphy voted against an earlier version of the bill because he – and the White House – did not believe it did enough to hold students accountable for the performance of minority students and other subgroups of vulnerable children.
But he said he supported the final bill because it “sets high expectations that low-performing schools and vulnerable students will get special attention.”