From No Child Left Behind to Every Child Achieves

What’s in a name?  Well, an awful lot.  No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”) was a continuation of the Johnson Administration’s focus on addressing poverty in America.  Those efforts continue as we consider unemployment, housing and infrastructure and the impact on rural and urban schools.  Originally passed during George W. Bush’s presidency, NCLB ushered in a new educational era, with a heightened focus on accountability and school improvement.  After almost 15 years of amendments and political wrangling, the U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act (“ECAA”), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  The stated purpose of ECAA is to “enable State and local communities to improve and support our Nation’s public schools and ensure that every child has an opportunity to achieve.”

The Senate’s version has taken major steps to return decision-making and autonomy to the entities that have the requisite knowledge and experience to guide the short and long-term strategy for improving schools and educational outcomes.  Additionally, the emphasis on testing seems to have been minimized creating an environment that embraces multiple tools to evaluate student achievement.  ECAA allows for a creative approach to experiment with assessment systems to truly capture what is or is not working in our schools.

The great work led by Senators Alexander (R – Tenn.) and Murray (D – Wash.) has the potential to impact students across the county but it will be interesting to see what language emerges from the House and how both Chambers reconcile the differing bills.

A few key components of the recently Senate-passed ECAA are as follows:

  • Prohibits the federal government from determining or approving state standards
  • Provides federal grants to support low-performing schools without the federal government dictating how districts or states approach improving struggling schools
  • Allows states, not the federal government, to define and prioritize academic standards
  • Includes significant changes relating to students with learning and attention disabilities

Though far from perfect, ECAA is a step in the right direction for all students.  Stay tuned as negotiations ensue to broker a compromised bill, likely focusing on accountability and the usual states versus fed discussions.

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