Time to finally get rid of No Child Left Behind.
That’s the message that the nation’s two largest teachers unions and eight other major education groups, including the National PTA, are planning to deliver at a Tuesday news conference. They want the Senate to vote on a bill to revise No Child Left Behind, the long-expired and widely reviled federal education law.
The Senate’s education committee supported the bipartisan bill with a rare unanimous vote two months ago, but floor debate keeps getting pushed off by other issues — including, mostly recently, legislation related to President Obama’s trade agenda.
“Once again, a group of politicians has said we really, really care about kids, except that they’re not the most important thing that we’re going to do this week,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “It’s time that kids are the most important thing that can come before the Senate.”
Eskelsen said that Congress could miss a rare window of opportunity to end an “absolutely failed education policy” if it doesn’t act soon.
In addition to the National PTA and the NEA, which represents 3 million teachers nationwide, the groups calling for action include the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers and organizations representing principals, superintendents and school boards.
The 2002 No Child Left Behind law in 2002 required schools to meet annual test-score targets or face an escalating series of sanctions. As more and more schools failed to meet targets, the law became increasingly indefensible, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered waivers from the most burdensome provisions to states that were willing to adopt policies favored by the Obama administration, including teacher evaluations based in part on test scores.
Lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum are eager to do away with the law — some because they see it as punitive and overly focused on standardized tests and others because they want to see the federal government wield far less influence in education.
But for all the disgust with No Child Left Behind, it has managed to persist eight years after passing its expiration date because Congress has been unable to agree on an alternative. The current Senate bill, a compromise hammered out by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman and ranking member of the education committee, has given many advocates hope that change is within reach.
“We’re tired of being patient,” said G.A. Bouie, a Kansas principal who serves as president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in remarks prepared for Tuesday’s news conference.
The earliest the Senate bill — known as the Every Child Achieves Act — could come to the floor is now sometime after the July 4th break. Alexander has said that he hopes the bill will come up for debate in July.
But that debate could get pushed back to August or beyond. The longer it is put off, the more likely it is to become tangled in — or derailed by — other events, including partisan budget politics and the 2016 presidential contest.
And a vote in the Senate is just the beginning. The House would need to either pass the Senate bill or its own version. And President Obama would have to be willing to sign whatever compromise emerges.
It’s a long road, but many education advocates remain hopeful that this is the beginning of a real goodbye to No Child Left Behind.
“We’re pleased that both houses of Congress are finally moving on this, and we think there’s real energy on this,” said Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “I think there’s a lot of momentum behind it.”