Just about everyone with a stake in public education is weighing in on the Senate’s bipartisan effort to rewrite the nation’s main education law. And while there’s no consensus, a wide range of groups and people are exhibiting cautious optimism that the draft bill released Tuesday could be the first step toward reaching a bipartisan deal in an otherwise gridlocked Congress.
“We’re seeing a glimmer of hope in this reauthorized bill,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Chris Minnich of the Council of Chief State School Officers called it “an excellent bipartisan bill that gives the Senate a strong starting point.” The Third Way think tank called it a “huge step forward,” and Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said it is “an encouraging step.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the draft “an important step” toward a deal. But in his lengthy statement he withheld further praise, instead focusing on elements he says must be in the final bill in order to ensure that the nation’s disadvantaged students don’t fall through the cracks.
Diane Ravitch, who has been fiercely and prolifically critical of No Child Left Behind and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top, was effusive: “One may quibble with details, but the bottom line is that this bill defangs the U.S. Department of Education; it no longer will exert control over every school with mandates. . . . This is a far better bill than I had hoped or feared.”
Others — on both sides of the political spectrum — were less sanguine, a sign of how difficult it will be for both houses of a deeply divided Congress to reach agreement.
Lindsey Burke of the conservative Heritage Foundation called the bill a “missed opportunity” to restore state and local control over education policy, while the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools criticized the bill for failing to provide a moratorium on new charter schools, among other things. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, was also skeptical. “In the end, when all is said and done, the fundamental question that lawmakers have to grapple with is, what will this bill do differently for students in classrooms and schools across America if it’s signed into law?” she said in a statement.
The law in question has been known since 2002 as No Child Left Behind, but widespread frustration with NCLB — which penalized schools for failing to ensure that all children were proficient in math and reading by 2014 — has left that brand damaged beyond repair.
The draft revision, hammered out over the last two months by Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), now has a new name: the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.
The draft bill embraces a couple of key Obama administration priorities, including maintaining annual standardized tests and excluding a provision to change Title I funding that Obama said would devastate the poorest schools.
But it also significantly reduces the federal role in education, giving the Education Department little say in how states should deal with schools where children — especially poor and minority children — persistently fail to show that they are learning what they need to know in order to succeed after high school.
Here are reactions from around the education world:
White House press secretary Josh Earnest:
“Today’s announcement from Senator Alexander and Senator Murray is an important step in their bipartisan effort to replace the No Child Left Behind Act. As Congress continues its work, President Obama will continue to insist on providing our schools with greater flexibility to invest in what works, making sure that teachers aren’t confined to teaching to the test, putting resources behind innovation in our education system, and expanding opportunities for America’s children to attend high-quality preschool. We believe that any bill should ensure that teachers and parents know how their schools are doing every year, reject harmful proposals that would let states take away funding from schools that need it most, and make sure we remain committed to closing troubling achievement and opportunity gaps in America’s schools and driving progress in those that are the lowest-performing.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
“Today’s announcement is an important step toward what I hope will be a bipartisan solution — in the Senate and the House — to fixing the No Child Left Behind Act, and I greatly appreciate Sen. Alexander’s and Sen. Murray’s leadership in that effort. No law matters more in ensuring excellence for every student and ensuring civil rights for the most vulnerable. A good bill must prevent harmful funding cuts, ensure families and teachers know how students are doing each year, and ensure commitment to closing gaps of achievement and opportunity. The bill must provide more flexibility for state and local innovation, ensure that parents, teachers, and communities know how their children’s schools are doing each year, provide support for educators and not further exacerbate resource inequities for our neediest students and schools. We must do more to expand opportunity for the most vulnerable children, including low-income students, racial and ethnic subgroups, students with disabilities, and English-language learners. At a time of vital progress for vulnerable students, we must work to continue that progress. That means in schools where groups of students are not getting the education they deserve, there must be meaningful action to improve student learning; and we must provide more resources and ask for bold action in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools. I also believe any bill must support innovative and evidence-based efforts to address educational challenges and improve access to high-quality preschool. I look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students in America will be prepared to succeed in college and careers.”
Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights issued the following statement after Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray proposed a bipartisan Senate reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA):
“We applaud the bipartisan effort that went into crafting this legislation and we’re pleased that it seems to take into account many of our concerns. However, we know that accountability is weak for vulnerable students and that there are still many questions left to be answered on preserving the federal role, equitable distribution of resources, and data collection and reporting for vulnerable students. The devil is in the details and there is still a lot of review left to be done. But this is an encouraging step and we will continue to work to make this bill better for our communities in the mark-up and on the Senate floor.”
Diane Ravitch, education historian:
“What do I think? I would have been thrilled to see annual testing banished, but President Obama made clear he would veto any bill that did not include annual testing. The cascading sanctions of NCLB and Race to the Top are gone. There is no mention of portability of funds to nonpublic schools.
“One may quibble with details, but the bottom line is that this bill defangs the U.S. Department of Education; it no longer will exert control over every school with mandates. This bill strips the status quo of federal power to ruin schools and the lives of children and educators.
“Now the battle shifts to state legislatures, where parents can make their voices heard. This is a far better bill than I had hoped or feared.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
“At the beginning of this reauthorization process, we called on policymakers to reclaim the original purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — to help children, particularly those at risk — and to end the testing fixation. Today, in a bipartisan manner, Sens. Alexander and Murray took an important first step by showing that, even in this current climate, one can find common ground by listening to teachers, parents and other important voices in education. Their framework restores ESEA’s original intent of mitigating poverty and addressing education equity. It moves away from the increasingly counterproductive focus on sanctions, high-stakes tests, federalized teacher evaluations and school closings. And it will help return the joy of teaching and learning that’s been missing as a result of testing and test-prep fixation in too many classrooms.
“This is just the beginning of a process; the road is long, and many issues still need to be addressed. But this bipartisan Senate framework is significant. We’re seeing a glimmer of hope in this reauthorized bill, one that’s in the tradition of providing resources for those with the most needs and enabling all of us to do what’s right for our kids.”
Takirra Winfield, Teach For America:
“We were glad to see a bi-partisan ESEA reauthorization bill released today that recognizes the urgency in updating and strengthening our education laws, from early learning through high school graduation. As you know, we believe all students deserve the opportunity to succeed and all teachers deserve the resources and professional development to help them succeed as well. We believe any bill should continue to include statewide annual assessments and the disaggregation and reporting of data by subgroup, since this will help ensure transparency for all of our all students’ achievement growth and provide critical information for educators, parents, and teacher preparation programs; enable closing of achievement gaps for all students; allow federal funds to support local innovation; and continue to support all teachers, regardless of their pathway to the classroom. We also know that assessments aren’t the silver bullet to get us where we need to be — we need to help our teachers develop meaningful and holistic visions of student success and the skills they need to get there, too.”
Chris Minnich, Council of Chief State School Officers:
“Chairman Alexander and Senator Murray have created an excellent bipartisan bill that gives the Senate a strong starting point for the long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 is aligned with the key priorities that State Chiefs outlined in January, and will provide our states with the long-term stable federal policy they need to continue making progress for all students.”
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García:
“The Senate releasing an ESEA draft is movement but we will review the bill with a fine tooth comb looking for language that ushers in a new vision for our nation’s students and public schools; a vision that promotes equity and excellence for all students regardless of the zip code in which they live.
“We are also looking for concrete steps that remedy opportunity gaps for students and fix the broken test, label, and punish regime ushered in under No Child Left Behind. We want to see a bill that goes a long way to empower educators — as trusted professionals — to make classroom and school decisions, instead of politicians, to ensure student success.
“In the end, when all is said and done, the fundamental question that lawmakers have to grapple with is, what will this bill do differently for students in classrooms and schools across America if it’s signed into law? Did Congress get ESEA right for students? These are the questions to which we are searching responses as we review the bipartisan draft bill of ESEA.”
House Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.):
“I commend Senators Alexander and Murray for their efforts to bring forward a bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education reauthorization bill in the Senate. While we recognize this as an important step in the process, there is still work to do to ensure that the needs of our most vulnerable students are met. Students, teachers, parents, and communities deserve a bill that fulfills ESEA’s original civil rights promise — ensuring that all students, regardless of where they live — have access to high quality public education that prepares them for college and the workplace. I hope we can restart the stalled process in the House to produce a bill for a bicameral bipartisan conference that protects the core principles of ESEA: ensuring meaningful accountability for all students, targeting federal resources to where they are most needed, and providing effective solutions to the real challenges our students and teachers face.
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way:
“This thoughtful compromise represents a huge step forward in achieving meaningful reform of the parts of NCLB that weren’t working, while preserving those parts that were spurring growth in student achievement. It provides a path for fewer and smarter tests while maintaining accountability, allows states the flexibility to set their own goals but makes clear what those goals need to entail, and focuses resources on students with the highest needs.
“If every Member of Congress approaches this upcoming debate with the same spirit that has generated this compromise, there’s no doubt we will see a new law passed this year — one that will continue to build on the progress we’ve made since No Child Left Behind and set our students up for success in an increasingly competitive global economy.”
Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:
“We are pleased that Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) have achieved a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We strongly support the bill’s requirement that states continue to administer annual statewide assessments for grades 3-8 in reading and math and once in high school. We also support provisions in the bill that require the transparent reporting of disaggregated data, and achievement goals designed to ensure that all groups of students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce. The bill also modernizes the Charter Schools Program (Title V), ensuring the opening of new charter schools, the replication and expansion of the most successful of charter school models, and support for facility financing and authorizer quality. We applaud the committee for strengthening this program that has been critical to the growth of charter schools nationwide.