Education Groups Demand Vote on Federal Education Overhaul Bill
Ten major education organizations have banded together to demand a vote on legislation reauthorizing and modifying the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
"The Senate bill, passed unanimously by the HELP committee, is a much-needed reset in federal education policy and creates the oxygen that schools need to actually teach children, not teach to tests. What we have now — a fixation on high-stakes testing thanks to No Child Left Behind and exacerbated by Race to the Top — isn't working for kids, parents, communities or teachers," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a prepared statement. "Look at the facts: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, gains slowed — as did progress in closing the achievement gap — during the RTTT/NCLB era, as compared to the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when tests were fewer and investments in equity were greater."
"Now is the time for the Senate to put kids first. It's unacceptable for Congress to leave for yet another recess without taking action on the bipartisan version of ESEA passed by the Senate education committee," said Lily Eskelsen García, president, National Education Association, in a statement released today. "No student should start another school year living under the current failed education policy known as No Child Left Behind. We need the Senate to take up the Every Child Achieves Act now."
The Every Child Achieves Act is the Senate bill modifying and reauthorizing ESEA. It passed unanimously in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee back in April but has not yet been given a date for debate and vote within the full Senate.
"The Senate bill protects the law's original intent: to target services to districts and schools serving high concentrations of children living in poverty," AFT's Weingarten continued. "It dials back the stakes linked to tests and ensures some baseline accountability and transparency so no child, particularly disadvantaged children, is left behind or invisible. It's time for the Senate to schedule a floor vote and take action soon to secure the reset our kids, parents and teachers are counting on."
In addition to reauthorizing ESEA, ECAA includes several changes that maintain a lot of the principles of NCLB (including continued but somewhat moderated emphasis on testing) while shifting oversight and responsibility from the federal government to states. Among the highlights, ECAA:
- Changes to the way federal testing requirements are weighed in terms of accountability, along with additional requirements, such as graduation rates, English language proficiency and workforce readiness, among others.
- Provides grants for low-performing schools to use evidence-based interventions, along with a proscription on the federal government from "mandating, prescribing, or defining the specific steps school districts and states must take to improve those schools," according to a Senate document.
- Adds support for professional development and induction programs for teachers.
- Allows states to define "highly qualified teacher" and to implement their own accountability systems for teachers.
- Includes new support for ELL.
- Requires districts to conduct needs assessments in times of budgetary planning.
- Makes changes to charter school authorization and competitive grants.
- Brings flexibility to the use of federal funds in rural schools.
- Ensures that federal funds can be used for early childhood education.
"We are one year past the aspirational goal of universal proficiency — a goal created at a time when Congress had little understanding of what such a goal means or what it would take to get there," said G.A. Buie, president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, also in a prepared statement. "Since then, we have managed a patchwork of provisions from Race To the Top, School Improvement Grants, and state waivers. And each day, principals look into the faces of students and lament that this is the best that Congress will do for them. For the sake of our students, we need the Senate to maintain the momentum and bring the ESEA bill to the floor."
Other organizations that have joined the coalition backing the vote on ECAA include AASA, The School Superintendents Association; Association of School Business Officials International; Council of Chief State School Officers; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of State Boards of Education; National PTA; and National School Boards Association.
The complete text of the Every Child Achieves Act and a detailed summary of changes to ESEA can be found on the United States Senate's site.