Education bill should aid disadvantaged students

By Editorial Board


nce George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 into law, it has been heavily criticized by teachers, education leaders and parents for overtesting students, limiting teachers’ freedom to modify curricula and inadequately measuring student success. Lawmakers hope to revise NCLB through the Every Student Succeeds Act, released on Nov. 30. 

The House of Representatives and the Senate will vote on the Every Student Succeeds Act, an amended version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, in December. If both chambers of Congress pass the bill, it could reach President Barack Obama before the end of 2015.

NCLB was unpopular among educators, and the law was not as effective as lawmakers thought it would be. A 2009 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that NCLB increased proficiency in math, while student reading skills did not improve. According to an analysis published in the June 2012 edition of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, the overall achievement gap narrowed.

The current version of the bill requires schools to break down standardized test scores by “subgroups” of race, English-proficiency, special education and economic background. This measure should enable states to identify which groups and programs most need additional assistance.

However, the bill does not set specific requirements to hold states and school districts accountable if they fail to help at-risk students. According to a Dec. 2 Vox article, only 29 states had methods to hold schools accountable for the performance of students from economically disadvantaged communities. NCLB pressured the 21 states that previously did not measure the success of minority or poor students, according to the article. Without NCLB, it is un clear if those states will prioritize helping disadvantaged students.

NCLB instituted ambitious national goals for public schools, such as 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014, which were not met. The Every Student Succeeds Act strives to return goal-making to individual states, as they would know which goals are obtainable for each school district. States and school districts would also be responsible for the outcomes facing failing schools rather than the Department of Education. States are required to design their own accountability systems, using measures such as test scores, graduation rates and teacher evaluations conducted by the school district.

The bill’s objective is to address the issues of accountability through modes other than standardized tests. Students third- through eighth-grade would still be required to take annual tests in reading and math, as well as once during high school. Giving states and school districts more control through the Every Student Succeeds Act is a positive step, but the bill should be clearer about how failing schools, ineffective education systems and the most at-risk students will benefit in the long run.