FINCH: No Child 2.0
By Curt Finch
The 2002 bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the No Child Left Behind Act, was put together with much ado and centered on the principle that all students should be at grade level in reading and math by the year 2014.
Every year since 2002, the Act has been a political volleyball unable to adapt to new information. Several unintended consequences and successes have come from the historic legislation, but “updating” the Act has been difficult, until last month. For the first time in at least eight years, a bipartisan group has moved the legislation through both chambers. In the Senate, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R) from Tennessee and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D) of Washington, successfully hammered out a compromise that passed UNANIMOUSLY out of the HELP committee (Health Education Labor and Pensions) and through to the Senate floor, a rarity in Washington D.C. The House side also had a difficult journey through committee, but also recently passed on the floor. The Conference committee is next, and then on to the President’s desk; wouldn’t it be neat if it was that easy?!
Now that Congress is on summer recess, the return to passage after the break will be in question. It would be a shame to have come this far and lose the objective by stopping the eight-year marathon five miles from the finish! The original No Child had some unintended consequences and positives that have been debated for years. On the positive side, achievement gaps between white and non-white students consistently decreased, graduation rates went up for all groups — especially minorities, overall math and English scores continue to steadily rise and the number of schools making adequate yearly progress continued rising. On the negative side, high-stakes testing encouraged cheating and/or “teaching to the test,” discouraged new teachers into the profession, encouraged non-uniform state requirements and promoted the removal of economic resources from other subjects to focus on reading and math. All of these variables ran into limited federal financial support for the initiative because of a significant economic downturn.
The good news is the current legislative compromise is trying to push the pendulum back to the middle with less federal control. The bad news is that many roadblocks for completion lie immediately ahead: the Iran nuclear deal, political battles over the Affordable Care Act, the potential shutdown of government over raising the nation’s debt ceiling and presidential aspirations. As you know, Congress can get easily distracted! Your voice will be needed over the next couple of months as Congress returns to work in the fall. We can’t miss the opportunity to update No Child 1.0 to No Child 2.0. The next version will keep the good accountability principles of the first version and bring the wayward principles of too much federal oversight without financial support into line. If you come into contact with your Washington D.C. congressional representative over the next couple of months, thank them for getting the legislation this far and encourage them to finish this eight-year marathon — we are so close!
Dr. Finch can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @CFinchMOISD