Blog: The Educated Reporter

Beyond NCLB: New Era in Federal Education Policy?

Screenshot of a tweet by @KristenRencher

Fifty years ago, the federal government enacted the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. The newest version of the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act, became law 13 years ago and has stayed in place ever since. On Thursday, a new version of the federal government’s most far-reaching K-12 education law moved closer to adoption. The U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, one week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version, the Student Success Act.

Now the two houses must negotiate to merge the two bills and pass something President Obama won’t veto. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)—chairman and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, respectively—gave their colleagues accolades for reaching bipartisan agreement and passing the measure by a wide margin of 81 to 17

Alexander, profiled by USA Today for this victory, admitted that “There are crocodiles in every corner that made it difficult for this bill to succeed.”

There are still crocodiles in every corner, and some analysts predict the legislation still may never become law. 

Nonetheless, the Senate bill’s overwhelming, bipartisan passage left some tweeters giddy.

National education journalists worked hard to bring their analytical skills to bear on this major story. Education Week’s Politics K-12 team of Lauren Camera and Alyson Klein have offered extremely comprehensive coverage

Politico’s Maggie Severn and Kimberly Hefling’s article provided context and perspective on the bill’s passage.

The Washington Post’s national education team took a different tack on the passage, with this headline: “Senate passes No Child Left Behind rewrite, with shrinking federal role.” 

Blogger Larry Ferlazzo Storified some of the key coverage, and also offered a resource page linking to notable stories and opinion pieces. 

Despite the curtailment of the federal role, which has roiled both the left and the right, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put the best face on the bill’s passage. Marketplace offers an interview with Duncan on the rewrite and its implications. 

What does this mean for reporters as you cover the potential impact of these bills in your own community?

A total of 78 amendments were offered on the Senate bill and 65 passed, Alexander noted. A few that could have major implications at the state and local levels include:

  • N.C. Sen. Richard Burr’s amendment that changes the formula distributing Title I dollars to the states. The Washington Post’s Emma Brown wrote a story detailing the impact of the original amendment. While more states would receive more Title I dollars under the plan, three states would be big losers: New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Burr added language that postpones the monetary loss for states until ESEA funding reaches $17 billion. It currently stands at $14.5 billion. 
  • Other big winners: Arts organizations. The bill includes 11 “arts-friendly” provisions, according to Americans for the Arts. After-school was also saved from the chopping block in this bill. And competency-based programs, as well as early college, won in the bill.
  • The Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va) to require states and school districts to report postsecondary enrollment of their graduates as well as the need for their students to take remedial classes in college. Here is Capito’s floor statement
  • The Senate unanimously approved an amendment by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) that designates career and technical education as a core subject. 
  • And it approved Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) amendment to allow teachers to more easily move from state to state with their teacher licenses intact. 

There are some disappointed groups as well. An effort by liberals at the behest of civil rights groups to add an amendment on accountability failed, but by a narrow margin. So that effort is by no means done, as the indefatigable Politics K-12 team at Education Week reported. 

Charter schools and choice advocates pushed mightily but in vain for Title I dollars to follow students as they transfer into charters or private schools. The testing opt-out movement did not get its amendment to loosen testing requirements, which will still mandate annual testing but allow states more flexibility. 

Good reporting resources include key coverage leading up to the bill’s passage, including Alyson Klein’s history of ESEA and No Child Left Behind. The National Journal offered context on how more and more schools were not fulfilling the NCLB Act. 

Despite the feeling among many that the law overstayed its welcome, it has its defenders. This NPR story is aptly titled, “Stop picking on No Child Left Behind (says one of its parents).”