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Senate Replaces Bush’s No Child Left Behind Law with Every Child Achieves Act

Kevin Lamarque (Reuters)

Kevin Lamarque (Reuters)

The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to end No Child Left Behind, a key part of President George W. Bush’s education reforms, according to The Atlantic.

Passed in 2001, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law ties federal education funding to standardized test scores. As a result, teachers ended up focusing most of their energy on preparing students to pass tests, rather than learning.

“For the last 14 years, the (NCLB) law has pressured public schools to raise scores in math and reading; that in turn has led schools to ‘teach to the test’ — and to administer increasing numbers of interim tests throughout the year, as schools and individual teachers have tried to determine whether students are on track to score well on the all-important year-end exams,” reported The Los Angeles Times.

However, NCLB was a boon to several companies with connections to George W. Bush. NCLB required school districts to buy testing materials and many companies stepped forward to provide those services.

“NCLB has instead benefited the testing industry in the amount of between $1.9 and $5.3 billion a year. NCLB requires states to produce ‘interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports,’ all of which are provided at a price by members of the industry,” said Project Censored, a website that focuses on stories largely ignored by the mainstream media. “Among these are the top four or five players in the textbook market, including the Big Three—McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin, and Harcourt General—who have, since the passage of NCLB, come to dominate the testing market. Identified by Wall Street analysts in the wake of the 2000 election as ‘Bush stocks,’ all three represent owners like Harold McGraw III, who has longstanding ties to the Bush administration and the lobbying efforts of Sandy Kress [a senior Bush education adviser].”

Project Censored reports that Ignite Learning, a company headed by Neil Bush, the president’s brother, also benefited from NCLB dollars. According to The New York Times, a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found school districts in Florida, Texas and Nevada spent $1 million on products from Ignite Learning.

The initial NCLB legislation was passed with bipartisan support, and the revised law, called the Every Child Achieves Act, also received both Democratic and Republican votes.

“Commentators and advocates on the left and right applauded the legislation’s co-authors—Senators Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Patty Murray, a Democrat—for shepherding the measure through the Senate and fending off polemical amendments that could’ve jeopardized its survival,” reported The Atlantic. “The Senate’s final version got overwhelming support Thursday, with just 17 senators voting no.”

The NCLB law was unpopular on both sides of the aisle. Democrats and civil rights groups, didn’t think the law did enough to address the racial achievement gap.

“The principle of accountability is not negotiable to us… educational systems must be held responsible for narrowing and eliminating gaps in achievement,” said Leslie Proll, director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Washington, D.C. office.

Republicans said NCLB gave too much power to Washington bureaucrats. The revised version of the law returns power on educational matters to the states.

“The new law—the Every Child Achieves Act—would give much of that decision-making power back to states,” reported The Atlantic. “Instead of the feds, state-level officials would determine how to assess academic performance, what counts as a struggling school, and which mechanisms to use to hold educators accountable for achievement. No more top-down reforms. No more mandatory interventions. No more Washington, D.C. bureaucrats stepping on the toes of local policymakers and educators who are much more in tune with what their communities’ need.”

Teachers groups were happy with the new legislation.

“Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by ‘No Child Left Untested,’” said The National Education Association’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “This bill reflects a paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, and narrow the curriculum. Now, Congress must act swiftly to reconcile the House and Senate legislation and get a bill to the president’s desk.”

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