Education reform underway with new law

Published 8:43 am Friday, December 11, 2015

Contributed Photo President Barack Obama signs the Every Child Succeeds Act.

Contributed Photo President Barack Obama signs the Every Child Succeeds Act.

The president’s signature on a new education bill backed by overwhelming bipartisan support has effectively put No Child Left Behind in the rear view mirror.
Following the United States Senate’s 85-12 vote Wednesday in favor of the Every Student Succeeds Act, President Barack Obama signed the bill Thursday.
“We need to build on the momentum that has already been established,” he said. “We’ve got to learn what works and do more of that, and we’ve got to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work, and that’s exactly what the Every Student Succeeds Act does.”
Complaints voiced regarding NCLB have ranged from over-testing, to lack of resources to meet requirements, to unrealistic expectations of below basic performers and others.
“The goals of NCLB, the predecessor of this law, were the right ones: high standards, accountability, closing the achievement gap, making sure that every child was learning not just some, but in practice it often fell short,” Obama said. “It didn’t always consider the specific needs of each community. It led to too much testing in classroom time. It often forced schools and school districts into cookie-cutter reforms that didn’t always produce the kinds of results that we wanted to see.”
Obama said this law comes at an important moment when high school graduation rates are at an all time high, dropout rates are seeing historic lows, academic expectations have been raised, more students are graduating from college than ever before, and more than one million additional black and Hispanic students are going to college.
“There is some real good work that’s been done, a foundation to build from, but we’re here because we all know that there is a lot more work to be done,” he said. “As wonderful a learning experience as a lot of our young people are receiving, we know that there are other schools that just aren’t hitting the mark yet, and in today’s economy, a high quality education is a prerequisite for success.”
Young people need not only to master the basics, Obama said, but also to become critical thinkers and creative problem solvers.
“Our competitive advantage depends on whether our kids are prepared to seize the opportunities for tomorrow,” Obama said.
On Thursday when he signed the bill, Obama outlined the bill’s primary goals, saying it focuses on the national goal of college and career preparation by building on reforms that have helped to make progress, upholding with high standards for teaching and learning and empowering school districts to develop their own strategies for improvement.
On the local level, some school officials are anticipating the flexibility the new law will afford local school districts.
“One less level of bureaucracy will allow states to dictate their own curriculum and implement some of their own ideas for school improvements, and I think that’s a positive thing,” said Director of Carter County Schools Dr. Kevin Ward said.
The new law will also dedicate resources to the children most at risk of falling behind academically and investing in the lowest achieving schools to help close achievement gaps.
“It makes long overdue fixes to the last education law, replacing one-size-fits-all approach to reform with a commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education,” Obama said.
Director of City Schools Corey Gardenhour said the fact that the new law is focusing on at-risk students and low achieving schools will be a positive change for school systems.
“We know that in Tennessee, only 3 percent of our below basic students will graduate high school,” he said. “One of the major impediments to improvement is funding. Sometimes we raise expectations, but funding doesn’t follow and we have to decide what we can and are able to get done with limited resources.”
A major criticism of NCLB, Gardenhour said, was that some of the goals — like for all students to be on a proficient level in reading and math — were good, but unrealistic. He said this is why the US Department of Education was granting waivers to schools, which Obama said “could only do so much.”
The new bill will also create partnerships between states — which will have flexibility to tailor their improvement plans — and the federal government, which will have the oversight to ensure that the improvement plans are sound.
“It helps states and districts reduce unnecessary standardized tests,” Obama said. “Because what we want to do is get rid of unnecessary standardized tests so that teachers can spend more time engaging student learning, while at the same time, making sure that parents and teachers have clear information on their children’s academic performance.”
The law also expands access to high quality preschools and creates incentives for innovative approaches to learning by rewarding great teachers.
It upholds the core value of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, which states that education, the key to economic opportunity, is a civil right.
“With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal that every child regardless of race, income, background or zip code where they live deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they want,” Obama said.
“This is a big step in the right direction, a true bipartisan effort, a reminder of what can be done when people enter into these issues in the spirit of listening and compromise,” Obama said.
The President noted the bill’s bipartisan success, calling it a “Christmas miracle,” and recognized US Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), US Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), US Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) and US Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virg.) for their focus and initiative in spearheading the passing of this bill. He added that the hard work now begins.
“Laws are only as good as their implementation,” Obama said. “We want to make sure that through this piece of legislation, with our hard work, with our focus, with our discipline, with our passion, with our commitment, that every kid is given the same opportunities.”

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