WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is pressing ahead with efforts to update the much-criticized No Child Left Behind education law.
A bipartisan conference committee of about two dozen lawmakers met Wednesday to work on compromise legislation that merges two different education bills that passed the House and Senate in July, years after the Bush-era law was supposed to be reauthorized.
Republicans and Democrats since then have made some progress developing a framework to use to negotiate a new bill.
The framework would maintain the education law’s federally-required annual tests in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. But it also would dramatically lessen the federal role in education policy by returning to the states the power to determine whether and how to use those tests to assess the performance of schools, teachers and students — instead of having federally prescribed school improvement plans.
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“One-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and school improvement are eliminated,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who will lead the conference committee. “Dozens of ineffective and duplicative programs are repealed. New and unprecedented restrictions are placed” on the secretary of education’s authority.
For example, the Education Department may not mandate or give states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as Common Core. The college and career-ready curriculum guidelines were drafted by the states with the support of the administration but have become a rallying cry for those seeking a smaller federal footprint in education and some parents confounded by some of the new concepts being taught.
The framework, however, does include accountability measures important to Democrats who believe that any new education law ensure that all students, no matter their race and background, have the opportunity for a quality education. For the nation’s lowest-performing schools, states would have to intervene and action plans would have to be designed to support schools and narrow achievement gaps.
Many of the lawmakers at the conference committee meeting said the compromise framework isn’t perfect, but is still a way forward.
“It’s not what I would have done on my own. And it’s not what any single member of this conference would do on his or her own,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. “We’ve built on our two bills and made a number of key improvements.”
In July, the Senate overwhelmingly approved its version of the education legislation, a week after the House narrowly passed a more conservative measure.
Congress has tried for years to update the law.
It expired in 2007, though its mandates remained in place. Critics have complained there is too much testing and the law is too punitive for schools deemed to be failing. In 2012, the Obama administration began issuing waivers to dozens of states to get around some of the law’s strictest requirements when it became clear they would not be met.