In 2002, George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLBA”). Once considered a revolutionary piece of legislation, its “one size fits all” standardization has proven to be an impossible undertaking for some schools to achieve. In particular, the NCLBA requires all students, from third through eighth grade, to become proficient in math and reading by the year 2014. Under the NCLBA, student proficiency is determined by student scoring performance on annual standardized tests in English and math. The Act then requires that the schools publish these results and also provide a scoring breakdown of students scoring performance by racial minority, those with disabilities, and the poor.
Students in schools that fail to meet the NCLBA targets are allowed to transfer to other public schools and are eligible to receive tutoring services. Schools that consistently fail to improve student scoring over time could face faculty changes or potentially be shut down. Over the past six years, Congress has attempted to revise the law, but since the revision attempts have been unsuccessful, its provisions have remained untouched. In lieu of repeated failed attempts to revise the law, the Obama administration has issued waivers to 39 states and the District of Columbia from the law’s most difficult deadlines.
House Republicans decided to take their own crack at revising the law by introducing a Bill known as the Student Success Act (“SSA”) (“Act”). By a vote of 221 to 207, this Bill significantly narrows the role of the federal government in public schools. Under this Act, annual testing and reporting are still required, however, the Bill leaves scoring decisions to the states and local districts. Under the SSA, states will not be required to set scoring benchmark targets to gage student proficiency. Nor will it require consequences to be imposed against schools that fail to meet any such scoring targets. And lastly, the SSA will also provide states to administer different tests for students with disabilities.
House and Senate Democrats and others who oppose the Bill fear that the Bill’s removal of standardized testing targets could possibly result in some students receiving an inferior education. Another concern is that the lack of stringent requirements could lead to teachers possibly ignoring the needs of vulnerable students because there will be no way to assess their progress. Instead, Senate Democrats are proposing to revise the Bill to require that the states must implement rigorous standards and set performance scoring benchmarks for students.
As far as the Obama Administration is concerned, it has threatened to veto the Bill if it gets through to Congress.
A special thank you to Cathryn Ryan, an intern at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for her assistance with this blog post.