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“No Child” gets left behind

Congress must feel as though they have slain a dragon in early December when Democrats and Republicans finally agreed on something: No Child Left Behind needed to go.  Shortly thereafter, on Dec. 10, President Barack Obama signed a replacement bill into effect. No Child Left Behind, implemented in 2002 by former President George W. Bush, aimed at eliminating performance— and service— gaps for poor and minority students. Hopes were high for the legislation, as is seen in this quote by President Bush at the bill’s signing ceremony: "The fundamental principle of this bill is that every child can learn, we expect every child to learn and you must show us whether or not every child is learning.” In principle, this sounds like a no-brainer. Of course every child can learn and of course we should hold schools accountable. However, what resulted was heavy reliance on standardized testing and harsh punishments for schools and teachers whose students didn’t fit the rigid, one-size approach.  In the No Child Left Behind system, the Federal Department of Education had direct oversight of school districts and student performance. When students failed to improve, grants were taken away, teachers were fired and school districts were shut down or run by the federal government. Under the new Every Child Succeeds act, the states have direct control and the federal government has a limited oversight.  The new law will give states and local school districts more control over their affairs. It will allow them to measure student success themselves. However, some teachers are afraid that state control over education will result in a patchwork system, where students in one state may be better prepared for post-secondary education than others. If Louisiana, for example, has higher standards that Arkansas, then children raised in Louisiana will be more likely to be accepted into colleges nationwide than students raised in Arkansas. The federal standards, however, are cumbersome and hard to navigate; student achievement goals remained unachieved and unachievable even after more than a decade. Hopefully, checkpoints in the new legislation will prevent the achievement gap that inspired the No Child Left Behind act. Minority students, students with learning disabilities and other groups will still be monitored by the federal government— if a school does not demonstrate improvement with these groups, states will have their own accountability systems which they will use to step in. However, stepping in will not include mandatory school closings or firing teachers and struggling school districts will have a bigger voice with the state government than the federal government.  There are proponents on each side of the federal regulation vs. state regulation debate, but all sides agree: No Child Left Behind is better off dead. Whether or not the Every Child Succeeds act will live up to its name has yet to be determined.

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