For nearly a decade, partisan disagreements in Congress have stopped lawmakers from fixing President Bush’s failed education policy, “No Child Left Behind.” When Bush signed the policy into law in 2002, it was meant to close the gap between failing schools — often in impoverished neighborhoods — and high performing schools. The result was not a nation full of high-performing schools as the former president hoped, but instead, we became a country full of children who were over-tested and still failing to meet standards. School districts with low-performing schools scrambled for exemptions from the federal law because they were terrified of losing funding; Republicans used the test scores as a way to hurt teachers by tying their pay to them. Now, finally, after years fighting to have the law changed, President Obama has signed a new bipartisan education bill and has eliminated Bush’s embarrassingly unsuccessful policy.
On Thursday, the president signed the Every Student Succeeds Act. He called the bill, which was overwhelmingly approved in the Senate with an 85-12 vote, a “Christmas miracle”:
“I just want to point out that it’s not as if there weren’t some significant ideological differences on some of these issues. No there were, but I really think this is a good example of how bipartisanship can work. People did not agree on everything at the outset, but they were willing to listen to each other in a civil and constructive way and to work through these issues, compromise when necessary, while still keeping their eye on the ball.”
Under the new act, students will still have to take standardized tests in math and reading, but the federal government is giving the states and local school districts more flexibility in determining how to handle underperforming schools. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said,”This forward-looking replacement for a broken law would open new opportunities for our kids and put education back in the hands of those who understand their needs best: parents, teachers, states, and school boards.”
According to WhiteHouse.gov, in addition to giving more power to states and local school boards, some of the key points of the new act will:
- Hold all students to high academic standards that prepare them for success in college and careers.
- Provide more children access to high-quality preschool.
- Ensure accountability by guaranteeing that when students fall behind, states redirect resources into what works to help them and their schools improve, with a particular focus on the very lowest-performing schools, high schools with high dropout rates, and schools with achievement gaps.
- Reduce the often onerous burden of testing on students and teachers.
During a time when it is incredibly hard to pass bills that actually help Americans, thanks to the do-nothing Republicans on Capitol Hill, it is refreshing to see our lawmakers work together to give our children the education they deserve. President Bush’s NCLB Act was a complete disaster for school systems across the country, and a horrible burden on teachers and students. Our kids were forced to take more tests than any other industrialized nation and still, our education is far behind that of other developed countries. According to Ranking America, the United States ranks number fourteen in education. In 2011, half of the schools in America failed to meet the educational standards set up by the catastrophic Bush administration. His NCLB law can be added to the long list of failed policies that President Obama has cleaned up over the last seven years.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.