As someone close to several public school teachers—and a graduate of a public school system—I was able to succeed despite the No Child Left Behind Act’s ravaging of public education. However, for a lot of students who weren’t as lucky, the No Child Left Behind Act did serious damage. Here are a few ways President Obama’s new bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, is different.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, “states that wanted their fair share of federal funding were required to fix schools that failed to improve test scores adequately,” USA Today reports. After five years of “softer measures,” failing schools were forced to fire most of the school’s staff (starting with the principal), convert to a charter school, extend the school days or years, or close completely.
Under the Every Child Succeeds Act, schools at the bottom 5 percent of state test scores, high schools that graduate fewer than 67 percent of students, or “schools where subgroups are consistently underperforming” (per USA Today) can be taken over by the state. However, unlike the No Child Left Behind Act, there aren’t specifications for what the state can do with schools once they’re taken over. There’s also $2.8 billion more in spending money for education, though with Congressional earmarks, that could always take a hit.
The stated goal for the No Child Left Behind Act was to improve academic performance across the board, measured by test scores that don’t really prove much, with a focus on “minority subgroups” to measure improvement. In theory, that’s still a little dumb, because, again, test scores aren’t everything. But in practice, it was even worse. USA Today reports that many districts created “super subgroups” lumped all disadvantaged students together, which didn’t help at all. Under the new law, test scores are still given heavy weight in accountability goals, but it’s combined with graduation rates and a few more subjective measures.
3. Common Core
As someone who can barely do regular math, I’m happy to report that the Every Child Succeeds Act doesn’t require Common Core math (or Common Core anything else) by law.
4. Standardized Testing
Standardized testing will still be a thing, unfortunately. However, there’s more flexibility in how tests are administered—for example, instead of one giant exam, tests can be broken up into several smaller ones, which can alleviate pressure on students and may help teachers avoid “teaching to the tests.” The Every Child Succeeds Act also encourages new ways of testing what kids are actually learning, as opposed to what kids are memorizing for a test.