U.S. Senate Passes Every Child Achieves Act, End of NCLB Era Draws Closer

Pupils raising their hands during classGood things are worth waiting for – even if they take 13 years. After countless false starts and delays, the U.S. Senate stepped up on Thursday and passed the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). By an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 81 to 17, the Senate approved a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that takes a major step in closing the door on the disastrous “test, blame and punish” legacy of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), passed in 2002.

For NEA’s 3 million members, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. Leading up to the ECAA’s passage, educators mobilized across the nation, using face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, phone calls, petitions, emails and social media to urge Congress to bring real teaching and learning back to the classroom and help close opportunity and resource gaps so that all students, no matter their ZIP code, have access to a well-rounded education.

“So much has gone wrong since NCLB,” says Terry Beasley, a middle school teacher in Missouri. “The over-testing, educators not having any flexibility to do what is needed in the classroom, the terrible business model approach to education. Students don’t enjoy school like they used to, because they’re not treated as individuals. They’re just this group that we’re supposed to whip into shape. This is not what education should be about.”

The U.S. Senate agreed, and while the ECAA is not a perfect bill, says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, it represents a historic opportunity to overhaul its broken and universally unpopular predecessor.

“Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by No Child Left Untested,” Eskelsen García says. “This bill reflects a paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, narrow the curriculum and that they fought to change.”

Making a Good Bill Even Better

The Senate took up ESEA reauthorization in earnest in the spring when Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee unveiled the Every Child Achieves Act. When the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions unanimously approved the legislation in April, it was clear that educator voices had been heard.

First-grade teacher and NEA member Rachelle Moore (right) speaks with Senator Patty Murray before testifying on ESEA reauthorization before a Senate committee in January.

First-grade teacher and NEA member Rachelle Moore (right) speaks with Senator Patty Murray before testifying on ESEA reauthorization before a Senate committee in January.

The bill did away with the destructive NCLB mandate of Adequate Yearly Progress, required use of multiple measures in evaluating student success, provided greater access to early childhood education and included a measure to audit and streamline assessment systems. It also featured a version of NEA’s “Opportunity Dashboard” – a menu of indicators of school quality and student success (i.e. access to advanced coursework, access to school counselors or nurses and access to fine arts and regular physical education) to be part of new, state-designed accountability systems.

ECAA signaled major progress, but educators used the amendment process in July to persuade lawmakers to improve the bill. This past week, the Senate approved amendments to make career and technical education a core subject, to protect student data privacy, to require school districts to inform parents of state or local policies regarding “opting out” of standardized tests, to require states to set a cap limiting time spent on tests and to establish a full-service community schools grant program.

Julie Hiltz, a media library specialist in Hillsborough County, Fla., was particularly thrilled with another successful amendment – federal funding to improve and modernize school libraries. “That’s a very important addition and helps return the law to what ESEA in 1965 intended. Strong library programs were a part of the original law,” Hiltz explains.

Down Go Vouchers

Educators also helped turned back multiple efforts by some lawmakers to pollute the ECAA with voucher programs, which take dollars from public schools to fund private schools.

After one voucher amendment failed, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina took a different tack with so-called “Title I Portability,” which permits federal funding for disadvantaged children to “follow” students to a public or private school of their choice. Portability, NEA Director of Government Relations Mary Kusler told Congress, was nothing more than a “backdoor route to vouchers.”  The Senate rejected Scott’s amendment.

The Every Child Achieves Act is a historic first step towards ensuring that every child, regardless of zip code, has the support, tools, and time to learn, says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

The Every Child Achieves Act is a critical and historic first step towards ensuring that every child, regardless of ZIP code, has the support, tools and time to learn, says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

They tried again with a proposal to convert ESEA funding into a federal block grant program, which would have inevitably led to the creation of voucher programs in individual states. This amendment also failed.

So what happens next? The House of Representatives, by a razor thin margin of 218-213, recently passed its own version of ESEA, called the Student Success Act, a bill that, unlike the ECAA, erodes the federal role in advancing opportunity for students most in need. Educators did help improve it, however, with an amendment to protect schools from being punished by the 95 percent participation rule when parents choose to opt their children out of standardized tests. (Under NCLB, schools are sanctioned if more than 5 percent of students don’t take the standardized test.)

Now members from the Senate and the House have to meet in conference to hammer out a final bill that, if approved by both chambers, will then be sent to the White House.

Educators will not rest, says NEA President Eskelsen García, “until a final bill has the President’s signature.” Only then can we “end a woeful chapter in American education policy.”

“NCLB was only about outcomes. There was nothing about how we were supposed to help students get there,” says Julie Hiltz. It sounds like we’re now finally addressing that issue. Do students have access to equitable resources? Do they have access to guidance counselors? Do they have art and music classes? It’s all part of educating the whole child, and it’s something that I’m very excited about.”

  • Elizabeth K. Burton

    I hate to sound paranoid, but the fact this was sponsored and encouraged by the party that has been doing its best to destroy free public education in the US makes me wonder how this will assist them in achieving that goal. In other words, how this will be used to the benefit of the private and charter schools that have been receiving more and more public school funds every year.

    • Diane

      They mentioned in the article that they rejected the use of any vouchers. They are still trying to maintain control over teacher performance “grades”, AKA: students leaving.

    • Antodav

      News flash: “free” (cause I guess you don’t pay taxes?) public education in America has already been destroyed. And it wasn’t this party that destroyed it.

      • Aptidude

        This is nonsense. Public education in my home state of Massachusetts is as good as the best in the world. Meanwhile, charter schools in Louisiana — privatized by the GOP — are going down the tubes — and vouchers everywhere are proving failures. Go inform yourself and do a bit of reading about American education.

        • Neal

          “vouchers everywhere are proving failures.” Not everywhere. Why do you and yours keep using hyperbolic falsehoods, instead of facts?

          • Aptidude is largely correct even though charter schools are allowed to kick out students that public schools are required to accept. You need to look no further than the testing mandated by the “No Child Left Behind” law for the evidence. I dare you to check the actual data by school.

      • Even the generally great education provided by parochial schools exceed public education only in verbal skills on testing. Math skills though are behind, and yet math skills are the best predicator of financial success in life. I can tell you why as well. You have to have a good sized high school before you have enough students to offer a sufficient diversity of classes.

        I went to a high school with about 50 students in the Senior Class, and only 5 took Trigonometry and Analytic Geometry which effectively ruled out the school offering a class in Calculus and Differential Equations which my oldest son took in a public high school. I would have done far better in if taught during my high school years by teachers actually trained as teachers instead of college instructors and professors who know how to do the work but often have limited teaching skills and no training in how to teach.

    • Groki

      Yes the wolf may indeed be wearing sheep’s cloths.

    • Chris Yosting

      It was sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State. A long time education supporter.

      • Yes, but with Republicans in control Senator Murray is also good at making compromises, so you will have to ultimately judge the law on its merits and what really comes out of the conference committee and become the final act.

    • Speak for your own state because in my state the state’s Supreme Court, is currently fining the state legislature $100,000 per day for failure to provide adequate school funding in a multi year legal case.

      I share your skepticism except that both Democratic and Republican parents want their children well educated with rare exceptions like the Texas case where a mother has gone to court seeking to avoid any education for her children including home schooling on the notion they won’t need it because they will be taken by the “rapture.” Without a good education no worker has much of a future. At least a high school education is the minimum required for most jobs beyond manual labor, such as carrying mortar for bricklayers, hand picking some delicate crops, digging ditches, or patching pavement. Some students though insist on learning that through the school of hard knocks by dropping out of high school.

  • Mary Jo Joyce

    how does core curriculum fit into this?

    • Diane

      Core curriculum is being given a new name, according to my very small local paper. It’s still Common Core. Apparently the kids will no longer be tested on whether or not they know how to add. So I guess it doesn’t matter if they use a convoluted way to teach something. 🙁

      • vaughn_p

        Perhaps the “new name” is the Gates’ System of Educating Students in Natural Science and Technology and Not So Much in Humanities or Social Science. Is that the “new name”?

        • Sheree Turner


      • Elizabeth Waller

        Common Core does not in any way mandate “convoluted” ways to solve problems in mathematics – what it DOES do is teach the students mathematical concepts in smaller increments throughout K-12 – it incorporates American algorithms (what we call standard algorithms) along with pictures to represent the problem while using real-life situations. I have taught it for one year now, and I learned more about math than all the previous years as a student and teacher! The Common Core standards are going to cause the students to think, problem solve, represent and defend their answers – there is only one correct answer in math, but many, many ways to solve the problems – this allows creativity and justification. It is the first time that we are addressing wrong answers to help us get to the right answer – please read the standards themselves – they make sense!

  • Antodav

    This legislation rejected the only meaningful reform that could have been implemented—vouchers—in favor of policies that make it easier for teachers unions to get away with letting their members do their jobs with little to no accountability. NCLB may have been bad but this certainly won’t make things any better. It’s just a gift to Obama’s buddies at the NEA, who unfortunately happen to own most Congressional Republicans as well. A sad let down for poor kids of color stuck in failing, underfunded, crime- and drug-ridden schools everywhere.

    • David

      Vouchers only remove students from schools so they don’t have to test, making the school less likely to receive a low school performance score. That does sound like accountability. As far as in Louisiana, the “good” private schools do not accept vouchers, so students are still not receiving a decent education.

    • rachiti

      1. Schools have ALWAYS had the option to fire teachers for poor performance – union or no union. It is the schools who choose not to do it because it’s “too much work”. 2. Vouchers allow MY tax dollars to go towards religious education. Separation of church and state means that my atheist dollars should never ever pay to teach someone at a religious institution. 3. Vouchers take funding away from public schools. Private schools don’t have to follow the same rules regarding students with disabilities or English Language Learners. These students are more expensive to teach. The more funding pulled from public schools, the more those remaining who are not special needs or ELL will have to make do with less. FUND the schools. Require the state to redistribute the local tax dollars from rich areas to poor areas…to EQUALIZE access to education.

      • Sheree Turner


      • Neal

        Guess who made it “too much work”? You got it, the unions. Just about every time a school/union contract was negotiated, the unions made it harder and harder to fire a teacher for cause. This is why my high school was unable to fire the head of the history department even though she was an alcoholic and terrible at hiding that fact. She routinely taught class while drunk, not inebriated, flat out drunk. By my estimates she was an alcoholic at least 10 years before I encountered her and at least 10 years after. I have her obituary. Cause of death? Cirrhosis of the liver.

    • Stefan Anders

      This legislation is not something Obama favors because it essentially reduces the Secretary of Education to a figurehead. This means the Dept. Of Education can no longer tell states what to do in many ways. As to vouchers or charter schools, there is little evidence that either improve students ‘ performance. Instead, charter schools typically operate in the kind of neighborhoods you describe, making money for a the operators of those schools without providing any better education. As to vouchers, tuition at private schools is typically much higher than the vouchers. It is not the children you mention who benefit from vouchers, but middle class families whose children are close enough private schools.

      • Neal

        Dept of Ed has been a waste of money since its creation.

    • Anthony Martins

      In general, professionals are intrinsically motivated to do a good job. Of course there are always bad apples; but teachers are even more intrinsically motivated than most. We are already bolstered on by the inherent human urge to nurture and protect kids. The fact that we work for less money than most of our similarly-educated counterparts is further evidence of our dedication. I’ve spent a significant amount of time and energy dancing around NCLB. I’d like to have more freedom to do my job and do right by my kids. Every ounce of sweat I put into “accountability programs” and whatnot is one that I can’t put towards providing a quality education.

  • A. Gamble

    Access to guidance counselors? As a the only guidance counselor at a moderately sized rural high school I rarely have time to see students and my duties continue to grow exponentially. I wonder how much more this new act lays in my lap.

    • Anthony Martins

      Maybe I’m just having a glass-half-full moment, but my guess is that this will encourage schools to hire more guidance counselors and/or relieve counselors of duties that would prevent them from having face-time with students.

    • I do not know what you mean by a moderately sized rural high school as they come in widely varying sizes depending on the student population, but for a high school in any urban area having only one guidance counselor would be inexcusable so if moderately sized has any relationship to urban sized high schools you need to lobby for another guidance counselor and you can point to the final act once it is passed as the easiest way to justify your request.

      The alternative is you rethink your own duties and lobby for that because seeing students is your primary duty, not a secondary one.

  • vaughn_p

    And, then, we have: “This past week, the Senate approved amendments to make career and technical education a core subject”. Whoopee! “Education” increasingly exists for the purpose of “worker preparation”. I.e., public subsidization of business interests, relieving business of the expense of training employees for the narrow focus of their business. Continued is the process of erosion of self-development, or preparation for citizen participation in a democracy. Ironically, in the face of the atomism of classical economics, we have the communalism of the workplace, abandoning the atomism of self-development. Abandoned as well is the communal identity of the individual as participant in the communal act of citizen sovereignty. And, for this, I am to applaud “the ECAA’s passage”. Well, it does seem better than No Child’s Left Behind.

    • Murray Wallace

      You mean just like the focus on athletics that does the same free training for the oligarchs controlling professional sports?

    • Sonja Dziedzic

      Agreed! While it is important to make students aware of career opportunities in all areas of the curriculum, throughout their education, I believe it is within the context of helping them to begin to understand their individual strengths as a human being. It is when your strengths are discovered and nurtured as you grow up that you begin to recognize the opportunities you have to pursue education in such a way that will help you to become a fulfilled, passionate, financially independent, adult and able to give back to a community.

    • Ken

      As an instructor in career and tech ed I find it disturbing that uninformed and the educationally elite fail to understand the true meaning of career and tech ed. CTE is not about training a workforce but providing an education that is relevant and rigorous! These qualities provide opportunities for student to be successful, carry stackable credentials to their postsecondary education and provide students opportunities not available to everyone who graduates. Oh by the way this isn’t your grandfathers shop classes they are high tech, high demand and include fields such as health care and engineering.

      • Elizabeth Waller

        I agree with vaungh_p – education has become too focused on skills and not on developing the “whole-child”. I teach elementary age students, and I see the lack of self-development that I received when I went to school in the 60s-70s. I had so many electives in junior and senior high and in college that I learned so many seemingly insignificant skills and at least a basic understanding in many areas of daily life that have developed an ability to think, problem solve, and create that I see lacking in people today. And I agree with Ken – we need to provide a means for opportunity to enter and compete in the working world through career and tech ed. After all, a part of our self-identity and understanding of the world is in how we contribute to the local community and the community at-large. This current generation is attached to technology. I have 3 grandchildren, 6, 3, and 2… oh my, do they love tech!

      • vaughn_p

        At the university where I teach, there is an entire school founded upon a tech area. The major competitor to my particular institution’s program is that offered by an unabashed tech school, whose program is a wholly technologically based training. What distinguishes my institution’s program is an arts-and-sciences foundation. In other words, students in the program area are educated, not simply trained.. This I respect. What I fear is encompassed in the ECAA is “career and technical education [as] a core subject” is the central perspective of the program. Beware the Trojan horse … ah, but no one need be taught ancient history or literature.

        • Ken

          This legislation does not encompass tech schools but secondary CTE again not the same thing. CTE requires all the same requirements to graduate but provide an emphasis for students to find education relative. My particular area involves physics, reading and writing at the 14rh grade level for juniors in high school and has improved test scores in all areas. The confusion is the difference between CTE and tech/trade schools and has caused many to judge without knowledge of the difference. By the way my students do know what a Trojan horse and the historical perspective of how the industrial revolution has effected the growth and power of the United States

          • vaughn_p

            Concerning, “By the way my students do know what a Trojan horse and the historical
            perspective of how the industrial revolution has effected the growth and
            power of the United State”, good, because so many students do not know of these things. As for the “confusion … between CTE and tech/trade schools [which] has caused many to judge without knowledge of the difference”, obviously I am among those who “judge without knowledge of the difference”. Sadly lacking throughout the change In American education, frankly beginning in the 1960s, but especially accelerating in the 1970s as Europe and Japan, and then China and India, became economically competitive, is “confusion” of which you write. A “confusion” of such magnitude, that indeed the disciplines which study the human being as a conscious creature are in serious decline. Actually, even within the natural sciences, Federal financial support for theoretical research has consistently declined, emphasis ever more on applied research so we can make stuff to sell.

    • Elizabeth Waller

      Well said!

    • Neal

      Where do you think was the original purpose of “public education”? It was to produce a uniform level of education to supply workers for factories. Duh.

    • Chris Yosting

      Students involved in CTE classes were some of the only students to see practical applications of math skills, such as area, perimeter, volume, etc. Many of these classes are of college level quality and can sometimes be transferable.

  • Sheree Turner

    I’ve been teaching for 20+ years. Over a range of every 3-7 or 10 years the standards are revised and changed. Does anyone feel with the passing of this new legislation the standards will be changed? For the last 2 years I’ve heard mixed reviews about CCCS. Are the standards really addressing the needs of our students? Will they really be college and career ready?

    • vaughn_p

      As to your query, “Will [our students] really be college and career ready”, without sarcasm, of course they will be. They will be because “college” is devolving to the same tech orientation as is primary and secondary. Education in liberal and fine arts, as well as the social sciences (except economics), are declining in the face of focus on business and STEM {ScienceTechnologyEngineeringMathematics) disciplines. Perhaps most extreme was related to me by a colleague in Britain who informed me he had retired because his university had eliminated the ENTIRETY of humanities departments, replacing them with “three departments in athletics”.

      • Sheree Turner

        That is so disheartening. I think it is funny figuratively that we are racing to keep up with other countries educationally and we have so many social ills in our own country. We first need to bring back the efficacy of self-worth and pride in who we are as a people and as a country.

        • vaughn_p

          Bravo Sheree! Sad, so sad what we have dismissed and, perhaps, lost..

  • Aptidude

    NEA declares satisfaction with half a loaf; Senator Warren disagrees: “”In many ways, this bill represents a significant improvement in federal education policy, moving away from rigid standardized tests and respecting the vital work that our teachers do every day–and I strongly support those changes. But this bill is also about money, and it eliminates basic, fundamental safeguards to ensure that federal dollars are actually used to improve both schools and educational outcomes for those students who are often ignored.”

  • Steelyal

    It dosn’t matter the NEA will still screw up education and screw the American people.

  • D. Puett

    This new legislation appears to be more about repealing
    NCLB than improving education through ECAA.
    The improved student performance educators are looking forward to does
    not exclusively depend on ESEA, ECAA, Common Core, superior educators, engaging
    curriculum, or sufficient and reliable funding. These new legislative fixes
    focus on access to a well-rounded education. Is access alone sufficient? What is the most important thing missing in
    the discussion about successfully educating our students and probably the most
    important determinant of student education success? Students need to be ready to learn. They need proper nutrition, medical care, a
    stable home environment, a bed to sleep in, help with homework, parental encouragement,
    and parents who support the school and teacher, educating their children about rules,
    boundaries, and respect. How are parents
    going to become better at preparing their children to learn unless they are
    taught how to become effective parents?
    We need mandatory parenting education that should be taught prior to
    graduating from high school. Otherwise,
    how else will a generation of effective parents discover how to prepare their
    children to learn?

  • Groki

    If they still teach kids that Jesus had pet dinosaurs then it’s all a wash anyway. Long live the Idocracy.

  • Neal

    “The over-testing, educators not having any flexibility to do what is needed in the classroom” What is needed in the classroom is producing an properly English speaking/writing, arithmetic savvy, history knowledgeable (not just names, dates and places, but reason why things occurred), basic science aware (this include human biology for you abstinence only people), law-abiding citizens. This is not what has been produced before and during NCLB. GIven the bias of the NEA/AFT crowd, is will probably not be produced under ECAA either.

  • Olu Alamutu

    At last we’re having a sense of positive direction in our educational system. Kudos to all our representatives who work so hard to make the politicians see the true picture of things in our schools and classrooms; after all we are the ones that make the rubber meet the road.