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Tomorrow on Capitol Hill, a rare glimpse of bipartisanship. Senators are working together to rewrite the massive education law known as No Child Left Behind. The proposed changes would put states, not Washington, in control of how to evaluate teachers and how to fix struggling schools. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: If you're a public school teacher, there's a lot to like in this major revision of George W. Bush's signature education law passed in 2001. Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers. She's heartened that the proposed bill gets the federal government out of the teacher evaluation business, out of the closing schools business and deemphasizes testing.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: To create some oxygen again for teaching and learning, for instruction, for the joy of teaching, for engaging kids where they are, not where, you know, you want them to be as displayed by a test score.
WESTERVELT: The Senate proposal was negotiated by Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray in a rare stroke of bipartisanship. It would not reduce the number of tests required. Kids would still have to take a test each year in reading and math from third through eighth grade, and one test round in high school. But, significantly, those tests would mean less. The bill would not require states to evaluate teachers, and schools would no longer face federal sanctions if they failed to make what was called adequate yearly progress. Test benchmarks, critics have long called unrealistic and onerous. It would now be left to states to decide how and when to sanction low-performing schools. Chris Minnich is director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
CHRIS MINNICH: We're incredibly optimistic about what the Senate has put forward. Number one - it's bipartisan. It also gives states additional flexibility. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution.
WESTERVELT: In a nod to the bitter fight over the Common Core State Standards, the bill tells the feds to back off. The Senate proposal would still require states to adopt challenging academic standards, but it explicitly bars the Federal Education Department from pressuring states to adopt any specific guidelines. Common Core was always state-led and state-implemented, but critics have charged that the feds unduly pushed those standards.
Bush's No Child Left Behind was a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed as part of Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty. The law is supposed to be revised every few years, but Congress has been unable to find common ground since the law technically expired in 2007. Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten says this proposal, especially on federal funding, helps restore the intent of L.B.J.'s law, to better support the nation's most vulnerable students.
WEINGARTEN: It really says that money has to follow kids who, you know, are in high concentrations of poverty. And that's a very important equity issue.
WESTERVELT: But the bill still has a long road ahead. The Senate and House versions are expected to be far apart. And Robert Schaeffer with the watchdog group FairTest says as it stands, the bill still leaves too much emphasis on standardized testing.
ROBERT SCHAEFFER: They still maintained the federal foot on the testing accelerator by requiring every kid to be tested every year in elementary and middle school in reading and math and by not allowing an opt-out provision.
WESTERVELT: There may be strange bipartisan bedfellows on that issue as the bill moves forward. Some Tea Party Republicans and progressive Democrats agree on little except that testing and the stakes attached need to be radically reduced. Eric Westervelt, NPR News.
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