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No Child Left Behind has been re-written. The education law's update is on the way to the president's desk. This new version returns much of the government's oversight of schools back to the states and limits or eliminates a federal role in many areas. But as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, many in the education world say there's no guarantee states will succeed where the feds struggled.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: So what are states and local school districts going to do that they could not do under No Child Left Behind? First, breathe a lot easier, says Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and co-author of the new law. She says No Child Left Behind was too prescriptive, to punitive and unworkable.
PATTY MURRAY: I heard from parents, I heard from teachers, I heard from our students how the over-emphasis on testing and the one-size-fits-all response has really taken a focus off our kids' learning.
SANCHEZ: Now, says Murray, the message from Washington is this - you, the states, will have no one to blame if your failing schools don't improve and if you allow local school districts to shun tougher standards or better tests, not to punish schools but to improve curriculum and instruction.
MURRAY: We're putting out to the states who've been telling us that they can do this, that they will meet these requirements in a better way. And we all have to watch and make sure that they do.
SANCHEZ: Still, that does not mean the federal government will be left twiddling its fingers.
MURRAY: The federal government will still have the authority to address the needs and the outcomes that aren't being met.
SANCHEZ: Carissa Miller is with the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents all 50 states' superintendents. The U.S. Education Department can still slap sanctions on states that don't test their kids every year or don't report their results by race, ethnicity, income and special needs. But, Miller says, states will have a lot more freedom to try new ways to reduce the achievement gap, help high-poverty schools improve and tackle other big problems like poor graduation rates.
CARISSA MILLER: Anything below 67 percent, states are going to have to address graduation rates that hit that threshold.
BOB WISE: But the real test that's going to be here is whether there is a political will to take data and turn it into action versus just simply reporting out what they've been reporting out for the last 15 years.
SANCHEZ: That's Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia, president of the Alliance For Excellent Education. He says the success of this sweeping change in the federal-state relationship is riding almost entirely on one question, can we trust states to do the right thing? Wise is optimistic.
WISE: We've got 50 states in the last five years have all adopted a much higher set of standards, meaning students need to be college and career ready. There's a lot more research and development of what's working.
SANCHEZ: In other words, says Wise, we're not going to see a race to the bottom as was the case when states initially responded to No Child Left Behind. That may be too rosy a picture, though, says Tom Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. He says the federal government won't be breathing down people's necks anymore, but local school officials will come under a new level of scrutiny, especially from parents and civil rights group. Now, says Gentzel, everyone will need to come together and zero in on the two huge issues that the new law does not adequately address, teacher quality and fair funding.
TOM GENTZEL: But state governments need to step up and do their part to support the work of local school districts. We're deeply committed to working to make that happen.
SANCHEZ: President Obama says he will sign the new Every Student Succeeds Act into law tomorrow. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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