When H.R. 3989, the Student Success Act, reached the House floor in late February, the controversy surrounding it followed. The Student Success Act is a bill sponsored by Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, that would revamp No Child Left Behind. The bill was approved in the education committee on a party line vote by Republicans on March 6. If it becomes law, it will eliminate adequate yearly progress (AYP) and the federal standards at which students are held, allowing states and local school districts to set their own benchmarks. This move has advocates for minority students and special education and disabled students more than concerned.
“[The Student Success Act] abandons accountability for the achievement and learning gains of subgroups of disadvantaged students who, for generations, have been harmed by low academic expectations,” reads a letter led from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent to Rep. Kline on Feb. 16. The letter was signed by 41 national organizations representing education advocates and includes the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the Autism National Committee. “The bill would thrust us back to an earlier time when states could choose to ignore disparities between children of color, low-income students, ELLs, and students with disabilities,” continues the letter.
Those supporting the bill in the House argue that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been in need of a revision since 2007, and NCLB, which aims to have all students proficient by 2014, will, in reality, have all schools labeled as failing by that time. The crux of the problem, they say, is that states and schools need local autonomy and flexibility.
“There’s a lot still to be learned in terms of the layout of this bill, but what is a great concern is turning accountability over to the states,” says George Giuliani, executive director of the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET). “History has dictated that, in terms of students with special needs, states have dropped the ball if the federal government isn’t holding them accountable.”
At the time this issue went to press, the Student Success Act had yet to be approved by Congress or the Senate.