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Student Success Act heads to the Senate

Bill to revise ESEA would eliminate the adequate yearly progress measures of No Child Left Behind

States and school districts could win some authority back from the federal government under a controversial update to the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESEA) passed in July by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Student Success Act would eliminate the adequate yearly progress measures of No Child Left Behind and allow states to create their own benchmarks. And federal programs like President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative would end, leaving states and districts to develop their own plans for turning around underperforming schools.

The act also repeals the federal rule that requires teachers to have state certification and a bachelor’s degree. Supporters of the act say the rule wrongly emphasizes credentials over the ability to improve student achievement. The bill would let states and districts develop their own evaluation systems for teachers.

U.S. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, introduced the act, which is the first major legislative effort to reform ESEA since NCLB in 2001. The House Republican majority passed the bill with no Democratic support.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has recommended that Obama veto the bill should it come before him, as Democrats worry that it cuts education funding and does not provide federal protections for underserved students.

The Democrat-led Senate’s version of the bill—which has been passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee—aims to maintain federal authority while giving states flexibility. The bill, which should come to the full Senate this fall, focuses federal attention on closing achievement gaps and helping states and districts fix failing schools.

Some education organizations, including the AASA and the NSBA, support the House version of the Student Success Act, and its provisions for local control.

“The Student Success Act provides states and local educational agencies with the flexibility they need to create and implement innovative approaches to improve academic performance to prepare all students for post-secondary education or the workplace,” says NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel.

But Melissa Lazarín, director of education policy at the Center for American Progress, says the act takes funding away from the students who are most in need by cutting federal education programs and replacing them with block grant money that states and districts could use as they see fit. The federal government must have power to step in if districts aren’t readily supporting student needs, she says.

“The bill really limits federal oversight in areas that will be critical for the most disadvantaged students,” Lazarín says.

ASCD Director of Policy David Griffith says that though the bill is flawed, and doesn’t hold schools accountable for student performance or enhance school improvement strategies, it is important that legislative action has finally been taken, considering the six-year delay in reauthorization.

There are still opportunities for education groups to influence the bill in the Senate, he adds.

Read more at the Student Success Act website.