President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law Thursday, marking the end of former President George W. Bush’s controversial No Child Left Behind Act. The new legislation, which passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, will bring sweeping reforms to the nation’s education system.
“For years I have called on Congress to come together and get a bipartisan effort to fix No Child Left Behind,” Obama said. “We’re here because we know there’s a lot more work to be done.”
He added: “In today’s economy, a high-quality education is a prerequisite for success. Our competitive advantage depends on whether our kids are prepared to seize the opportunity.”
No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001 and moved much of the decision-making responsibility for K-12 education from the states to the federal government. It has been widely criticized as imposing one-size-fits-all standards on states and encouraging teachers to focus on standardized tests rather than nuanced lessons.
Obama emphasized that the new law would fix the issues many saw with No Child Left Behind, saying it would replace “the one-size-fits-all approach with a commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education.”
"Whereas No Child Left Behind prescribed a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to struggling schools, this law offers the flexibility to find the best local solutions — while also ensuring that students are making progress," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday morning at an event in Washington.
The new legislation will give significant responsibility back to the states. The Every Student Succeeds Act maintains annual reading and math testing for grades 3 through 8 and requires high school students to undergo testing just once before graduating. Schools must still report annual achievement scores and keep track of various categories, such as race, economic status, disability status and English-learner status.
However, states can decide how to evaluate teachers and how to hold schools accountable for student performance on the tests. Under No Child Left Behind, schools that performed poorly on these standardized tests were subject to sanctions. Now, states will be able to consider other factors — like graduation rates — in making their school rankings.
The National Association of State Boards of Education has said it supports the change. “ESSA gives state and local leaders flexibility to meet the needs of diverse students in their states,” NASBE Executive Director Kristen Amundson said in a statement. “We know that ensuring that every child is prepared for college, a career and active citizenship will be a challenge for states to address in the coming years, particularly as our schools become more diverse."