“No Child Left Behind” Is History

I suppose this is a baby step in the right direction. From the Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Senate Votes to Replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ Law.”

The Senate on Wednesday voted to replace the 13-year-old No Child Left Behind law, returning to the states significant powers to determine how poorly performing schools should be improved and curbing the authority of the secretary of education.

The Senate in a 85-12 vote cleared legislation that will guide about $26 billion federal in spending annually from preschool through 12th grade. Already approved by the House last week, the bill now goes to President Barack Obama. The White House said he would sign the bill on Thursday.

The legislation maintains annual testing to identify groups of students who are failing, but empowers states to come up with their own standards and determine how to revamp schools that don’t make the grade. It comes after years of complaints from critics who argued No Child Left Behind spurred excessive testing in public schools and used unrealistic goals to label too many schools as failing.

“We have an opportunity today to vote to reverse the trend toward a national school board,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health and Education Committee and chief architect of the bill, along with Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.). ”We have an opportunity to make clear that in the future the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability will be through states, communities and classrooms, and not through Washington, D.C.”

I agree that this is the right direction to go, but is far from what conservatives should want. Why are federal funds going toward education at all? Every cent that is given to the state comes from the taxpayers in that state. Or else the funds are borrowed using the taxpayers of that state as collateral.

Because the funds come from the federal government, any new responsibilities that the states now exercise they do only by permission.

Where does the Constitution give the federal government responsibility for or authority over schooling. The Tenth Amendment dictates that any authority not given to the federal government by the Constitution belongs to the states or to the people. So the federal Department of Education, by virtue of its existence, usurps the authority of the states. It is now trying to strengthen its grip with Common Core.

This isn’t merely a theoretical problem. Already people in California are realizing they might have to cancel a system of tracking school performance that they were developing. The L. A. Times reports,

Under ESSA, states have to devise a “system of meaningfully differentiating” schools by looking at academics in addition to at least one other factor, as long as the academics are given “much greater weight.” ESSA calls for states to intervene in the bottom 5% of their schools, in addition to schools where specific groups of students consistently underperform and high schools with graduation rates below 67%. States can determine what they do to those schools, as long as the interventions are “evidence-based.”

That language makes it sound as though, ultimately, states must boil down every factor they’re looking at and give each school a rating. “If we’re forced to come up with number, our debate is over,” Kirst said. “We can’t turn down federal aid. We should be looking at a dashboard, more than a single thing. … The idea that it all has to come down to a single number, that was the problem of the API.” 

Creating one number from the many factors, he said, is “a game changer.” He said he hasn’t seen any science behind how states or school districts weight these factors against each other in creating a single score.

Maybe the Senate replaced one bad law with another one. That is certainly the view of Lindsey Burke at the Daily Signal who shows the law still exerts control over schools and increases some funding. No wonder President Obama signed it into law yesterday.