Pierce County educators breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday morning after hearing from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray that the No Child Left Behind system that governs K-12 education could soon be history.
The NCLB Act, which dates from 2001, has long been a thorn in the sides of educators, who see it as punitive and unhelpful. All schools and all students were supposed to meet standards on state tests by 2014.
When that lofty goal remained unmet, parents at nearly 90 percent of Washington state public schools received letters telling them that their child’s school was failing.
“NCLB is not a law that works,” said Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee and one of the chief architects of the proposed new law. “Parents got a letter. Which does nothing.”
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Murray and officials from several Pierce County school districts met at the Willard Early Learning Center in Tacoma to talk about what will happen next.
Murray said the new bill should be filed soon in both houses of Congress, approved, then sent to the president for his signature. The hope is that NCLB will be replaced “within three weeks,” Murray said.
The new version, which received a 39-1 endorsement from the bipartisan Congressional conference committee working to reconcile House and Senate versions, curtails federal authority over schools and puts states and school districts back in the driver’s seat.
Testing requirements are ‘much less high-stakes’
Sen. Patty Murray
Annual testing requirements remain in place. But states, rather than the federal government, will develop their own ways to hold schools accountable for test results.
Test scores also will continue to be reported for various segments of the student population, such as ethnic, racial and income groups.
Murray said the new version of the law contains no federal mandates to tie teacher evaluations to test results — although it will remain an option for states that want to do so.
That mandate played a major role in Washington state, which lost its federal waiver from certain provisions of NCLB because it failed to adopt a teacher evaluation system that met federal guidelines.
As a result, local school districts lost control of dollars aimed at helping impoverished students. In Tacoma, an estimated $5 million was taken from supporting preschools and redirected to provide tutoring from private companies and other services.
Tacoma Public Schools officials anticipate that if the new law passes, that money will again be available for the district to use.
“We will not have to hire outside people, and we’ll be able to target the money much more quickly to focus on early learning and literacy,” Tacoma School Board member Karen Vialle said.