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Major education law shifts power to states

President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law on Dec. 10.

President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law on Dec. 10.

President Barack Obama on Dec. 10 signed into law major education legislation that dials back the federal role in public education and bars the federal government from tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 2 and the Senate on Dec. 9, eliminates federal mandates that have made testing the centerpiece of public education over the past 14 years and puts school ratings back under state control.

The new law is the culmination of years of lobbying by the UFT, the national teachers unions and parent groups to replace the controversial Bush-era No Child Left Behind law of 2002.

“This law ends the federal obsession with high-stakes testing that narrowed what was taught in classrooms and did little to close the achievement gap,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who attended the signing ceremony. “This legislation makes clear that ‘test and punish’ is no longer the law of the land. It is a proud day when the Senate, Congress and the president listen to parents and teachers across this country and respond to our shared concerns.”

The new law will dismantle the federal test-and-punish accountability system that was built on the premise that standardized test scores were the best performance yardstick for schools and teachers. The excessive testing and test prep created by that accountability system narrowed the curriculum and fueled outrage among parents and teachers across New York State.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, test scores will no longer be the sole gauge of a school’s worth. Schools will now be judged on other factors including high school graduation rates, helping English language learners reach proficiency, and student access to higher-level coursework, art, music and counselors.

The law leaves it up to the states to develop and design their own evaluation systems. The federal authorities will be barred from requiring the use of tests in teacher evaluations.

All students will still be tested annually in grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. States must continue to disaggregate test results by student race, income and disability and make them public, a key provision for civil rights organizations. Under the new legislation, states will be required to intervene to improve the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and schools that graduate less than two-thirds of their students.

The law also bars the U.S. Education Department from mandating or encouraging any particular set of academic standards such as the Common Core Learning Standards.

The legislation will continue to provide Title I funding to schools that serve large numbers of poor students. New York City depends upon the law’s Title I provisions to bridge the gap between children from low-income families and those whose families are more affluent.

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