States have a golden opportunity to improve education thanks to the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act.
Since 2008, the political pendulum in Washington has swung from Democratic control, to political gridlock, to Republican control. The period of divided government featured a lot more angry words than lawmaking. Democrats and Republicans did come together, though, on at least one significant piece of legislation: the Every Student Succeeds Act, the bill that President Barack Obama dubbed a "Christmas Miracle" in December 2015.
For all their disagreements, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill could agree that the old No Child Left Behind Act was broken and that the Obama administration's ad hoc effort to steer state education policy through conditional "waivers" from No Child Left Behind was, in the words of Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, turning the Department of Education into a "national school board."
Thus, the Every Student Succeeds Act set out to rethink the balance between Washington and the states when it came to K-12 schooling. The new law retained the requirement that states test students regularly in reading and math in grades three through eight and again in high school. It retained the requirement that states report the results and use them to gauge school performance. It kept in place rules governing $16 billion in federal funds for low-income students.
The Education Department needs to stop micro-managing implementation of the new education law.
But the law also dramatically rolled back Uncle Sam's role in deciding which schools are performing adequately, eliminated Washington's ability to dictate school improvement strategies, got rid of paper-driven federal rules intended to dictate which teachers are highly qualified and put clear new limits on the authority of the secretary of education. The result meant that state leaders would have new opportunities to lead.
The No Child Left Behind era featured widespread concerns about narrowing curricula,...
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