December 09, 2015

Udall Joins Senate in Passing Landmark 'No Child Left Behind' Reform

Bipartisan bill headed to the president's desk reduces high-stakes testing, invests in STEM subjects & early childhood education

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined a bipartisan majority of senators in passing a bill that will make much-needed reforms to the nation's controversial No Child Left Behind education law. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) -- a final compromise between two bills the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives approved earlier this year -- passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan 85-12 vote. It was approved by the House of Representatives last week, and now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.

The bill reforms No Child Left Behind by reducing duplicative testing while adding flexibility to help states respond to assessments, improve school outcomes and ensure all students have the chance to get a quality education. It also makes strong investments to improve preschool programs and expand access to early childhood education. The bill authorizes a $250 million competitive grant program to increase access to preschool programs for low-income children, which marks the first time that the nation's primary elementary and secondary education legislation includes dedicated funding to support early learning.

The bipartisan ESSA will ensure that the schools performing in the lowest 5 percent, high schools with graduation rates of 67 percent or less, and schools that fail to help subgroups of students improve, receive locally designed, evidence-based interventions. In practice, this will mean that states will be required to set annual goals for student performance and graduation rates for all students and subgroups of students to help close the achievement gap.

Udall worked to include several New Mexico priorities in the bill, including investments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teaching, rural school districts and community schools; support for investments in early childhood education; measures to classify physical education and health under the new well-rounded designation for important subjects; and a measure to strengthen Native language immersion programs.

"I hear from New Mexicans everyday who are concerned about excessive testing and worry that their kids are falling behind. No Child Left Behind hasn't worked for students, teachers, parents or schools," Udall said. "This bill is a major step forward. I am hopeful that finally eliminating No Child Left Behind's failed one-size-fits-all requirements will give our students and teachers the flexibility they need to close achievement gaps. I'm glad that the final bill includes accountability provisions to make sure states have the tools they need to help struggling schools and ensure that our schools are serving all students."

"A vitally important part of this bill is the investment in early childhood education. One of my biggest priorities is doing everything I can to help improve child well-being in New Mexico. We know that early childhood education programs like Head Start make all the difference in ensuring children start school ready to learn and succeed. This is a critical investment in our future," Udall added. "Every child deserves a high-quality education, no matter their zip code or background."

Specific highlights of the Every Student Succeeds Act include:

- Increased flexibility. Frees up states from the uncertainty and prescriptiveness of the outdated adequate yearly progress (AYP) federal accountability system.

- Stronger accountability. Improves accountability by including strong federal protections to ensure all students have the chance to get a quality education. This includes students with disabilities, English-language learners and students at Tribal schools.

- Investments in early childhood. Makes strong investments to improve preschool programs and expand access, so more kids can start kindergarten ready to learn.

- Emphasis on students. Places a new emphasis on providing students with a well-rounded education, as well as on their health and safety at school, while reducing over-reliance on high-stakes testing.

- Support for teachers.
Provides funding for professional development and training opportunities, including added support for STEM teachers.