Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senator Murray: 'No Child Left Behind' Might Get Left Behind

Kyle Stokes
U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., smiles at a press conference at Franklin High School in Seattle on April 17, 2015.

A U.S. Senate committee advanced a bill to re-write the federal No Child Left Behind Act this week, raising hopes that Congress may finally take action to officially scrap the law's tough, but outdated systems for holding schools across the nation accountable for students' success.

The proposed "Every Child Achieves Act" shifts a lot of federal powers to education officials at the state level. Though national mandates to give students standardized tests every year would remain in place, states could decide for themselves how to use test results to rate schools and determine whether students are on-track for success in college or a career.

Co-sponsor Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Friday this legislation could be a turning point in Congress' efforts to re-write No Child Left Behind, which have been fruitless since the original law expired in 2007.

'Fix This So Our Country Can Move On'

Republicans on a House committee passed their own NCLB fix in February without Democratic support. The Obama Administration said the President would veto that proposal.

But Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate's education panel, worked with Murray to arrive at a "bipartisan agreement" — and Murray said that keeps the end-goal in mind: come up with a bill President Obama can sign.

"I predict that if we can pass a strong bipartisan bill out of the Senate, it will force the House to take this up for the same reason Lamar agreed to work with me," Murray said during a news conference outside Seattle's Franklin High School on Friday.

The U.S. House "can sit and say this is awful, horrible, no good, bad policy and keep it that way for another three, four, five years by voting no," Murray added. "Or you can work with us to get a bill passed that this president will sign into law and fix this so our country can move on."

As Bill Moves To Floor, A Delicate Balancing Act

The fragile compromise will have to survive a tug-of-war over the federal government's role in education, including from Republicans who would likely wish to see that role scaled back even further.

The Every Child Achieves Act would require state education officials to submit their own plans for holding schools accountable to the U.S. Department of Education — plans that set annual goals for a mix of measures, such as test scores or graduation rates.

But the president of the Alliance for Education, a D.C.-based advocacy organization, said the bill doesn't do enough to ensure states intervene when schools underperform.

"It does not actually require states to act," said Bob Wise in a statement. "Instead, it permits states to decide when, if and where to intervene. That's like equipping a fire department with new tools and alarms, then letting it choose which fires to put out."

Teachers unions have given their own tentative approval to the compromise. But National Education Association say the proposal could do more to reduce "excessive testing of students." They're also concerned with the bill's stances on linking teacher pay with performance and charter schools.

"The bill largely preserves the status quo of an aggressive federal push to expand the charter sector without adequate accountability and transparency requirements," wrote NEA director of government relations Mary Kusler in a letter to members of a Senate committee.

Murray said the bill strikes an appropriate level of compromise.

"We have federal guardrails in this to make sure states have to meet those," Murray said, "but without the prescriptive requirements that currently exist that really aren't working."

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.