Congress comes together for the good of children

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Congress has taken relentless criticism for its inability to do anything, but when it came to rewriting No Child Left Behind, there was no problem getting all three branches of government to work together.

President Obama was expected to sign the bill today, which will change some of the most objectionable aspects of NCLB.

It keeps some of the best parts of the original legislation, passed through the efforts of President George W. Bush and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2002, but de-emphasizes federally required statewide reading and math exams.

They will still be taken, but the time involved will be limited and stakes won't be so high for underperforming schools.

The same goes for teachers, who still may be evaluated according to their students' performance, but there won't be any federal mandate to do so.

Like Nebraska already does, all states and districts will now be responsible for setting their goals for schools, designing their own measures of achievement and progress and deciding independently how to turn around struggling schools.

Tests may be a factor, but other factors such as graduation rates and educational atmosphere can be figured in as well.

With the de-emphasis on testing, children from low- and moderate-income families will have access to preschool through a new grant program using existing funding through states.

States will still be required to step in to improve the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, in high schools with high dropout rates and schools with persistent gaps in achievement.

Common Core, one the most controversial federal ideas, cannot be mandated or incentivized by the federal government. Strong academic standards for college and career-ready curriculum guidelines were also part of Obama's Race to the Top program, but states are already backing away from such standards.

The Education Department will no longer be able to tell states and local districts how to assess school and teacher performance, and end the waivers like the one granted to Nebraska, which exempt the states from difficult requirements such as having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Democrats, Republicans and Independents can, and do, quibble about all manner of issues, from the earth-shattering to the trivial.

When it comes to the future of our children, however, it's good to know they can come together to resolve their differences.

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