Congress Passes Major K-12 Education Reform Legislation
Several Reed-authored provisions included in landmark ‘No-Child’ rewrite
WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to raise student achievement in the classroom, increase flexibility for states and school districts, and provide schools and teachers with new resources and support, the U.S. Senate today voted 85-12 to pass a major overhaul of federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and aims to fix the broken Bush-era No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law that was adopted nearly fourteen years ago. The bipartisan bill includes several key provisions written by U.S. Senator Jack Reed to improve K-12 education in the United States.
“We must fulfill the promise of a high-quality education for all students. This legislation empowers schools to raise student achievement and will help provide the resources they need to succeed,” said Senator Reed. “Throughout this debate, I listened to parents, teachers, and educators and worked with them to ensure the federal government is more responsive to the educational needs of students. Despite its good intentions, No Child Left Behind was underfunded and relied on a top-down approach too focused on standardized testing. Assessment plays a critical role in education, but a strong system of assessment and accountability includes measures beyond standardized test scores. Without these other measures, we risk cheating students of the well-rounded education they deserve. The ESSA should raise the bar and foster stronger federal-state partnerships that will help more students achieve at a high standard.”
During a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Reed pointed out that every day, communities in Rhode Island and across the nation wrestle with how to address large achievement gaps based on wealth, race, ethnicity, and disability status.
“Underlying those achievement gaps we see are gaps in opportunity,” he stated. “We need to ensure our students have access to critical resources for learning, strong teachers, counselors, and principals, as well as a well-balanced program of study that includes arts, humanities, and environmental education, and safe, healthy schools equipped with libraries, technology, and science labs. This bipartisan bill helps advance those fundamental goals.”
After years of work, and extensive negotiations between the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, both the House and Senate have now adopted the bipartisan ESSA, which contains a number of the education priorities Senator Reed spearheaded, including improving access to effective school library programs, enhancing professional development for teachers and principals, increasing the focus on resource equity, and strengthening family engagement and environmental education initiatives.
“The Every Student Succeeds Act isn't perfect, but it will improve the way we approach education in this country, and it will put our young people on a clearer path to sustained achievement both in and out of the classroom,” said Reed.
The legislation approved today includes federal protections to help ensure that young people -- regardless of family income, race, ethnicity, or disability -- graduate from high school ready for the next step, whether it be college or the workforce. Among the Reed-authored measures in the final bill were provisions from the Core Opportunity Resources for Equity and Excellence (CORE) Act, which will bring some long-overdue transparency to resource equity in schools, requiring states to report on key measures of school quality beyond student achievement on statewide assessments, including: student access to experienced and effective educators; access to rigorous and advanced coursework; availability of career and technical educational opportunities; and safe and healthy school learning environments.
“We have a responsibility to provide for learning environments where students can cultivate their talents and prepare for whatever comes next, whether that be college or a career. This is about more than a diploma. We want schools to produce young adults who are well–positioned to be productive members of our society and fully prepared to greet the challenges and opportunities the next generation will face. We have to set high expectations for our students, while providing them and their teachers with the resources necessary to hit those high marks,” added Senator Reed.
Senator Reed wrote several portions of the bill, including:
Ensuring Greater transparency on and accountability for resource equity (CORE Act) – The Every Student Succeeds Act requires that states and school districts include information on resource equity such as access to experienced and effective educators, the ability to pursue advanced coursework, and other school quality and school climate indicators. The ESSA also requires states to include a school climate or resource-equity measure as an additional indicator in their state accountability system. Additionally, the conference agreement requires that schools districts identify and address resource inequities for schools needing comprehensive support and improvement.
Supporting Environmental Literacy (No Child Left Inside Act) – The Every Student Succeeds Act includes provisions from Reed’s No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act to allow school districts to integrate environmental education into their programs for well-rounded education as well as their afterschool programs. The measure will support environmental education and hands-on, field-based learning experiences in schools across the country. Reed and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) have been working together since 2007 to pass legislation to help schools build environmental literacy programs, strengthen teacher training, and provide competitive grants to help schools and non-profits pay for outdoor education.
Supporting Educators (BEST Act) – The Every Student Succeeds Act includes key provisions of Reed’s BEST Act, enabling states and school districts to support teachers, principals, and other educators at the start of their careers through induction and residency programs and over the course of the careers through high quality, job-embedded professional development and career advancement opportunities. The ESSA also includes critical Reed-authored provisions that allow states to use Title II funds to implement educator equity plans so that low-income and minority students have the same access to effective educators as their more advantaged peers.
Supporting Effective School Library Programs (SKILLS Act) – The Every Student Succeeds Act includes an authorization for developing and enhancing effective school library programs, which may include professional development for school librarians and support for up-to-date books and materials. The legislation also includes the bipartisan amendment Senator Reed wrote with Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) to encourage school districts to address access to effective school library programs as part of their Title I plans and through their professional development programs.
Strengthening Literacy (Prescribe a Book Act) – The Every Student Succeeds Act includes Reed’s provisions to strengthen literacy by providing disadvantaged children with access to books, including in pediatric health care settings, modeled on the successful Reach Out and Read Program.
Strengthening Family Engagement (Family Engagement in Education Act) – The Every Student Succeeds Act includes Senator Reed’s provisions to encourage school districts to reserve more than one percent of their Title I allocation for family engagement activities, and to establish statewide family engagement centers to provide technical assistance and support to districts and schools in implementing evidence-based family engagement strategies
The House voted 359-64 to approve the ESSA conference report last week, and the measure will now be sent to the President to be signed into law.