Congress OKs less federal education involvement
American schools will feel less federal intervention once the president signs a bill headed his way.Supporters of a measure the U.S. Senate passed 85-12 Wednesday, sending it to President Barack Obama, say that when it becomes law pressure Washin...
American schools will feel less federal intervention once the president signs a bill headed his way.
Supporters of a measure the U.S. Senate passed 85-12 Wednesday, sending it to President Barack Obama, say that when it becomes law pressure Washington has put on local schools will ease and school leaders will have more say in what happens in classrooms.
“There’s nothing more important to our kids’ futures - and our country’s economic future - than providing them with a good education,” said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., adding that the measure known as Every Student Succeeds Act will feed education success.
The measure removes some U.S. Education Department authority. States would determine how to hold schools accountable rather than rely on a federally imposed sanction system that penalizes schools based on students’ standardized test results.
“Among the biggest victories in this bill is ensuring that states have more flexibility,” said Franken, a member of the Senate education committee. “The one-size-fits-all approach to fixing failing schools wasn’t working, and this bill will help address that.”
The bill, which Obama is expected to sign, overturns the controversial 13-year-old No Child Left Behind law.
Some provisions in the bill especially affect the Upper Midwest, particularly provisions for American Indian Country.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., authored a provision that requires the education secretary to work with the interior secretary and others on Indian issues.
One of the most important issues, Thune said, is planning a federal response to the high number of Indian student suicides.
“I have made it a priority to do as much as I can to help address the tribal youth suicide crisis in South Dakota’s Indian country,” Thune said. “Losing a friend or family member to suicide is a tragedy, and while there are numerous known factors that contribute to suicide - particularly youth suicide - we can and should do more to understand the problem and find constructive ways to prevent it from happening in the first place.”
Thune’s efforts also are aimed at reducing school violence in Indian areas.
Franken succeeded in establishing grants for American Indian language immersion programs.
The bill included support for programs to strengthen the role of tribes to better meet the needs of Indian students. It also included a policy to improve coordination among tribes and states and to help retain good teachers in schools on Indian land.
Also, the bill includes provisions to allow rural school districts to work together to better compete for scarce federal funding also sought by big urban districts.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. trumpeted provisions for rural school districts, such as updates to the Impact Aid program that is used to help fund school construction and provide basic education support to schools on or near federal land or military bases, mostly a rural issue. In most areas, schools rely on property taxes for revenue and government lands do not produce those taxes.
Franken said that when he visits rural Minnesota, he hears that under the law for the past 13 years, some schools were required to replace teachers and principals to improve overall performance. “So two schools would just exchange teachers and principals.”
While the bill reduces standardized tests requirements, it still mandates them for grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. However, schools will have more freedom to decide how to use test scores to improve student performance.
The measure limits how much time students may spend taking standardized tests.
The bill prohibits the federal education secretary from dictating national education policy, including requiring adoption of the controversial common core teaching standards that critics say confuse students. The secretary cannot force requirements on schools if they are not in law, such as mandating teacher evaluations.
The chairman of the House education committee, from Minnesota, called the existing law flawed and failed.
“Parents, teachers and state and local school leaders support this bill because they know it will restore local control and help get Washington out of our classrooms,” Chairman John Kline, a Republican, said after the House passed the bill last week.
A Franken provision is folded into the bill to allow computerized tests that the senator said will give teachers and parents quicker and more accurate information on student progress. It “will go a long way toward improving the quality of assessments used in our schools,” he said.
Franken said that the bill enables schools to work with community mental health providers. Rural areas struggle to provide mental health services and the senator said that allowing schools and other organizations to work together should help bridge the gap.
Another provision could help increase the number of counselors in schools, Franken said. Minnesota is among the states with the lowest number of counselors for students.
The senator predicted that many schools will establish language immersion programs under part the bill that he wrote. He called lack of knowledge of a student’s tribal language is an aspect of “cultural trauma.” “Kids do better if they have a sense of their identity and their culture.”
The bill is not perfect, Franken said. He expressed to his colleagues in a speech “my deep disappointment” that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students did not receive protection against bullying and discrimination. “I’m going to keep fighting to get this critical measure passed into law because it is our responsibility as adults to protect children.”
Mike Nowatzki, a Forum News Service reporter, contributed to this story.