Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Posted on 2015-12-08
LEAHY. Mr. President, tomorrow the Senate will approve landmark
legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Since 2001, the failed policies of No Child Left Behind have unfairly burdened students, families, educators, and administrators by holding students accountable for snap-shot academic progress. The overwhelming support in Congress for these reforms will reverse the one-size-fits- all approach to education that did not work for Vermont and so many schools across the Nation. This bill gives States more flexibility to ensure that schools are supporting every student, while maintaining the Federal Government's responsibility to ensure that students everywhere have access to the resources they need for lasting academic success.
Since 2001, I have heard from parents, teachers, students, policymakers, and administrators about the negative impacts of No Child Left Behind. I voted against the legislation as I did not agree--and still do not agree--with a one-size-fits-all approach to education. I was also disappointed with the bill's rigid Federal accountability measures, as I truly believe States and local education agencies deserve flexibility when it comes to how schools operate.
The conference report we will consider today reflects the positive changes to the law that the Senate overwhelmingly supported in July. The agreement restores educational flexibility to the States, while safeguarding student access to resources, regardless of race, gender, financial status, and learning level. I am pleased that the bill takes into account the greater needs of students in rural areas, increases funding for early childhood education programs, and improves school safety measures.
I am especially pleased with the bill's innovative assessment and accountability demonstration authority provision, which will allow Vermont to adopt competency and performance-based assessments that prove far more than how well a student can perform on a test on one given day. And while [[Page S8468]] States will design their own system to improve struggling schools, the conference agreement also includes Federal safeguards to protect civil rights and to provide resources for students at the greatest risk.
We are 8 years overdue for a rewrite of No Child Left Behind. I am pleased that we have come together, Members on both sides of the aisle, to support the Every Student Succeeds Act. This bill truly reflects the needs of all students, educators, parents, and administrators; and I urge all Senators to support its passage.
Mr. McCain. Mr. President, today I come to the floor to express my strong support for the Every Student Succeeds Act. This legislation is a major step forward in taking the responsibility of educating our children back from Washington and giving it to the States. Senator Alexander and the Republican majorities in Congress have been successful working in with parents, teachers, and school districts in putting together a bipartisan elementary education reform bill that would restore the role of States in creating accountability standards, testing requirements, and other education policies that best fit the needs of students in local public and charter schools.
One of the most important pieces of this bill is that it would effectively end Common Core once and for all by allowing States to develop their own education standards. For far too long, Federal bureaucrats in Washington have tied the hands of States and parents by mandating one-size-fits-all education policies such as Common Core that have failed America's students. Let me be clear: I strongly support education standards that make Arizona students prepared to compete in this global economy. But these standards should be developed by Arizona's State and local education officials in consultation with parents of Arizona schoolchildren. This bill would do just that.
The Every Student Succeeds Act would also end the Federal test-based accountability system that was established by the No Child Left Behind Act. No longer would these required Federal tests be the sole measure of educational success. States will now be allowed to use testing along with other measures of accountability such as attendance, teacher performance, and other student achievement and school performance metrics when developing accountability systems.
In addition to helping take control of elementary education back from Washington, this bill includes provisions that would strengthen charter schools. I am proud of the fact that Arizona is home to some of the best charter schools in the Nation. According to the Arizona Charter School Association, over 190,000 Arizona students have access to more than 600 charter schools, giving Arizona parents more educational choices for their children. I am also proud of the fact that BASIS Charter Schools in Scottsdale and Tucson are the first and third-ranked charter schools in America, according to U.S. News & World Report.
I am also pleased that the Every Student Succeeds Act includes language I offered on the Senate floor in July that would enhance educational choice and expand access to high-performing schools for student in Arizona and across the nation.
Specifically, this provision would let Arizona and other States propose how they could use limited Federal education funds to replicate and expand access to high-performing charter, magnet, and traditional public schools for low-income students--in other words, education options that are proven to provide the best-quality learning environments for Arizona children.
Right now, public funds meant to help low-income students are largely reserved for poor-performing schools, failing the children who are most in need. We must give Arizona and other States the ability to direct these funds to develop high-performing charter, magnet and traditional public schools which have been proven to be successful.
The provisions I offered give Arizona the ability to show how they can do just that, while paving the way to give parents the freedom to choose which schools are best for their kids.
The Every Student Succeeds Act also includes measures that would offer additional support for rural schools in Arizona by providing more flexible use of Federal funding and maintaining the authorization of the Small, Rural School Achievement Program, SRSA, and the Rural and Low Income School, RLIS, program. The bill also helps States support English learners by providing resources to establish strong English proficiency programs to enable these students to meet high education standards.
I am proud of the strong progress that Arizona students are making in the classroom. According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, Arizona students are making significant progress compared to students in other States. In a recent op-ed in the Arizona Republic, former Arizona Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan and the Foundation for Excellence in Education's Matthew Lander wrote, ``[w]hile the national NAEP news this week was grim, with flat scores in fourth grade reading and declining scores in all three subjects, Arizona students bucked that trend by notching gains in three of the four tests.'' They went on to highlight Arizona's success, stating ``Arizona's charter-school students . . . matched the scores for the highest-scoring states on the 2015 NAEP. On eighth grade mathematics, for instance, Arizona charter students scored in a statistical dead heat with Massachusetts, the highest scoring of the 50 states.'' I am extremely proud of the success we are seeing in Arizona elementary education, but more needs to be done to ensure our students have the best opportunities by increasing educational choice and enabling States and school districts to expand and replicate high- performing schools. Every American has an obligation to help prepare the next generation for the future, and this bill is a step in the right direction. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill.