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No Child Left Behind Gets Left Behind. What's The New Law?

Bill Zeeble
Michael Williams, Texas Education Commissioner, at a gathering of educators and education leaders in Grand Prairie two years ago. Williams ends his tenure as Commissioner this month.

Texas education leaders are welcoming the new education law signed by President Obama earlier this month.  The Every Student Succeeds Act frees Texas from some federal restrictions established under No Child Left Behind.

A version of No Child Left Behind began in Texas under then Governor George W. Bush, with good intentions – to improve education outcomes of historically underperforming low income and minority kids. Under President Bush, it grew into the national education law of 2002. Many Texans are happy it has changed again

“Any time the state has more local control,I’m generally for that as a rule,” State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen says. “So I think in that regard, it’ll be very helpful to get us out of that quagmire.”

No Child Left Behind established tough standards calling for continuous, annual improvement of students and teachers. Aycock, who also chairs the House Public Education Committee, says that meant a lot more testing.

“I do think we’ve gone over the edge with too much testing,” he says. “The stakes are so high that they drive rather perverted actions on the part of schools and administration and teachers and all.  It sort of contorts the system in odd ways because of the high stakes we’ve put on testing.” 

Almost three years ago, Texas ramped up testing so much that lawmakers insisted on 15 end-of-year exams before a kid could graduate high school, which was more than any other state. That brought parents like Richardson mom Josi Lauritzen out to protest in January of 2013.

“When their kids get in third grade, they start having stomach aches every day,” recounted Lauritzen. “And they start not wanting to go to school, and they start worrying about their performance on the test. And the anxiety? It’s real. These kids are raked with anxiety about whether they’re going to pass a test or not.”

Texas lawmakers relented, cutting the required number of tests back to five. No Child Left Behind remained. Student scores still had to rise, teachers had to show “adequate yearly progress” or Texas would lose funds. It couldn’t improve that much, and couldn’t afford it, says State Education Commissioner Michael Williams, whose term ends this month.   

“When the national government said each campus and 100 percent of the students on that campus had to be proficient in math and science by 2014,” Williams says. “We would have had hundreds of campuses that would not have met that standard.”

NCLB was criticized as a one-size-fits-all law that didn’t fairly account for non- English speakers or large, low-income populations. Critics also said teacher improvements weren’t fairly measured. But the new Every Student Succeeds Act changes some of that. Improvement plans are now left to states. So federal funding’s no longer the heavy punishment hammer it had been. Williams welcomes the changes.

“It allows us to develop an accountability system that’s designed solely by and solely for Texans,” he says. “In addition to that, we now have the relief from the teacher evaluation piece because the federal government insisted the only way to measure growth was by student test scores. And so I believe there was a broader way to do that.”  

The new education law still demands teacher and student improvements. And there’s a new emphasis on grants for early childhood education. It also calls for state oversight of schools in the bottom 5 percent. But states will have greater freedom handling those cases.  

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.