WASHINGTON â€” The Senate voted Wednesday to sendÂ President Obama a bill that dramaticallyÂ overhauls K-12 education policy and ends more than a decade of strictÂ federal control over schools.
TheÂ Every Student Succeeds Act focuses less onÂ standardized testing than the No Child Left Behind law it replaces,Â and it makes states once again responsibleÂ for fixing under-performingÂ schools.
The Senate vote was 85-12 to pass the compromise measure, which won plaudits from conservatives and liberals alike. It passed the HouseÂ 359-64 aÂ week ago.Â The White House announced Obama will sign it Thursday morning.
It’s the first major rewrite of elementary and secondary school policy since No Child Left Behind was signed by President George W. Bush in 2001. It also representsÂ a rare case of cordial bipartisanship in Congress. Top negotiators ironed out their differences quietly and won over critics throughout the political spectrum.
No Child Left Behind expired in 2007 but stayed on the books because previous attempts at a rewrite failed.
â€œWeâ€™ve been at this for seven years,â€ said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate education committee. â€œIf this were homework, they would give Congress an â€˜Fâ€™ for being tardy … but this fixes the law that everybody wants fixed.â€
Educators, governors and school administrators praised the official demise of No Child Left Behind. The lawÂ had been slowly dismantled over the years through waivers exemptingÂ schools from the most despisedÂ provisions, which punished them for failing to meet goals that critics said wereÂ unattainable.
The new law reducesÂ Washington’s role in setting academic standards and penalizing schools for missing achievement goals.
Student performance will still be measured, but against new, locallyÂ designed standards. It retains annual testing for students inÂ grades 3 through 8Â and one test for high school students. It also prevents the U.S. Department of Education from mandating or enticing any state to adopt the Common Core academic standards.
Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who often tied federal money to steps aimed at advancing reforms under No Child Left Behind, welcomed the new lawâ€™s flexibility and deference to state and local officials. He said it contains enough guardrails to keep states from adopting less challenging curriculaÂ that wouldn’t prepare students for college or the workforce.
Specifically, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to intervene to improve the bottom 5 percent ofÂ schools, high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent, and schools where certain subgroups of students are persistently falling behind.
â€œWherever those inequities persist, the federal law demands that we see real action,â€ Duncan said. â€œIt requires that local leaders act to transform the odds for students in their schools.â€
Lily Eskelsen GarcÃa, president of the National Education Association, said teachers are celebrating the end of the â€œno child left untestedâ€ law.
â€œThis ends the federal dark cloud of test-and-punish mandates,â€ she said.
Instead, the new law gives educators a voice in designing accountability systems and forces states to consider factors other than test scores, such as how many students have access to advanced courses, and how many graduate with a few college credits.
It also encourages schools to eliminate unnecessary state and local tests added during the No Child Left Behind years, and to explore alternativeÂ methods for assessing achievement.
â€œWeâ€™ve heard more about over-testing than any other subject,â€ Alexander said.
A controversial proposal to redistribute federal money for high-poverty areas wasn’t included in the final bill, and various expansions of school choice failed to make the cut. The omissions drew criticism from some conservative groups, including Heritage Action for America.
But such criticismsÂ were far outweighed by aÂ sense of pleasantÂ surpriseÂ onÂ Capitol HillÂ that Democrats and Republicans could cobble together a deal on a thorny domestic issue and deliver it to the president with strong bipartisan support.
On the Senate side, talks began a year ago between Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the education committee’sÂ top Democrat. Alexander came up with a Republican draft, but Murray urged him to scrap it and beginÂ negotiations on a bipartisan proposal. Their personal resumes and records of consulting across the aisle allowed them to reach a compromise and protect it from potentially destructiveÂ amendments.
Murray is a former teacher and Alexander is a former U.S. Education secretary.
â€œLamar and I took the time to listen to each other and get to know each other and ultimately to trust each other at our word,â€ Murray said in an interview Tuesday. â€œBoth of us share a passion for education but we have different views. We set aside our big differences and really worked on what we could agree on.â€
The key negotiators onÂ the House side were Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.
Scott, along with most major civil rights groups, endorsed the deal after adding provisions to give the educationÂ secretary authority to review state-level school improvement plans. The new law will continue to expose schools that fail to educate certain groups of students — including minority students,Â low-income students, and those learning English as a second language — but states will have primary responsibility for addressing the gaps, Scott said.
â€œThe federal government, left to its own devices, wasnâ€™t doing so hot either,â€ he said.