To qualify for federal funding, states would have to adopt standards for “college and career readiness,” which the bill defines as the ability of a student to take coursework at a public college or university in the state without needing remedial classes. States would have to create new 21st-century assessment systems aligned with these college and career-ready standards.
The bill maintains the option for states to establish alternate academic standards in each of the content areas for up to 1 percent of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, provided they promote inclusion through access to the general curriculum. It also builds on the current law’s “equitable distribution” provisions to ensure that students with the most need have access to talented teachers by requiring that school districts not cluster the lowest performing teachers in the schools with the most low-income and minority students.
Other parts of the bill focus on turning around high schools with graduation rates of 60 percent or below; rewarding successful schools and high-achieving teachers and principals; training and evaluating principals and teachers more effectively; recruiting and training teachers in high-need subjects for high-need schools; increasing flexibility in the use of federal funding streams; and addressing the unique challenges of rural schools, among other issues.
“We’re moving into a partnership mode with the states, rather than the federal government saying, ‘You have to do this, you have to do that,’” said Harkin.
The bill would preserve the existing law’s requirements that states test students in reading and math every year in grades three through eight, and once in high school, and make the scores public.
Also, states still would face federal oversight for the worst-performing five percent of schools, as well as for the five percent of schools in each state with the widest achievement gap between minority and white students. Districts in charge of those schools could lose federal financing under the new bill if they failed to raise student achievement.
But some critics say giving power to the states is what created the need for NCLB in the first place.