ESEA SAILS THROUGH JOINT COMMITTEE

Years of waiting for a desperately needed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act may soon be over, as a bill updating this keystone education law (known in its current form as No Child Left Behind) continues to move ahead. On Nov. 19, legislation sailed through a joint congressional committee by a vote of 39 to 1, and now heads to the floor in both chambers for a vote. “We are on our way to a new environment in public education,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said following the committee vote. “The Senate-House conference report resets education policy with a focus on student learning rather than student testing, while maintaining resources to students with the most needs. It creates the potential to bring back the joy of teaching and learning and to really prepare our kids for their future.”

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Here is an article published today from the New York Times:

Overcoming years of partisan bickering over the federal government’s role in public education, congressional negotiators came to an agreement on Thursday to revise the No Child Left Behind law for the first time since it was signed by President George W. Bush 14 years ago.

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Although Democrats and Republicans agreed that the law — passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2001 — had become an albatross on schools that led to overly punitive stakes for standardized testing, Congress has for eight years been unable to come to an accord on replacing it.

A conference committee of members from the House and the Senate voted, 39 to 1, to approve the agreement on Thursday. The full bill will be made public within a week, and the House could consider it on the floor as early as the first week of December, with the Senate following.

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As recently as last summer, the House and the Senate remained far apart, with the House passing a conservative version that President Obama promised to veto. Although the Senate brought forth a bill with bipartisan support, the White House and some Democratic senators, along with civil rights groups, opposed some of its provisions.

“This is a difficult subject,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who worked with Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, to write the Senate’s bill. “It’s like being at a football game with 100,000 people in the stands, and every one of them knows what play to call next — and usually says so.”

The agreement on Thursday preserves the federal requirement that public schools administer annual standardized tests in reading and math from third through eighth grade and once in high school. It also requires schools to make the scores public and to break them down by students’ race, income and disability status.

But it frees states and districts from the prescriptive sanctions — ranging from mandatory tutoring up to school closings in extreme cases — that No Child Left Behind imposed on schools that persistently failed to raise test scores. The new agreement allows states and local school districts to determine how to define and respond to poor performance. And unlike the No Child law, the new bill would not require that all children reach proficiency in reading and math by a certain date.

Although the most conservative House members wanted the bill to give states and districts more freedom from federal oversight, Democratic negotiators and officials from the White House insisted that states be required to intervene in the bottom 5 percent of schools based on a range of metrics including test scores, graduation rates and other measures of performance.

The agreement also requires states to develop plans for high schools that graduate fewer than two-thirds of their students and schools where certain groups of students consistently underperform academically.

But the secretary of education cannot dictate how states rate schools or what weight they give to measures like test scores in such ratings. The agreement also prohibits the education secretary from mandating academic standards such as the Common Core, guidelines that have prompted enormous political backlash. States are required only to set “challenging” academic standards that will prepare students to enter universities or career and technical colleges.

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In many ways, the compromise on a replacement of the federal education law stemmed from shared discontent with some of the Obama administration’s education policies. As the No Child law gradually identified nearly every school in the country as failing, Arne Duncan, the education secretary, used financial incentives and relief from the most onerous provisions of the law to require that states develop rigorous academic standards and tie the job performance ratings of teachers to their students’ test scores.

Teachers unions and others on the left opposed the use of test scores to evaluate teachers, while activists on the right opposed what they saw as federal overreach in the spread of the Common Core academic standards.

“You absolutely had this frustration on the right, but what you actually found on the left was a lot of shared concerns,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. “One of the really funny things is that I cannot think of a major piece of legislation that was driven as much by bipartisan frustration with a single cabinet secretary.”

The new agreement makes it clear that states are not required to evaluate teachers, much less use test scores in such ratings.

Mary Kusler, the director of government relations for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, said that she wanted to see the details of the bill’s language, but that union leaders were “absolutely elated” that both parties had reached an agreement on a revision of what is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Ms. Kusler added that the proposal fulfills some of the union members’ priorities, including “a reduction of testing and high stakes associated with those tests.”

On Thursday, Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, introduced an amendment that would allow states to cap the time students spend on standardized testing. Although the federal bill would require 17 tests over seven years of schooling, many states and districts have gradually added tests to help students prepare for the federally mandated exams. The amendment, which echoed the Obama administration’s own call for a reduction in testing, passed.

The congressional agreement also retains the current formula for funding schools with the highest concentration of poor students, which receive extra federal money. House and Senate Republicans wanted states to make that extra funding portable, so students who moved to a more affluent school or a charter school could take the money with them. Democrats and the White House strongly opposed such a change.

An Obama administration official said the White House was still reviewing the details of the agreement. But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order not to get ahead of the legislative process, said, “We are very encouraged and pleased by the proposal as we understand it now.”

A version of this article appears in print on November 20, 2015, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Negotiators Reach Agreement to Revise No Child Left Behind .

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