Status: The Student Success Act (H.R. 5) is a 620-page bill that would reauthorize No Child Left Behind. H.R. 5 was removed from consideration in the House of Representatives due to opposition from conservatives. NCLB is the primary law that authorizes federal K-12 education programs. It expired in 2007. Since then, Congress funded NCLB in spite of the fact that it is unauthorized. H.R. 5 could be put back on the schedule at any time. Below are the highlights from the Committee Report, frequently cited by the bill’s supporters on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Testing Mandates: H.R. 5 maintains the central mandate of NCLB. It requires states to develop a single, statewide academic assessment to evaluate the performance of local schools. Per an amendment added by Rep. Goodlatte, a local school district would be permitted to design its own assessment if the state approves of it. However, the local school district must still design its assessment in a way that reports data that are comparable among all local school districts within the state, reducing the likelihood that a school district would take up the option.
States must test all students each year in grades 3-8 and once again in high school—the same testing frequency in No Child Left Behind. The Committee Report proudly states that “H.R. 5 maintains current requirements for states to develop and implement assessments in reading, mathematics, and science.”
H.R. 5 repeals the requirement that schools “make adequate yearly progress;” however, schools whose students don’t make enough progress are subject to “a school improvement system implemented by school districts that includes interventions in poor performing Title I schools.”
H.R. 5 continues the NCLB practice of forcing states to assess student progress primarily on improvements in reading and math test scores, a practice which in the eyes of many observers has led to the neglect of other important curriculum areas, such as civics and history. High-stakes testing has led to “teaching to the test” from DC, a practice which privileges exhaustive test preparation over learning.
Current Levels of Spending: H.R. 5 maintains current levels of funding for NCLB. While claiming to “eliminate” 69 programs, it largely consolidates them into one large new grant: the “local academic flexible grant.” However, dozens of grant programs remain. In fact, the local academic flexible grant comprises only 10% of the funding for NCLB. Furthermore, the grant’s structure is the same as others in the bill, specifying the “application process, authorized activities, reporting requirements, and federal matching requirement…” The grant requires detailed reporting, and assurances that the state will comply with federal mandates.
Evidence for the lack of genuine program eliminations comes from the lack of any real taxpayer savings. Spending remains constant. From the Committee Report: “The bill updates overall authorization levels for each of the fiscal years 2016-2021 to reflect the funding amounts provided by Congress for ESEA programs in FY 2015.” In other words, the bill keeps funding at the same level that Congress provided last year.
Opt-Out Provisions: H.R. 5 lacks an opt-out provision for states, an approach known as A-PLUS, that would allow states to opt-out of the programs that fall under NCLB and allocate federal education dollars within broad parameters rather than in accordance with federal mandates. Instead, the bill contains language that allows states not to participate in programs in exchange for losing the entirety of their federal funding (that taxpayers were already forced to send to Washington). Because participation in federal education programs has always been “voluntary” (at the cost of losing billions in funding) these provisions don’t change anything about current law.
Common Core: The bill contains language prohibiting the Secretary of Education from forcing states to adopt Common Core, but opting out of Common Core must be done by individual states. H.R. 5 does not (and cannot) accomplish the rollback of Common Core, and according to the Heritage Foundation, prohibitions on the federal government getting involved in curriculum already exist in three federal laws—laws that have been ignored.