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What Will A New Federal Education Law Mean For Wyoming?

Wally Gobetz via Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. House and Senate will soon begin negotiations to reconcile two different bills that would rewrite the federal ‘No Child Left Behind’ education law.

The law has not been updated in 14 years. On Thursday, the Senate passed a bipartisan measure to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—which was last revamped with NCLB in 2001. Last week, the House passed its own Republican-backed bill.

If Congress comes together on a bill that President Obama will sign, it would mean big changes for Wyoming.

Both the House and Senate bills would roll back federal involvement in public schools. Under No Child Left Behind, schools are judged by the federal government using a measure called ‘adequate yearly progress.’ Wyoming education consultant Scott Marion says that will go away under either of the bills.

“The big change is that the accountability systems will be left to the design of the states instead of following the federal approach,” says Marion. “It will allow Wyoming to have one accountability system—instead of two. It would be nice to have one, so that schools don’t get mixed messages.”

The power to measure school performance and fix failing schools would return to the states. Standardized testing requirements would not change nationwide, but the Senate bill would create a pilot program that would allow five states to develop their own “innovative” testing systems.

Marion, who is also associate director at the Center for Assessment, says Wyoming would be an ideal candidate.

“There’s a tremendous appetite by the Joint Education Committee and the Select Committee on Education Accountability to try to think about doing assessment a different a way,” Marion says. “So, Wyoming could try to apply for one of those pilot programs. I think Wyoming, because of its size and history, would actually have a reasonable shot.”

Members of Congress will work to iron out differences between the House and Senate bills in conference committee.

The White House, U.S. Department of Education and civil rights groups say they’d like to see accountability requirements boosted in the proposed measures—to require states to take specific action regarding troubling achievement gaps and low-performing schools.

In Wyoming, members of the Legislatures' Statewide Education Accountability Committee and the Wyoming Education Association are among those supporting the Senate bill. Wyoming's U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi both voted in favor of the bill--dubbed the Every Child Achieves Act. 

“The Every Child Achieves Act ends the emphasis on standardized tests, allowing states to determine how to use federally required tests for accountability purposes," said Enzi, in a statement released to media. "The bill would also reaffirm the states’ role in defining education standards by making it clear that the federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt any particular set of education standards, including Common Core."

Wyoming's U.S. House Representative Cynthia Lummis favors the Republican-backed House bill which would--among other things--allow parents and students to opt out of standardized tests and allow federal funding to follow low-income students to schools of their choice. 

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