Sen. Lamar Alexander’s final draft of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization bill is a 1,059-page piece of legislation that House and Senate education committees decided upon after several months of backroom deals and only two days of open “conference.”
In Obamacare-like fashion, the final draft of this enormous and very complex bill was released Monday after Thanksgiving recess, and is scheduled for a vote in the House on Wednesday.
If passed, the bill – titled the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – would leave NCLB to history as it becomes the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee says about the measure:
No Child Left Behind was based on good intentions, but it was also based on the flawed premise that Washington knows best what students need to excel in school. The law led to the greatest federal intrusion into K-12 classrooms and failed to provide students the quality education they need to succeed in life. Instead of working with Congress to replace the law, the Obama administration has been setting national education policy through conditional waivers. Now, parents, teachers, superintendents, and state and local leaders are more frustrated than ever with the federal government micromanaging the schools in their local communities.
House Republicans have long fought to replace No Child Left Behind with a new law based on three basic principles:
- Reducing the federal role in K-12 education;
- Restoring local control; and
- Empowering parents
While the legislation would eliminate Adequate Yearly Progress mandates – which allow the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing according to results on standardized tests – it prohibits states from completely opting out of federal programs and does little to cut spending on programs that have been added over the years. The ESSA also retains the annual testing mandates requiring students to be tested every year in grades 3 through 8 and again in high school.
“The proposal also creates several major new programs and initiatives, maintaining a ‘program for every problem‘ structure,” writes Lindsey Burke, education policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “As such, the proposal would likely maintain significant federal intervention in local school policy for years to come.”
Indeed, the House Education and Workforce Committee appears to be engaged in a most blatant shell game when it claims the ESSA will serve in “reducing the federal role in K-12 education.” The fact is the bill will begin federal mandates for preschool education, making the federal government an overseer of education for children of ages 3 to 5 years old.
Title IX would house a new federal preschool program authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act, and establish annual funding at $250 million. The new preschool program would be housed at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and jointly administered by the Department of Education.
The funding would be made available to states to help coordinate existing government preschool programs, such as those operated by the states and Head Start, and to establish new preschool programs. Although some funding has been appropriated for the preschool program for the past two years, the new Every Student Succeeds Act would codify the new $250-million federal preschool program, creating mission creep in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Additionally, this move would continue the trend of growth in federal programs affecting the youngest Americans at a time when there is more empirical evidence than ever on the shortcomings of government preschool programs.
The fact that the new federally mandated preschool program will be jointly administered by both the USED and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) means that Obamacare school-based health programs, HHS sex education, gender, multicultural social service programs, mental health initiatives, etc. – all of which have been planted in K-12 schools – could be legally mandated in pre-schools as well.
The push for a federal preschool program comes as more research questions the value of institutionalizing children in the pre-K years.
A study published in October at Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis found that a one-year delay in the start of school “dramatically reduces inattention/hyperactivity at age 7,” with this characteristic being strongly and negatively linked to student achievement. This benefit was found to stay with children even until age 11.
“We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11,” the study’s author Professor Thomas Dee said, “and it virtually eliminated the probability that an average child at that age would have an ‘abnormal,’ or higher-than-normal rating for the inattentive-hyperactive behavioral measure.”
A study published in 2012 by the Obama administration’s HHS also found that students who participated in the Head Start preschool program actually fared worse on several levels than students who did not.
The large-scale study found that children who participated in the Head Start program actually did worse in math and had more problems with social interaction by the third grade than children who were not in the program.
While Head Start students averaged better in reading/language arts by third grade, math scores were poorer for children who participated in the program. Parents of Head Start children also reported a significantly lower child promotion rate than parents of children who did not participate in the federal program.
The study concluded that even when some positive effects of participation in Head Start are found in preschool age children, those effects disappear once children enter early elementary school.
When Alexander assumed the post of chairman of the Senate committee that oversees education, he made it clear that passing a new ESEA measure would be his first priority.
“I’m in favor of moving pretty rapidly,” Alexander said. “I’d like to work with the House and come up with something that the president can sign pretty quickly. We want a result, and under our constitutional system that takes a presidential signature, and… we’ve stayed in touch with him.”