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Saturday, July 18, 2015

New education fix?

By Elisha Aldrich in Rhode Island’s Future

The United States Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act Thursday, which eliminated many of the provisions set forth in former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. 

While No Child Left Behind was criticized for pressuring educators to teach to a test, the Every Child Achieves Act encourages communities to improve schools by finding strategies that work for each student.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse helped to craft portions of the law as a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

“As I listened to Rhode Islanders on this issue, I heard the same things over and over again: we need to protect federal funding for local districts, give more control to teachers and local officials to design education plans, and get rid of high-stakes testing that has harmed students and teachers by placing too much emphasis on test scores,” Whitehouse said in a press release.

Under the new law, yearly testing will remain for grades three through eight, and once during high school. But, funding and improvement strategies are no longer tied just to the outcomes of these tests. 

Now, a number of factors will be considered, such as graduation rates, the enrollment rates for Advanced Placement classes, incidents of bullying and violence, and teachers’ working conditions.

Whitehouse penned a number of provisions in the law concerning a range of topics, such as middle school success, after school programs, support for students suffering from addiction, grants for an American History and Civics program, and support for unique, high-ability leaners.

Whitehouse also helped to author language in the bill that requires states to properly assess the needs of students when they enter a juvenile justice facility. States must make sure that students have access to education opportunities while in these facilities, and that the credits they earned while in that setting will transfer to a regular school when they return.

“Overall, these policies are intended to ensure that troubled children who enter the juvenile justice system are given an opportunity to reform their behavior and get ahead, rather than being marginalized and falling further behind in their education,” the press release said.

Another large provision that Whitehouse wrote is designed to give schools a fast-track process for schools to obtain relief from regulations that can act at barriers to school-level innovations. These schools will be able to do a number of things, including extend the school day for struggling students, own their budgeting and accounting, and manage human resources. 

For a school to participate in this fast-track program, they must demonstrate support from administrators, parents, and at least two thirds of the teaching staff. These schools will also be allowed to form advisory boards to get the opinions of the business community, higher education, and community groups, and use those opinions to influence school planning. 

These “innovation schools” will remain part of their district, but also be used as locations for experimentation, and serve as a model for other schools in the district.

Whitehouse also partnered with Senator Jack Reed (D- RI) on a third provision, which authorizes funding to provide grants to educational agencies to give students better access to modern library materials, as well as arts-related education and outreach programs.

“Our core goal is to provide all of our kids with the best possible education, and I’m confident that the changes made by this bill will result in real improvements in our schools,” Whitehouse said.