Area school administrators cheered the passage of legislation that rewrites the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law of 2002.
The bill – dubbed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) - passed the Senate by an 85-12 vote Wednesday.
Approved by the House of Representatives last week, President Barack Obama signed it into law Thursday morning.
Obama calls the law a "Christmas miracle."
"With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal that every child— regardless of race, gender, background, zip code — deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they want," Obama said. "This is a big step in the right direction.”
The overhaul ends more than a decade of what critics have derided as one-size-fits-all federal policies dictating accountability and improvement for the nation's 100,000 or so public schools.
The bill keeps a key feature of No Child: the federally mandated statewide reading and math exams in grades 3 to 8 and one such test in high school. But it would encourage states to limit the time students spend on testing, and it would diminish the high stakes associated with these exams for underperforming schools.
Still, the new law encourages states to limit the time students spend on testing and diminishes the high stakes for underperforming schools.
“Now it falls to the Oklahoma legislature to see what decisions they want to make,” said Dr. Terry James, Miami Public Schools interim superintendent. “We are encouraged by the fact that there will be more flexibility for the states to fine-tune their accountability systems that fit the districts of that state.
“I am excited about the fact that the Oklahoma legislators who come from these communities will be the ones making these determinations.”
The measure substantially limits the federal government's role, barring the Education Department from telling states and local districts how to assess school and teacher performance.
“I'm excited for any legislation that allows for more flexibility at the local and state level,” Wyandotte superintendent Troy Gray said. “All regions are different and the 'cookie cutter' approach has not proven effective. Accountability is important. I believe most would agree on that. That said, the system we are using is flawed.
“NCLB had some positives, but also had some unrealistic outcomes. It is outdated and we have passed it by. At the local level we are at the mercy of the powers above. I haven't reviewed all the information, but am excited to do just that as more becomes available and it filters down. Nothing is more important than education for our students and setting them up for success in the work force. Hopefully state legislation will follow that is based on what is best for all students, not what's best for a politician's home district.”
All but one of Oklahoma's congressional delegation (Rep. James Bridenstine) supported the measure.
“It was a bipartisan effort,” Commerce superintendent Jim Haynes said. “Our representative (Markwayne Mullin) voted for it and Inhofe and Lankford (Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford) both did.”
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee was a chief author of the bill, along with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington — and in the House, Education Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and ranking Democrat Bobby Scott of Virginia.
Alexander served as U.S. education secretary under President George H.W. Bush and Murray is a former preschool teacher.
"For the first time ever, our federal education law will recognize the importance of early learning with the grant program that we have put in place. It's a very good beginning step for our nation," Murray said.
The new grant program would use existing funding to help states improve quality and access to preschool.
On Common Core, reviled by many conservatives, the bill says the Education Department may not mandate or give states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of academic standards.
The Common Core college and career-ready curriculum guidelines were created by the states, but became a flash point for those critical of Washington influence in schools. The Obama administration offered grants through its Race to the Top program for states that adopted strong academic standards for students.
— The Associated Press contributed information to this report.