5 Winners and 5 Losers Under the Every Child Achieves Act

As the Senate continues its debate on the Every Child Achieves Act, a bill to replace No Child Left Behind, I took some time to sort through winners and losers under the bill. Here are my top 5 winners and losers:

Winners: 

  • State bureaucrats, legislatures, education chiefs, and governors: This bill is fundamentally about giving more power to states. The various state actors would have pretty much an unfettered reign over how they spent billions of federal dollars.
  • Teachers unions: The bill includes no requirements on teacher or principal evaluation systems, a win for teachers unions that have campaigned against them. And, although the bill does not reduce the number of federally required assessments, it puts decisions about what to do (or not) about low-performing schools in the hands of states, where unions have more political clout.
  • State policy organizations like PIE-Net members and ALEC: As states decide what to do on education policy, state-based policy organizations on both the Left and the Right will take on an outsized role in driving their preferred reforms.
  • Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray: If the bill makes it to the finish line, credit the ranking Republican and Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee. Alexander in particular has been masterful at driving the initiative, keeping the process intact, and holding the compromise together.
  • Education policy wonks: This bill will be great for education policy wonks like me. Someone will have to monitor what states are doing with billions in federal dollars. With a neutered federal government, look for outside groups to do everything in their power to persuade, cajole, grade, or rank states on their accountability plans.

Losers: 

  • Barack Obama and Arne Duncan: Make no mistake, if Obama signed this bill, it would represent a significant departure for his administration. I can’t think of another policy area where he has signed, endorsed, or approved of a policy that went backwards in terms of protections for disadvantaged populations. In fact, it’s hard not to see all of the 50 prohibitions layered into the bill as a direct attack on Obama’s education legacy.
  • George W. Bush: First, the Obama Administration granted waivers to states that significantly altered his signature education reform law. Now, this Congress would essentially repudiate all of his work to make education reform a national priority.
  • Future Presidents and Secretaries of Education: Sometimes in Washington it’s easy to focus on the moment and not see what’s around the bend, but this bill would significantly limit the next Administration’s ability to shape education policy as well. Depending on where you sit and how you forecast the next election, you may see this as a good thing, but it means that no matter who wins in 2016, it will be hard for them to make a stamp on K-12 education.
  • Business and civil rights groups: These groups have been actively opposing the bill, writing letters and running ads against its weak accountability provisions. So far, they haven’t been a match for the collective powers of teachers unions, school administrators, anti-testing crusaders, and states’ rights advocates.
  • Kids, especially minority students, students with disabilities, and low-income students: I hope I’m proven wrong, but states have a long history of taking the politically convenient route and ignoring the most vulnerable students.