This week President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law, replacing the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. The new law gets rid of many of the standardized testing requirements that had been in place under No Child Left Behind, and gives states more leeway in designing their own education standards.
Public Health New Mexico spoke to U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, who supported the bill, about what the changes mean for our state.
KUNM: Senator Udall and yourself were two of 85 senators voting in favor getting rid of No Child Left Behind and replacing it with the Every Student Succeeds Act. To what do you attribute the bipartisan support this bill has had?
There really was a broad recognition across the ideological spectrum that No Child Left Behind was unfortunately leaving most of our students behind. It wasn’t serving students as well as anyone had hoped when that legislation passed. In particular, we wanted to shift to a style of instruction that is less testing and more teaching, because we had a lot of redundant tests that were not serving the individual teacher. That was true whether legislators were from Republican states or from Democratic states.
KUNM: New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system has been very contentious, they’ve been the subject of lawsuits and protests by teachers unions—what effect, if any, will this new law have on that system?
We do take a crack at redesigning teacher evaluations as well, and making that less about high stakes testing and more about the quality of individual teachers on multiple metrics. That’s been one of the things that has been at the root of some of the places that have had big disputes over teacher evaluations, so I think it takes a very positive step in that direction.
KUNM: This bill effectively shifts the responsibility for academic performance to the state. We live in a state with its fair share of challenges—education is underfunded, as are many public programs, there are divisions within the state legislature and controversies within the Public Education Department—how prepared are we to control our own destiny when it comes to our schools?
New Mexico can do a much better job within the schools. One of the ways that No Child Left Behind failed, in my view, was that it set very high expectations but didn’t actually give the local school districts the tools to get to those expectations. In this new legislation we get rid of 'adequate yearly progress,' which is a measure that really didn’t work well at all, and we replace that program with actual support for the schools to give them the tools that they need for our students to thrive. It also focuses on two other pieces that are absolutely critical, for states like New Mexico in particular. One is it helps with after school programs, and two—and most importantly—it brings new resources towards creating early childhood education and pre-k programs. I think when you combine what we’ve done in this bill with an approach at the state level of being willing to take a sustainable piece of the permanent fund and dedicate it to early childhood education, you can truly change the dynamic of public education in the state of New Mexico.