The House and Senate have now both passed the Every Student Succeeds Act — a rewrite of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.
The bill easily cleared the Senate on Wednesday with a vote of 85-12 and is now headed to President Obama’s desk.
While the new law would directly relate to primary and secondary schooling across the nation, the effects would also be seen at the university level in terms of curriculum requirements intended to prepare students for higher learning, and, according to Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, an eventual decrease in the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.
Sens. Kaine (D-Va.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act — a provision included in ESSA — on the notion that high school sexual education can help significantly reduce the number of sexual assaults that take place on college campuses, by not only teaching about, “reproductive biology,” Kaine said, but including, “more about relationships and behaviors, what is consent and what is coercion, and where to go if you need help.”
In a recent conference call with college students across Virginia, Kaine asserted that, “if there was more education at the high school level in sex ed or health classes…[and] students came equipped with that information when they went to college, or into the military, or into the work world, it would help young people avoid sexual assault.”
In the original draft of the Teach Safe Relationships Act he introduced, the many school districts nationwide that receive Title IV funds from the federal government would have been required to, “teach safe relationship behaviors…that help students understand appropriate and inappropriate behaviors with respect to sexual assault.” The final draft has been altered to create a bipartisan compromise that Sen. Kaine says, “softened,” the bill, as schools are not mandated, but simply encouraged to use Title IV funds for behavioral-driven sexual education. While Sen. Kaine is confident that many school districts will use the monies for this purpose, it is ultimately left to the states and school districts to decide.
While members of both parties saw the increase in sexual education as positive, other aspects of the bill were passionately debated. Also embedded in the thousand-page bill is a reference to the government-regulated standardized tests that are so heavily criticized by many Americans. When compared to No Child Left Behind, the new bill, in the words of Sen. Kaine, “gives more latitude to cities and counties and states.” However, this change is not enough for many education advocates. John Fager, a Huffington Post contributor, severely criticized the provision, writing, “It just shifts to the states, the administering of the worthless tests which was and is the heart of the problem.”
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) called ESSA a, “failure of the imagination.” He argued that, “schools are not factories; education can’t be systemized; [and] learning can’t be centrally planned.”
The Every Student Succeeds Act continues to require the teaching of a “core curriculum,” though it redefines the term, not just including the standard math, English, science, and social studies, but now emphasizing a, “well-rounded education,” that includes the arts, physical education, and foreign language.
While many view these federal regulations as an improvement from the past, Fager claims that the “education war” is not over. The overall concern is that this continuation of standardized policies will not be adapted again for more than a decade.