The House-Senate conference committee overwhelmingly (39-1) endorsed an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind, which was the latest (and worst) revision of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The new ESEA, which still must be approved by both houses of Congress, is called the Every Student Succeeds Act.


The ESSA limits the federal role, a direct rebuke to Arne Duncan’s belief that he was the national superintendent of schools. The law retains a large chunk of George W. Bush’s legacy, including annual testing, a practice not found in any high-performing nation. The law no longer requires teacher evaluation by test scores.


The Republicans wanted to restore state and local control, while the Democrats ironically defended Bush’s accountability emphasis. The outcome is a compromise.


Most everyone seems to have forgotten that the original purpose of ESEA was equity for the neediest students, meaning federal dollars to high-poverty schools. Don’t you long for the day when laws were given descriptive titles, rather than aspirational ones? “Every Student Succeeds” is the flip side of “No Child Left Behind.” What was wrong with “the Elementary and Secondary Education Act”?


I don’t want to sound cynical, but I’m prepared to wager any sum that 7 years, 10 years, or 15 years from now, no one will say that every student is now succeeding. So long as nearly a quarter of our nation’s children live in poverty, “success” will remain elusive. So long as experienced teachers are underpaid and disrespected, so long as the anti-teacher lobby files lawsuits to strip teachers of their rights, “success”will escape our grasp. So long as jobs continue to be outsourced and eliminated by technology, we must continue to worry about whether and how young people will be motivated to “succeed.”


But for the moment, let’s celebrate the demise of a terrible law that saw punishment as the federal strategy for school reform. Let’s celebrate that no future Secretary of Education will have the power to impose his or her flawed ideas on every public school and teacher in the nation. Let’s thank Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Patty Murray for finally ending a failed and punitive law.