By JENNIFER C. KERR
WASHINGTON (AP) - With Republican and Democratic lawmakers calling it outdated and unworkable, Congress is set to try again to overhaul the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law.
The Senate continues debate Wednesday on a bipartisan measure that rewrites the 2002 law, shifting much of the federal oversight of schools to the states and local districts. The House has a GOP-sponsored bill that was pulled abruptly from a floor vote earlier this year, but it's expected to be debated Wednesday in the full chamber.
The bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would retain the annual reading and math tests outlined in No Child. But their "Every Child Achieves Act" whittles away at the federal role in education policy and instead lets states decide how to use the required reading and math assessments to measure school and teacher performance.
"In my view, the change should produce fewer tests and more appropriate ways to measure student achievement," Alexander said Tuesday as he opened debate on the bill.
The measure also would expressly prohibit the federal government from requiring or encouraging any specific set of academic standards - a reference to the Common Core standards, which were drafted by the states with the support of the administration but have become a rallying point for those who want a smaller federal involvement in education.
Murray said she would like stronger measures in the bill that would require states to identify their lowest-performing schools and require those schools to have plans for improvement.
"When we don't hold our schools and states accountable for educating every child, it is the kids from our low-income backgrounds, kids with disabilities, kids who are learning English and kids of color who too often do fall through the cracks," she said.
The White House has also urged additional revisions on school accountability.
The House bill is sponsored by Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The legislation gives the states more control over accountability and includes a provision that would allow public money to follow low-income children to different public schools. Democrats don't support that, and the White House has said President Barack Obama would veto it.
No Child Left Behind mandated annual testing in reading and math for students in grades three to eight and again in high school. Schools had to show student growth or face consequences. But critics complained that the law was rigid and overly ambitious and punitive, and said there was too much testing.