President Barack Obama signed sweeping education reforms into law Thursday, giving states and local communities new authority to set standards for students and teachers and limiting the scope of benchmark testing.
"After more than 10 years, members of Congress from both parties have come together to revise our national education law," Obama said. "This law focuses on a national goal of ensuring that all of our students graduate prepared for college and future careers."
The law will still require states to administer reading math exams in the third through eighth grades of elementary schools in the U.S. and once in high school, but otherwise diminishes the federal government's role in setting educational standards.
The measure encourages the country's 50 state governments to set caps on the amount of time students spend taking tests and limits the high stakes nature of the testing for underperforming schools.
After lengthy debate, the measure easily sailed through Congress in recent days, with both the majority Republicans and minority Democrats supporting it, a rarity in politically fractious Washington.
No Child Left Behind
The new law replaces the No Child Left Behind measure approved in 2002 that called for extensive testing and educational standards set by the national government. Parents, teachers and lawmakers came to believe the measure's provision's were unworkable and gave Washington bureaucrats too much control over the country's 100,000 public schools.
"This bill makes long overdue fixes to the last education law. It replaces a one-size-fits-all approach to reform," Obama said.
The national government will no longer be able to tell states and communities how to evaluate school and teacher performance.
"We have an opportunity to inaugurate a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement by restoring responsibility to states and classroom teachers," said Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, one of the measure's chief authors. "This new law will result in fewer and better tests because states and classroom teachers will be deciding what to do about the results of the tests."
The law's other key sponsor, Democratic Senator Patty Murray, pointed to a new focus in the law on early childhood education, saying that it will benefit minority children and children from impoverished families get a better start in their earliest years of school.