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Guest Opinion: New education law will help Minnesota students and schools

If we want a stronger nation tomorrow, we need to give our kids a world-class education today. That was the idea when Congress passed what you may know as No Child Left Behind, a law that has governed our federal K-12 education policies for the last 13 years.

The goal of NCLB was admirable: to ensure that every child in Minnesota and across the country graduates high school with the skills they need to succeed. But NCLB failed. It failed our schools and teachers, but more importantly, it failed our kids.

Instead of focusing on each child's abilities and potential for growth, NCLB was centered on high-pressure, high-stakes tests, and mandated a one-size-fits-all approach for schools struggling to help students succeed. In fact, the law has been failing us for so long that the Education Department handed out waivers to states—including Minnesota—to exempt them from meeting some of its most burdensome requirements.

A Long-Awaited Reform

Since I first joined the Senate, one of my top priorities has been to make our education system work better for Minnesota. That's why I became a member of the Senate Education Committee, and it's why I've spent years traveling to dozens of K-12 schools across our state. At nearly all of these meetings, teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents told me that it's time to fix this law.

And we just took a huge step in the right direction. I'm thrilled to say that we came together—Republicans, Democrats, Senators, and House Members alike—and passed comprehensive legislation to dramatically reform NCLB.

This reform, of course, is not perfect, but it's a huge improvement over NCLB. Over the last 13 years, we learned that our approach to fixing failing schools just hasn't worked. So in this bill, we tried to strike a balance between giving our states more flexibility and making sure that they take appropriate action to improve struggling schools.

The new law—called the Every Student Succeeds Act—also makes critical investments in early childhood education, which is something I've long fought for. A quality early childhood education doesn't just start kids off on the right foot, it's also good for the budget: study after study shows that for every dollar invested, we get as much as $16 back in the long run.

The bill we passed in Congress does a lot of good things for Minnesota, and for the sake of our kids, I'm glad we finally got it done.

Improving Education in Minnesota

This bill includes several provisions I authored—like expanding student mental health services, increasing access to accelerated learning courses so that high school kids can earn college credit, and improving the recruitment and preparation of quality school principals.

It also includes a bipartisan measure I wrote to allow states to use Computer Adaptive Tests that can provide immediate feedback for teachers and are useful tools for measuring individual students' growth. This will help inform teachers on their students' instruction, and is a much more useful way to assess whether or not children are learning.

Another problem I had with NCLB is that it failed to get our kids ready for the 21st century workforce. When I talk to employers around Minnesota, they often tell me that they're starving for workers who have a good grasp of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). And this isn't just a problem for Minnesota—nearly all of the top 30 fastest-growing jobs nationwide require STEM skills.

But our kids are lagging behind the rest of the world, and part of the problem is that there's a shortage of effective STEM teachers. That's why I also pushed for a bipartisan provision to recruit top-notch STEM educators and keep them in the classroom.

I was proud to take a leading role in helping write this reform bill, and over the last several weeks, I was glad to serve as a member of the House-Senate committee tasked with hammering out its final details.

It's Time for a Change

Over the past 13 years, we've learned a lot about what works in our education policies—and a whole lot more about what doesn't work. There's nothing more important to our kids' futures, and our country's economic future, than providing them with a good education. And after working for years, I'm pleased we finally got this reform effort finished.

NCLB didn't live up to the expectations that parents, teachers, and students had when it was passed more than a decade ago. But now we have the chance to get things right. Once the President signs this measure, I look forward to taking a leading role in making sure the new law is implemented in a way that will benefit students, parents, teachers, and schools in Minnesota.

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