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President Obama on Thursday signed a sweeping rewrite of the controversial No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law.
Obama called the proposal “a Christmas miracle” during a signing ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
“This is an early Christmas present. After more than 10 years, members of Congress from both parties have come together to revise our national education law,” Obama said.
“A bipartisan bill signing right here," he joked. "We should do this more often.”
The president shared the stage with members of Congress who worked on the bill as well as outgoing Education Secretary Arne DuncanArne DuncanDems, GOP battle over pace of Trump confirmations The Hill's 12:30 Report Juan Williams: Big questions over Trump's pick for schools MORE.
Obama thanked the lawmakers who wrote the legislation, Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate committee vote on DeVos postponed Cheney calls for DeVos to be confirmed ‘promptly’ With Trump pick Tom Price, cool heads can prevail on health reform MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), all of whom were on stage with the president.
“People did not agree on everything at the outset, but they were listening to each other in a constructive way,” the president said. “I think it’s really a testament of the four leaders of their respective committees that we set that kind of tone.”
The proposal, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 85-12, following an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote last week in the House.
The legislation reduces the federal government's control over the nation’s public schools by transferring decision-making power back to state and local governments in areas such as school performance and accountability.
While it keeps annual reading and math testing requirements for grades three through eight, high school students would only have to undergo the testing once. It also allows local jurisdictions more influence over setting goals, crafting school ratings and creating remedial solutions for struggling schools.
“This is the biggest rewrite of our education laws in 25 years,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday. “This shows what we can do when both parties work together.”
The bipartisan No Child Left Behind measure became law in 2002, setting stringent testing requirements designed to ensure proficiency in reading and math.
But the law was eventually met with strong backlash by state and local authorities that found the standards unworkable. Officials in both parties found the punishments for underperforming schools too harsh, including the threat of closures.
Obama said the goals of the NCLB “were the right ones” but “in practice, it often fell short.”
The president said the old law bogged down classroom time with standardized testing, forced “cookie-cutter reforms” on local communities and did not produce the kinds of educational gains leaders wanted to see.
He said the new law will build on the momentum from the NCLB and "gets rid of the stuff that doesn't work."
Republicans backed the new law because it transferred power away from the federal government. Democrats backed the measure after securing assurances that disadvantaged students would be guaranteed access to a high quality education across school districts.
“We have a great bill,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “It’s very good for our children. It’s about making schools a place where children can learn, teachers can teach, parents can participate.”