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The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 is a big win for Indian country, according to the National Indian Education Association. Executive Director Ahniwake Rose, Cherokee/Creek, and Federal Policy Associate Dimple Patel explained why in a January 27 webinar, “Understanding the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

ESSA, signed into law by President Obama on December 10, reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, a piece of civil rights legislation meant to protect the nation’s most vulnerable children. ESSA replaces the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and shifts much of the responsibility for elementary and secondary education from the federal government to the states.

Tribal Consultation

For the first time ever, states and local educational agencies (LEAs) are required to engage in meaningful consultation with tribes or tribal organizations in the development of state plans for Title I grants. Further, LEAs must consult with tribes before making any decision that affects opportunities for American Indian/Alaska Native students in programs, services or activities funded by ESSA.

“Consultation means better decisions will be made for our students…. We believe that this provision alone is going to change the way our students are perceived and worked with in our school systems,” said Rose.

The key, she said, will be to help schools and LEAs understand what meaningful consultation is. NIEA will be working with the Department of Education and states to make sure consultation occurs at the earliest possible stage and prior to the development of any programs, initiatives or policy.

Native Language Immersion Programs

Funds awarded under a new Title VI (the new title for Indian Education) grant may be used to fund Native language immersion programs in public schools. The intent is to help Native peoples use, practice, maintain and revitalize their languages and cultures and to improve educational opportunities and student outcomes in AI/AN communities, said Rose. A Language Immersion Study will identify best practices.

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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday approved a sweeping revision of the contentious No Child Left Behind law, sending to President Obama’s desk a proposal that ends an era of federal control in education policy after 14 years.

The legislation, which passed the Senate by a vote of 85 to 12, would restore authority for school performance and accountability to local districts and states after a lengthy period of aggressive federal involvement. While it keeps the existing annual testing requirements in reading and math and requires that states act to improve the lowest performing schools, it allows more local control to set goals, determine school ratings and decide remedial measures.

“I believe it inaugurates a new era of innovation and student achievement by putting the responsibility for children back in the hands of those closest to them: parents and classroom teachers, and others,” Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who heads the Education Committee, said Tuesday.

Mr. Obama is expected to sign the bill, the product of a conference committee of the House and Senate that passed easily in the House last week with bipartisan backing.

No Child Left Behind, George W. Bush’s signature education initiative, had passed with strong bipartisan support in 2001. It introduced high-stakes standardized testing to gauge students in reading and math from the third to eighth grades, with the ultimate goal of making every student proficient in those subjects by 2014.

But as time went on, more schools faced sanctions, including closings, as they failed to meet what turned out to be an unworkable expectation. Republicans and Democrats alike backed away from the law as it became apparent that its penalties for struggling schools were overly punitive.

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