The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has been awaiting congressional reauthorization since 2007. Luckily, Senators unveiled a bipartisan agreement in April of this year to reauthorize NCLB: retitled the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. This revised Act would grant states more flexibility in developing and implementing their own measures of accountability, while reducing the focus on high-stakes testing and harsh consequences for teachers and schools.The Act moves more towards the original intent on addressing educational inequality. The Senate education committee unanimously voted for the new bill.

The Case for Competency-Based Learning

The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind presents a moment of opportunity for Congress to explore new solutions and promote alternative methods and standards for learning. One movement that is gaining traction includes competency-based learning, where students learn at a pace that's right for them. This movement encompasses an unorthodox yet common-sense method for teaching. Students go at their own pace, move forward if they excel in an area, and take their time to focus on other areas as needed. This theory embraces the thought that not one method of learning fits all. Blended and online learning work well with competency-based teaching strategies. Public schools could begin embracing teaching styles that integrate digital coursework and learning guides - where teachers become facilitators as students proceed at their own pace with a customizable education delivered to match their unique learning style.

The Case for Technical Training

Traditionally, schools have been expected to adopt the academically rigorous college prep track and Common Core standards. Despite how commonplace this model of education is, the college-prep track is not the right path for everyone. Millions of blue collar trade workers across the nation who service cars, prepare cuisine, and build homes deserve a quality K-12 education that prepares them for the vocation where their passions lie. Along with mastering proficiency in the foundational studies like reading and math, students should be able to have the option to explore vocational training as well, and to not be discouraged from learning a trade. Congress should consider developing new benchmarks and accountability systems to measure both academic and vocational/trade tracks. It's time to overcome the stigma against students who are interested in pursuing a vocational career.

Models of the Competency-Based Movement

To help come up with an answer to America's educational crisis, private groups have been established to help fill in the gaps and test alternative learning solutions. America's Promise Alliance is the nation's largest partnership of organizations. The alliance brings together nonprofit and commercial enterprises who are dedicated to ensuring a quality education for all students. America's Promise Alliance is pushing forward to reach a goal of 90% high school graduation rate by 2020 and dramatically increasing postsecondary enrollment and completion rates. The Alliance has developed a Civic Marshall Plan to Develop a Grad Nation:

"The Civic Marshall Plan (CMP) focuses on using evidenced-based strategies to address the dropout crisis. The CMP provides ten key planks to achieve progress, and many organizations across the country are aligning their work to this plan."

Penn Foster High School, as a member of America's Promise Alliance, specializes in the "Dropout Recovery Support" plank by partnering with schools to implement dropout retrieval and high school completion programs. Opportunity youth can have a second chance of gaining the credentials they need to move on to postsecondary education. Penn Foster also specializes in mastery-based learning, blended learning models, and vocational training, in order to offer alternative educational tracks for non-traditional students. Penn Foster is one of over 360 partner organizations dedicated to improving the lives of young people through innovative educational solutions.

Congress take note: solutions to the educational crisis are being developed, tested, and proven successful every day. Now is the time to examine alternative models of learning in order to meet the needs of today's diverse and tech-savvy generation of students.


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Resources: Photo Credit, (1) The New Rules: An overview of the testing and accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (2) What happened to No Child Left Behind? (3) Civic Marshall Plan to Build a Grad Nation