Answering the Senate education committee’s fall proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, last Friday, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced two final ESEA bills, completing a package of five bills that would rewrite the current law, No Child Left Behind.
Our colleague Jennifer Cohen wrote yesterday about three glaring omissions in the proposals that could lead to more inequities in public education and a lack of focus on ensuring that students graduate. We see yet another: Early education does not get the same boost it did in theSenate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee’s ESEA bill (and we’d argue that even there, early ed still isn’t given enough due). In fact, early education (birth – pre-K) is barely mentioned at all in the House bills and when it is, it’s to simply maintain what was in place. As far as we can tell neither bill adds any new references to early education. There are several proposed changes, though, that will surely affect kindergarten through third grade.
Let’s take a look at the two bills. The first, “Student Success Act,” would revise portions of Title I, the section of ESEA that focuses on providing equitable opportunities for disadvantaged students. The second, “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act,” would amend Title II, which focuses on improving teacher and principal quality.
Student Success Act
- Assessment and accountability. The proposed bill eliminates the federal requirement to assess how students are faring in science, but maintains the requirement for annual testing in math and reading. States are, of course, allowed to develop assessments in additional subject areas if they choose. Additionally, states would continue to be required to disaggregate subgroup data and assess all students.
The bill would do away with Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) instituted under No Child Left Behind. Instead states would need to develop and implement their own accountability systems that would measure student achievement, evaluate the academic performance of the state’s public schools and create a system for school improvement, including interventions in low-performing Title I schools.
- School Improvement. The bill would repeal the school improvement interventions that are currently required under federal law and eliminate the School Improvement Grant program and the four turnaround models that districts must select from. SIG funds would be redirected to increase Title I funding. This would give states and school districts more flexibility in how they improve their lowest performing schools, but it also eliminates the funding stream specifically designated to help states do this.
- Highly Qualified Teachers. The bill would end federal requirements for teachers and paraprofessionals to be “highly qualified,” which under current definitions require teachers to be fully certified, hold at least a bachelor’s degree and demonstrate competence in the subject area they teach.
- Maintenance of effort provisions. Under current law, requires states and local school districts to maintain a certain level of funding to be eligible for federal funds under Title I. The bill would eliminate this requirement. While doing so would allow states and school districts more discretion over education funding decisions, it means that states and school districts could drastically decrease funding levels, potentially to the long-term detriment of the students they serve. (Read more about this and other proposed funding changes on our sister blog Ed Money Watch.)
Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act
- Teacher evaluation systems. The bill would require states and school districts to develop teacher evaluation systems that:
o Include student achievement data as part of the evaluation;
o Use multiple measures in assessing teacher performance;
o Include more than two rating categories on evaluations of teacher performance;
o Make personnel decision based on the evaluations; and
o Seek input from stakeholders (parents, teachers, school leaders) in the development of the evaluation system.
- Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant. The bill would merge the teacher quality programs funded under Title II into this new grant program. School districts, on their own or in partnership with an institution of higher education or another entity, could receive funding to:
o Increase access to alternative certification;
o Recruit, hire and retain effective teachers;
o Implement performance-based pay systems and differential incentive pay for teachers who take on additional responsibilities or teach in hard-to-staff subject areas or schools;
o Create teacher advancement paths;
o Establish new teacher or school leader induction programs and teacher residency programs; and
o Provide additional professional development activities or other evidence-based initiatives to increase teacher effectiveness.
- Class size reduction. The bill would cap the use of funds under Title II for class size reduction at 10 percent. (Ironically, the bill’s authors aren’t interested in “flexibility” in school budgeting in this area.) Current law does not limit the amount of funding school districts choose to use to reduce class sizes. As a rationale for this change, the committee’s summary sheet states, “A substantial amount of teacher quality funds under current law are used for this purpose, which has little to no effect on student learning.” This may be the case in the upper grades; however, researchers have found that small class sizes can make a difference in the early grades of elementary school, helping children get the more individualized attention they need to get the right start.
It is highly unlikely that either of these bills will lead to ESEA reauthorization. First, they lack bipartisan support in the House. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), ranking member on the House Education and Workforce committee said in a press release, “By abandoning efforts to reach a consensus, this partisanship shuts the door on NCLB reform in this Congress.” Second, it’s doubtful that Senator Harkin, chairman of the Senate HELP committee would consider a partisan package from the House, even if the bills received enough votes to pass. And, the HELP committee has its own comprehensive ESEA bill, which differs significantly from Kline’s proposals. Third, with the presidential election season well underway, it will soon become quite challenging for members of 112th Congress to advance any contentious legislation. The reauthorization of ESEA is quickly becoming just that.