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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Harkin Bill Reforms Teacher and Principal Programs

Published:  June 6, 2013

Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA). We profiled its major changes here, and a few significant mentions for early childhood education here. Our sister blog, Ed Money Watch, wrote about the Title II teacher and principal provisions today (for more, click here). We’ve collected a few notes on the early education and early grade connections to the Title II reforms:

Title II, Part A of No Child Left Behind dictates the conditions of the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program. Congress provides $2.5 billion annually in formula-based funds to states, which then pass the funds on to school districts, for professional development, class-size reduction and other teacher quality efforts.

Most of the funds are currently spent on the first two activities, our colleague Anne Hyslop writes, but that would no longer necessarily be the case – except in the early grades:

SASA would make further changes, eliminating class-size reduction as an option in all but PreK-3rd grade classrooms and requiring that at least 20 percent of funds go toward professional development in priority schools.

And states will have to demonstrate that they’re using their Title II funds wisely. While state applications are already a prerequisite for receiving the funds, there is one notable change: For the first time, states will have to show that their Title II plans align with early learning standards for children before kindergarten. Each state will also have to work with its state agency on early childhood education and its State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care.

Another newly created program – the Principal Recruitment and Training competitive grant program – would also require greater alignment. It says that any recipients would be required to train elementary school principals on the benefits of expanding high-quality early childhood education for students, and how to ensure smooth transitions from early learning centers to elementary schools. As we’ve written in the past, this could be challenging because few principals even have good data about the early learning centers in their district, but we’re encouraged by the interest in reaching down to early education as one way to improve K-12 schools.

The bill also addresses some of the most controversial topics in the education lexicon: namely, teacher evaluations. As Early Education Initiative Senior Policy Analyst Laura Bornfreund wrote in a policy paper last month, early grades teachers – in which students are not tested with standardized assessments – need evaluations that recognize their students’ developmental needs. SASA uses one model Bornfreund discusses in her paper, Student Learning Objectives, as a portion of the evaluations. Hyslop writes:

Echoing the results of the MET study, teachers would be evaluated based on three components: student achievement and growth; classroom observations; and other measures, like student surveys. These guidelines are broad enough to apply to all teachers, including those in the early grades and untested subjects that lack test-based data on student achievement. Student Learning Objectives or other measures could be used so long as they are “evidence-based.”

The provisions in SASA devoted to teacher and principal quality and improvement are noteworthy for the early education community. SASA encourages – and in some cases, requires – that schools reach down to the early years to improve K-12 education, and those reforms could occur on a larger scale than previous efforts. But the Senate HELP Committee is planning to markup the bill next week, and some of the Title II provisions in the bill may prove too controversial for Senate approval.

For more on ESEA reauthorization, check back with Early Ed Watch and Ed Money Watch in the coming weeks.

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