Political observers say there is little chance of Congress passing a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) this year, but some legislators are forging ahead anyway. In the past month, Republicans and Democrats have put forward bills designed to be part of a redesigned ESEA, known to most as No Child Left Behind.
One bill in particular has been on our mind here at Early Ed Watch: The Continuum of Learning Act, introduced in late August by Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). A similar bill, designed in conjunction with Hirono’s bill, is waiting in the wings in the Senate, where it has been shepherded by Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA).
The Continuum of Learning Act includes several “fixes” to ESEA that we have advocated for in letters to lawmakers, remarks to the U.S. Department of Education, and issue briefs on reforming the law. Over the summer, many early ed groups gathered to provide input on the bill, including the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the First Five Years Fund, Pre-K Now, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the National Women’s Law Center, First Focus, the Early Care and Education Consortium and others. Here at the Early Education Initiative, we were also involved, providing input on parts of the bill related to alignment of standards, programs to prepare early childhood teachers, collection of data, and more.
The bill – H.R. 2794 – does not create new programs or require new spending. Its purpose is to change policies at the school, district and state level to bridge gaps between existing early learning centers and elementary schools. Here are highlights summarized by the Congressional Research Service. The bill:
- Amends the school improvement program under Part A of Title I of the ESEA to require states to create or revise early learning guidelines for preschool age children and early learning standards for children in kindergarten through third grade.
- Requires the guidelines and standards to be developmentally appropriate and cover all domains of child development and learning.
- Requires states to encourage local educational agencies (LEAs) and elementary schools to use school improvement funds to offer early childhood education programs from birth to school entry.
- Requires LEAs to: (1) assist their elementary schools in conducting a ready school needs review, at least once every three years, that would be used to create a school environment that supports children's transition to school and achievement of state and grade level expectations; (2) ensure, to the extent feasible, starting with the 2015-2016 school year, that teachers placed in the early elementary school grades have a specialized early childhood education teaching license, credential or endorsement; and (3) work with early childhood education programs to establish a continuity of curricular objectives and developmental expectations that support children's transition to school.
- Limits the use of child assessments for children from birth through second grade.
- Amends Part A (Teacher and Principal Training and Recruiting Fund) of Title II of the ESEA to require states to incorporate knowledge regarding early childhood development and learning into teacher and principal certification or licensing requirements.
- Requires professional development activities to include: (1) training in early child development and learning; and (2) joint training for elementary school staff and early childhood education program staff.
There is a lot to unpack here, and we’ll be providing more depth on many of these bullet points in the coming months. The National Association for the Education of Young Children, which played a key role in writing the legislation, describes some of them in its Call to Action for the 112th Congress.
Co-sponsors of the bill included Walter Jones (R-NC), Don Young (R-AK), and Jared Polis (D-CO).
See our special page on early learning in ESEA for recent news, commentary and recommendations.