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A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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The Latest ESEA Proposal: A Deeper Look (Part 3)

Published:  November 30, 2011

While there is still no word as to when, or whether, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will make it to the Senate floor, the bill represents the most comprehensive attempt to renew the legislation to date. We’ve already taken an in-depth look at the Title I and Title II proposals in the bill, as well as some amendments that were adopted during a HELP committee meeting and some early learning proposals that have yet to be attached to the bill. Today, we’ll take a closer look at Titles IV and V.

Title IV of ESEA provides for safe learning environments for students, primarily from a non-academic perspective. It includes student safety, health and anti-drug and -alcohol programs. Those programs ensure that students, especially children from disadvantaged homes and families, have a refuge during the day to focus on learning.

The purpose of Title V is to promote innovation.

Some of the proposals for Titles IV and V deserve a thumbs up, and others should include more of a focus on early learning:

Deserving of a thumbs up:

  • Literacy Instruction (Title IV): The proposal includes the Improving Literacy Instruction and Student Achievement Act, which will provide grants to states to help them enhance child literacy from birth through grade 12. The provision specifically calls for a focus on early learning programs that emphasize children from birth up to kindergarten – including a set-aside of 10 percent of funds for birth through kindergarten programs, and another 30 percent for programs for students from kindergarten through the fifth grade.
  • Promise Neighborhoods (Title IV): The Promise Neighborhoods proposal in the bill requires a stronger focus by awardees on data-driven, evidence-based programs. Additionally, it strongly emphasizes the early learning end of the pipeline – although the bill does not mandate a focus on early childhood, applicants are strongly encouraged to spotlight programs from birth.
  • Parent resources (Title IV): In the proposed bill,Parental Information and Resource Centers continue to place a focus on the parents of children in their early years. The legislation calls on resource centers to underscore what the expectations are for student readiness among children in kindergarten through third grade, and to underline those students’ transitions from early learning programs to the early elementary grades.
  • Well-rounded education (Title IV): The bill features a new grant program that consolidates several programs aimed at providing students with resources related to a plethora of subjects, such as financial literacy and the arts. To receive a grant, applicants would have to pursue activities that include a focus on professional development for educators, access for low-income students, or curriculum in a variety of subject areas. For more background on the program, which was proposed by Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) and added to the bill last month, see our earlier post here.
  • Race to the Top (Title V): The bill would make Race to the Top competitive grants a formal part of ESEA, allowing the Secretary of Education to determine the priority or priorities for the competition from a list defined by the bill:
    • Increasing the access of children from low-income families to highly rated teachers (including early childhood teachers) and school leaders;
    • Strengthening the availability and use of high-quality, timely data;
    • Implementing standards and assessments;
    • Turning around achievement gap schools or persistently low-achieving schools, as defined by Title I;
    • Creating conditions for the creation, expansion and replication of high-performing charter schools and of new highly autonomous public schools;
    • Providing more equitable state and local resources to high-poverty schools; and
    • Improving school readiness.

      The last priority would allow the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge to continue at the Secretary’s discretion. The proposed ESEA bill would also open the competition to school districts, consortia of states and consortia of districts. Presently, only states can apply for Race to the Top grants. One thing we like about this proposal is that for school readiness competitions, under the proposed bill, the Secretary of Education must give priority to states or school districts that provide full-day kindergarten programs to at least all low-income families.

      The bill also states that grants for early learning cannot be used to support assessments that reward or penalize students or teachers. Nor can a single assessment be used as the primary determinant of program effectiveness or evaluating children for reasons other than improving instruction, classroom environment, professional development, family engagement or program improvement.

  • Investing in Innovation (Title V): The proposed bill will also make i3 a part of ESEA and would keep early learning at least as a competitive priority. It leaves room for early learning to be elevated to a full-fledged priority.

What’s missing:

  • Expanded learning time (Title IV): The bill’s section on 21st Century Community Learning Centers provides grants to create and expand programs that offer extended learning time opportunities to students, but the proposal fails to specify that early learning programs (like pre-K, Head Start, and full-day kindergarten programs) should qualify for those opportunities. As we wrote in a letter to the leadership in the House and Senate education committees last year, those programs should be delineated to ensure they qualify as eligible outlets for extended learning time funds.
  • Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students program (Title IV): The SSHS grants are intended to promote positive and safe learning environments for students. But nowhere does the proposal specify that the program could focus on the youngest students. Research demonstrates early interventions can provide students with a solid foundation for future years of learning.
  • Making the early learning continuum a priority (Title IV and V): We’d like to see the early learning component of Race to the Top span birth through third grade to spur real collaboration between elementary schools and preschool programs, making transitions more seamless for children and their parents. We’d also like to see an emphasis on helping to bridge 0-5 programs with elementary school programs within the Literacy Instruction program. As it stands, the birth-to-third grade continuum is chopped up into streams of funding that may not allow preK-3rd grade teachers to work together to help children build on their skills and knowledge from one year to another without redundancy or gaps.

The course for this legislation is likely to be long and drawn out. It has yet to make it to the Senate floor. As the holiday season, as well as election season, swing into full gear, the advancement of this ESEA legislation becomes less and less likely. Still, it’s the current best hope for education advocates who have long pressed for reauthorization. A hearing earlier this month represented the latest movement in the process.

For more, see Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series. And don’t miss our special page on Early Learning in ESEA, where you’ll find more blog posts on the legislation, as well as issue briefs and recommendations from the Early Education Initiative and other groups.

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