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ESEA Reauthorization

Department of Education Waivers Exclude Much Mention of Early Education

February 10, 2012

President Obama announced this week that 10 states will receive waivers of some of the most punitive provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), kicking off a year of focus on how and if states will start changing their systems to align with the administration’s priorities. But as we’ve written before, the waiver applications didn’t require any focus on early education, whether it be improving children’s access to pre-K and full-day kindergarten or simply helping K-3 teachers improve.

Apples and Oranges: Comparing the House and Senate ESEA Proposals

January 24, 2012

Both the House and Senate are currently considering proposals to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, the 2001 iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It is unlikely that either of these will actually become law; the Senate education committee’s comprehensive bill and the House education committee’s package of five bills have little in common and, in the House’s case, no bipartisan support, leaving few opportunities for compromise. It’s worth taking a close look at the proposals on the table, however, to get a feel for how each Congressional delegation is thinking about education policy. The bills take different paths in several areas, and below we highlight five: early learning, federal funding, school improvement, teacher and leader quality, and the future of Race to the Top and the Obama administration’s other education reform grant programs.

Reflections on NCLB and Thoughts about its Successor

January 19, 2012

The 10-year anniversary of No Child Left Behind has become a moment of reflection for many of us in education policy.  NCLB was landmark legislation, requiring for the first time that states publicly report on their student’s annual progress in reading and math by race, gender and socio-economic status.

House Proposed Title II Formula Takes Emphasis Away from Poverty

January 17, 2012

As we discussed last week, the House Education and Workforce Committee recently introduced two new bills as part of its piecemeal approach to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act). The first bill provides new language for Title I of the law, while the second revamps Title II and several other programs. Among the changes to Title II, which authorizes federal programs focused on teacher quality, the House’s “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act” would alter the way the federal government distributes formula funds for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants to place equal emphasis on state population and poverty.

The Improving Teacher Quality State Grant program provides formula grants to states to support teacher quality activities such as recruitment and retention efforts, teacher placement, and training. The states use part of the funds to make competitive subgrants directly to local school districts. These grants are primarily used for professional development and class-size reduction.

Currently, grants to states are allocated based on the allocation each state received for the program in 2001 prior to the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act. Any additional funds remaining after the initial allocation are distributed among the states based 35 percent on each state’s share of the total 5-17 year old population and 65 percent on each state’s share of the 5-17 year old population living in poverty. Additionally, no state can receive an additional allocation that is less than one-half of one percent of the remaining funds. In 2011, this meant that the smallest allocation (for which 12 states qualified) was just over $11.5 million while the largest (California) was nearly $271 million.

Under the House’s Title II proposal, the grants would be allocated to states based 50 percent on each state’s share of the total 5-17 year old population and 50 percent on each state’s share of the 5-17 year old population living in poverty. Additionally, no state could receive a grant that is less than one-half of one percent of the total appropriation for the program. In 2011, this would have meant a minimum grant of over $12.3 million for the 12 states that qualify for the small state minimum.

What would this formula change mean for states? First, it would eliminate the initial allocation based on state allocations prior to NCLB (which took into account each state’s share of the student population and the relative size of its Title I allocation), setting a new baseline for each state’s allocation that could be either higher or lower than what it currently receives. This is most likely an improvement over the current system, which is based on ancient state data. However, it could cause problems for states that would suddenly receive far less than they currently do.

It would also guarantee the smallest states a higher minimum grant size than they currently receive. As we have written many times before, small state minimums typically mean that the smallest states, which often have relatively small poor populations, receive far more federal funds per pupil than others, disadvantaging low-income students in other states.

Most problematically, however, it would place equal weight on both state population and student poverty in the formula. This would almost certainly benefit medium and large states with relatively small poor populations while hurting lower-income states most in need of federal support for teacher quality. By contrast, current law places more weight on student poverty in states, using it to account for 65 percent of each allocation.

While it is impossible to know what inspired the House to make this change to the Title II formula, it seems like it could mean trouble for states with large low-income student populations. Ed Money Watch will do a more thorough analysis once data become available on what actual state allocations will look like under the proposed formula. Check back for that and continuing coverage of the House’s ESEA proposals.

House Bill for ESEA Includes Glaring Omissions on Early Ed Too

January 13, 2012

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.

Glaring Omissions in the House Title I Proposal

January 12, 2012

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind) has been an on again, off again proposition in Congress. The 2002 law expired in 2007 and Congress has extended it a number of times while lawmakers debate some sort of longer term policy.  Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has given states the opportunity to waive some of the provisions of the law. In the latest development, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) announced that House Republicans would be moving forward with several pieces of legislation to address different aspects of ESEA. Earlier this week, that committee released two of these bills, the Student Success Act, which would replace the current Title I of ESEA, and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, which would replace Title II of the existing law.

By many accounts, both bills contain few surprises. They generally lessen the federal role in state and local K-12 education, particularly as it pertains to accountability and standards, putting more authority in states’ hands. But as we read the bills, particularly the Title I language, we noticed a few things missing that we thought for sure would be in any proposal. The top three surprising omissions are explained below:

  1. Maintenance of Effort Provision of Title I: Current law states that a local school district can only receive Title I Part A funds in an upcoming year if state and local governments provided the district with at least 90 percent of the funding (per pupil or overall) that they provided in the preceding year. In other words, if a district received $8,000 per pupil in 2010 in state and local funds, it has to have received at least $7,200 per pupil (90 percent of $8,000) in 2011 to receive Title I funds in 2012. This rule ensures that states and localities don’t dramatically reduce funding for their school districts year to year.

    The recently introduced House bill strikes this provision entirely. It effectively gives states and localities license to dramatically cut contributions to K-12 education without jeopardizing their federal funds. While the provision was struck no doubt to give states and districts more flexibility in crafting their own budgets, the change is problematic. If the federal government doesn’t require states and localities hold up their end of education funding, it’s far less likely that they will use Title I funds to provide additional services for low income students – the core purpose of the federal funds.
  2. Updates to Teacher Comparability: Current law includes a provision that requires districts to demonstrate that they are comparably funding their low- and high-income schools. But the provision contains several flaws that undermine its goal, including a “loophole” that allows districts to exclude from the comparability calculation variations in teacher salaries that are due to years of experience. Ultimately this means that the current comparability provision has few teeth: much of the variation in spending between schools in a district is due to teacher compensation, and variation due to years of experience, at that. The current law labels spending between schools “comparable” even when schools with children from wealthier families receive much higher funding, so long as it comes in the form of salaries for more experienced teachers.

    The House bill makes no changes to the existing provision, effectively allowing districts to turn the intent of the comparability rule on its head and short-change low-income schools. In contrast, the Senate’s Harkin/Enzi bill includes a strengthened comparability provision that eliminates the loophole and limits comparability calculations to actual expenditures rather than student-teacher ratios.
  3. High School Graduation Rates in Accountability: Current law includes an extensive accountability provision that holds states, districts, and schools accountable for student performance in math and reading and high school graduation rates. Though the House-proposed bill requires states to implement an accountability program that pertains to math and reading test outcomes, it strikes the high school graduation rate provision.  Though the bill allows states to include other student outcome measures besides math and reading test performance, high school graduation rates seem like a glaring omission, especially given the recent focus on high school completion among policymakers and other stakeholders. By comparison, the Harkin/Enzi reauthorization bill in the Senate includes high school graduation rates as a required part of a state accountability plan.

Although the House has released its bill on the core functions of ESEA – accountability and the distribution of Title I funds – it is unlikely that the reauthorization process will proceed full-speed ahead. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) has said that he will not move a bill forward until the House presents a bi-partisan bill and many stakeholders believe that reauthorization will not occur until 2014 when the final NCLB proficiency deadline approaches (the point at which 100 percent of students are supposed to be proficient or above on math and reading tests). But at least now we know what the House has in mind for a future federal role in K-12 education: far fewer fiscal and accountability requirements for state and local school districts masquerading as flexibility and local control.

ESEA Reauthorization: Is Bipartisanship Possible?

January 9, 2012

Last week the National Journal Education Experts blog asked whether Republicans and Democrats could possibly come together to fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Reauthorization is now five years overdue. Both the House and Senate education committees have introduced proposals – divergent in several key ways. Will these proposals gain enough support from lawmakers to move forward?

The Top Early Ed News of 2011

December 21, 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, we took a few minutes to review the progress – and pitfalls – of early childhood education news over the year. So before we jump into another year of news and analysis, here’s a look at some of the major stories featured on Early Ed Watch this year. Happy New Year!

No Child Left Behind Waivers Spur State-Level Education Reforms

December 1, 2011

Eleven states just took one step closer to the post-No Child Left Behind era.

In the absence of Congressional action to reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the law’s looming requirement that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014, the Obama administration announced in August that the U.S. Department of Education would permit states to waive the more punitive provisions of NCLB. In return, states must meet standards set forth by the administration. The deadline for a first round of waiver applications was November 14th, and eleven states filed applications. Unsurprisingly, each state’s application proposes different approaches to the same set of reform requirements.

Here are the stringent requirements states must meet to get a waiver. States must establish college- or career-readiness curriculum standards, design revised achievement goals for students, and overhaul teacher and principal evaluation processes. States submitting applications for this round are: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Another 28 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have expressed interest in applying for the second round by February.

In their proposals for revised achievement goals, a few states (Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, and New Jersey) stuck to a Department formula that would reformulate NCLB’s student proficiency goal. Those states will reduce by half the percentage of students who are not proficient in the “all students” group and in each subgroup within 6 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no state chose to use a Department option that would allow them to maintain the 100 percent proficiency goal originally required under NCLB, with a reset timeline of the 2019-2020 school year.

But most states opted to create their own alternative goals rather than follow the Department’s formula. Those applications will have to be approved by reviewers outside the Department.

Georgia’s application, for example, would implement the College- and Career-Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), a plan that state officials have been working on for months. It will track state, district, school, teacher, and student progress by looking at achievement, attendance records, and student preparedness for higher grade levels to develop a more comprehensive picture of student progress. Colorado wants to use its Colorado Growth Model, a comprehensive database, to establish new proficiency targets. Florida proposed objectives using both its existing “school grading” system, which assigns a letter grade to each school, and performance targets based on student assessment results.

States also took some liberties in deciding how they will identify and improve low-performing schools, based largely on classification structures that the states already use.  Massachusetts would require the bottom four percent of schools to create a 6-year plan for improvement or risk takeover by the state. This program follows current state law, but identifies less than the application-mandated 5 percent of low-performing schools. As a result, the state will expand the program to name additional low-performing schools to reach the threshold. In contrast, Minnesota chose to shape its school turnaround efforts after the existing federal program. Its application says that it would use the Department of Education’s guidance, including the four School Improvement Grant turnaround models, to support its struggling schools.

Then there are the reform requirements. The administration set up the NCLB waiver requirements similarly to the Race to the Top (RttT) competitive grant program. Both applications required states to fulfill a number of education reforms, including incorporating student performance into teacher pay decisions and evaluations; adopting rigorous academic standards (including the Common Core standards); and eliminating any laws blocking linkages between student and teacher data.

Because most of the states that applied for NCLB waivers also applied for Race to the Top, many of the applicants have already taken the legislative and regulatory actions needed to support their applications. Four of the states – Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and Massachusetts – were Race to the Top winners, and policymakers in other states – New Jersey, Iowa, and Michigan, among others – are using the NCLB waiver requirements to spur state legislatures to action (the Department has specified that it will provide a grace period for governors and legislatures to make any necessary changes).

As the eleven applicants wait for decisions from the Department of Education reviewers, they can take solace in one thing: Department of Education officials say  they don’t want to throw out applications that aren’t up to par, so they intend to work with states to improve and ultimately approve the applications. In the meantime, many of the other states interested in applying for the waivers have a lot of work ahead of them to catch up to the Department’s prescriptive conditions.

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

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.

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