Fulfilling his promise to make reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) a top priority in the 114th Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) released a discussion draft to improve the law as his first action as the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Similar to the bill he introduced in 2013, the purpose of the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act is “to restore freedom to parents, teachers, principals and other school leaders, States, Governors, and local communities so that that they can improve their local public schools.” To do so, the legislation would prohibit the U.S. Secretary of Education from prescribing the standards or measures that states use to establish state standards, assessments, accountability systems, systems that measure student academic growth, measures of other academic indicators, teacher and principal evaluation systems, or indicators of teacher and principal effectiveness.
In order to receive Title I funding, which is authorized at $14.9 billion, states must provide an assurance that they have adopted challenging academic content standards and academic achievement standards in math, reading/language arts, science, and any other subjects as determined by the states. States may also adopt alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities provided that the standards align with state subject standards and promote access to the general curriculum.
Because proliferation of testing has become such a hot issue, the discussion draft offers two options for discussion by the HELP Committee. One option is to continue the requirement for annual assessments in math and reading. The other option is to require assessments in math, reading, and science, but states would be given flexibility over their assessment timelines. They could keep the current schedule for assessments (every year in grades 3-8 and once in grades 9-12) or they could implement grade-span testing, which would require only one assessment in grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12. Districts may also seek approval to administer their own assessments with approval from the state.
State plans must include a single, statewide accountability system “to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce without the need for remediation.” They system should annually measure academic achievement of all public school students, annually identify and differentiate all public schools in the state, taking into consideration achievement gaps between student subgroups, overall performance of student subgroups, 4-year cohort graduation rates, and extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rates.
Districts with schools identified for assistance are required to conduct a review of the school’s data and the policies, procedures, personnel decisions, and budget decisions that impact the school before developing “evidence-based assistance strategies and activities” for the school. Districts must continue to provide students an option to transfer to another public school and musty pay for the transportation costs.
The draft bill would include a new portability provisions that would give districts the flexibility to ensure that Title I funds follow low-income children to whatever public school they attend. In a letter to the Senate HELP Committee leaders, NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Federation of School Administrators expressed our opposition to any proposal to transform Title I into a private school voucher program. This portability provision is designed to make it easier implement private school vouchers as a next step.
Just over $3 billion would be authorized for Title II, and the allowable state activities look very similar to current law with regard to principals and other school leaders: reforming principal certification and licensure systems to ensure that principals have the instructional leadership skills to help teachers teach and to help students meet challenge academic content standards, developing and improving evaluation systems that “are based in part on evidence of student academic achievement” and may include student academic growth and other measures determined by the state, establishing alternative routes for principal certification, recruiting and retaining principals who are effective in improving student achievement, developing new principal induction and mentoring programs, implementing high-quality professional development programs for principals, developing school leadership academies, supporting efforts to train principals to effectively integrate technology into curricula and instruction, and improving principal preparation programs.
The allowable local activities include professional development for principals, which is a priority for NASSP, but it’s in the same bucket as school libraries; AP, dual enrollment, and early college high school programs; extended learning time; and liability insurance for teachers. It seems very unlikely that any of the funding would actually be used for principal professional development since only 4% is used for that purpose under current law.
$1.6 billion is authorized for Safe and Healthy Students under Title IV. Districts may use the funding for drug and violence prevention activities, before and after school programs, school-based mental health services, mentoring programs for at risk students, school counseling programs, and positive behavioral interventions and supports among other activities.
The draft bill would also eliminate Maintenance of Effort (MOE), which helps ensure the continuity of state and local funding efforts. Current MOE provisions provide the greatest protection to low-wealth districts that generally educate more low-income students. We’re concerned that if states are allowed to cut funding for education, the most vulnerable districts that serve the neediest students could be hurt disproportionately.
Providing flexibility in the use of federal funds, the draft bill would allow states to transfer 100% of their funds between Title II and Title IV.
Comments on the discussion draft should be e-mailed to the Senate HELP Committee at FixingNCLB@help.senate.gov by February 2. NASSP will submit comments and meet with staff for Sen. Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to ensure that the bill supports principals and the teachers and students they serve. For updates on ESEA hearings and the pending markup in February, follow @akarhuse and @balljacki on Twitter.