This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) released their highly anticipated bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The two authors negotiated the details of the bill, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, over the past two months and settled on a compromise that would significantly reduce the federal government’s role in education but maintain the annual testing schedule developed under NCLB and exclude a Title I funding portability provision.
To begin, a quick refresher is in order. Chairman Alexander released a draft version of a rewrite of the nation’s primary education law in January and a series of hearings in the HELP committee immediately followed. ATPE submitted testimony in conjunction with those hearings that dealt with testing and accountability and supporting teachers and school leaders. We also weighed in on the discussion draft proposed by Alexander. Meanwhile, on the other side of the U.S. Capitol, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) released his own version of an ESEA reauthorization bill entitled H.R. 5 – The Student Success Act. H.R. 5 quickly moved through committee in early February and was debated on the floor of the full House in late February. However, in the final hours of debate and with the threat of veto issued from the White House, House leadership delayed the vote. Leaders said that move was made in order to debate a funding bill that faced a midnight deadline, but it is widely understood that the House didn’t have the votes to pass the bill and leaders wanted to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
The Senate HELP Committee will mark up the new Alexander/Murray compromise bill next week on Tuesday, April 14, at 9 a.m. (Central Time). Visit the committee’s website to watch the mark up live or access committee documents on the bill. Some major provisions of the bill are as follows:
The Every Child Achieves Act would allow states to develop their own accountability systems, which is a departure from current law. State accountability systems would need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education (peer review teams would be established to assist the secretary of education in the review of state plans) based on parameters outlined in the bill, such as the inclusion of graduation rates, a measure of post-secondary education or workforce readiness, proficiency rates for English language learners, and standardized test results. However, states would be able to include any additional measures of performance and would have the authority to weight all measures as they see fit. That flexibility would include how much weight is placed on student performance on standardized tests.
States would still be required to report disaggregated data on student subgroups. They would also still be required to identify low-performing schools through accountability system results, but would only monitor school districts as they implement their own methods of evidence-based intervention.
The most discussed piece of Chairman Alexander’s original draft bill was the portion on testing, which offered two options intended to spur discussion among committee members. The options were to keep the current testing schedule or scrap annual testing and give states a significant amount of leeway in developing their own testing systems. The Every Child Achieves Act maintains the annual testing schedule, but does give states the option to conduct one annual test or a series of smaller tests that combine to a summative score. Additionally, in what is likely an attempt to appease supporters of state-developed systems, the bill creates a pilot program that would initially allow the secretary of education to permit five states to develop innovative testing systems. If successful, the program could be expanded.
States would be required to adopt “challenging state academic standards.” Those standards would not have to be approved by the Department of Education, and the bill specifically states the secretary of education would not have the authority to “mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision” with regard to the adoption of state standards.
School Choice and Privatization
The primary provision in Alexander’s earlier draft bill aimed at school choice involved the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. That language is not included in The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. Title I portability language has received strong backing from Republicans and would allow Title I funding to follow students from school to school. Democrats and President Obama have opposed the inclusion of such language and the White House based its threat of veto on H.R. 5, in part, on portability language included in the bill.
The new bill consolidates two federal charter school programs into a program that includes three grant programs: High-Quality Charter Schools, Facilities Financing Assistance, and Replication and Expansion. Additional language aims to incentivize better transparency and quality among state charter schools.
States would have a lot of discretion on how to spend money related to teacher quality under Title II. That could include the development of an educator evaluation system, but no state would be required to develop a system, which is departure from current law. Thus, there is no language requiring the inclusion of student outcomes in an educator’s evaluation.
The new bill removes the statutory definition of “highly qualified” as well as some of the requirements surrounding the term and allows states to develop their own definition.