As we reported last week, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), released his version of a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The ESEA/NCLB is a law that determines the federal government’s role in public education. The contents of Alexander’s draft bill, the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015, are summarized below.
It is important to remember that this bill is in draft form. The Senate must still debate the bill in committee as well as the full Senate. If Alexander’s bill is voted out of the Senate, it will still have to undergo the same process in the House of Representatives. Should this bill advance through the process, many changes can be expected and ATPE will provide updates as warranted via Teach the Vote.
Related Teach the Vote content: For a quick recap on NCLB and what’s at stake in the reauthorization process, check out Predictions on No Child Left Behind in the 114th Congress.
In a departure from current law, Alexander’s bill would allow states to develop their own accountability systems that would need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education based on parameters outlined in the bill. However, the department would be strictly prohibited from requiring anything outside of those parameters, such as imposing certain standards, curriculum, or assessments.
States’ plans would also be subject to a peer review process developed by the secretary of education. Peer review teams would be appointed and would have to include teachers, principals, researchers, and others who have had experience through direct employment in a school, school board, or local or state government. The goal of the peer review is to “promote effective implementation,” “provide transparent feedback,” and support “state- and local-led innovation.”
The portion of Alexander’s bill that deals with testing is designed to spur discussion. The intent is for the HELP committee to look at and debate two options:
- Option 1. States would be required to develop an assessment system that tests students in math, reading/language arts, and science, but states would have a lot of leeway in developing the system. States could implement annual testing, grade-span testing, summative testing, performance-based testing, a combination of annual and grade-span testing, or any other system of assessment developed by the state. States would not be required to seek approval from the secretary of education.
- Option 2. This option would maintain the current testing schedule as implemented under NCLB, which requires states to test reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school and also requires states to test science three times at some point during grades 3-12.
In either case, states would be required to disaggregate data based on certain student populations, including race, poverty level, English proficiency, and disability status. For students with severe cognitive disabilities and English language learners, the bill would provide states with some testing flexibility. Additionally, the bill would give school districts that wish to implement their own assessment plans authority to do so as long as they have approval from their state education agency and meet the parameters outlined under either option.
Related: In the first of a series of hearings, the HELP committee will meet Wed., Jan. 21, starting at 9:30 a.m. EST to discuss “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.” Watch a webcast of the hearing here.
States would be required to adopt “challenging state academic standards” that are consistent across all public schools in math, reading/language arts, and science, as well as any additional subjects a state may choose. Each state would also be required to adopt English language proficiency standards aligned with the state’s approved challenging state academic standards. States would also have the option to develop alternate academic achievement standards for students with severe cognitive disabilities.
States would not have to get approval of their curriculum standards from the Department of Education. Further, Alexander’s bill provides that 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 bill aimed at school choice is the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. It would provide an option for states to set up plans allowing students to move among public schools in their districts, with Title I funding following the students from school to school. For students wishing to move schools, priority would be given to students in the lowest-performing schools.
Alexander’s bill does not include provisions related to voucher programs, but it is expected to be a topic of discussion during debate.
The bill would allow states to develop their own educator evaluation systems and would not require that student outcomes be included in an educator’s evaluation. States would have a lot of discretion on how they spend their money related to teacher quality (under Title II). They could choose to use it develop educator evaluation systems, for professional development, or on other initiatives aimed at teacher quality. In line with provisions included throughout the document, Alexander’s bill would prohibit the secretary of education from mandating or directing educator evaluation systems.
Related Teach the Vote content: Visit our Educator Evaluation Reform Resources page to learn more about Texas’s ongoing efforts to revise the state’s recommended system for teacher evaluation as a condition of a federal waiver of certain provisions in the ESEA/NCLB.