Education-related hearings took place this week both in Texas cities and in the nation’s capital. Here’s a recap of the topics that were covered.
Congress holds first ESSA oversight hearing
The U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education met on Wednesday for a hearing entitled “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Implementing the Promise to Restore State and Local Control.” Four individuals were invited to testify at the hearing; the panel of witnesses included a statewide education official, a school superintendent, and two legal representatives.
The hearing is the first Congressional oversight hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Congress passed ESSA in December and President Obama signed the bill into law quickly after. Congress has since turned its focus to ensuring the U.S. Department of Education (ED) implements the law in the way lawmakers intended. Today’s hearing was an initial step.
ATPE’s federal lobby team covered the hearing and reported that the primary takeaway was a familiar theme to ESSA: While lawmakers and witnesses praised the transfer of power to state and local authorities, some still cautioned that the flexibility associated with that transfer raises the potential for neglect of at-risk students. Members continue to disagree over the role the federal government should play in ensuring every student receives an adequate and equal education. Democratic Members tended to continue to stress that the federal government does have a responsibility to ensure that there is equitable treatment and evenhanded disbursement of funds; while two of the witnesses and some Republican members felt that the responsibility was now solely in the hands of the states.
Another line of disagreement when addressing the federal government’s role dealt with ED’s rulemaking and regulation-writing authority. Some stressed that the federal government is not prohibited from acting when states fail to meet federal requirements, but others felt that student success is higher when state and local authorities maintain the power.
Later this month, members of Congress will have the chance to express these disagreements with ED directly. Acting Secretary of Education John King will visit the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to testify on ESSA implementation. That hearing is scheduled to take place on Feb. 25, the day after King visits the committee to discuss the President’s budget proposal. Teach the Vote will continue to provide relevant updates on these and other actions pertaining to ESSA implementation.
Texas Senate and House Public Education Committees
The House Public Education Committee met on Tuesday in Austin to discuss two interim charges pertaining to best practices in middle school grades and high performing students. The first invited panel addressed the interim charge pertaining to initiatives in middle school grades and consisted of individuals focused on researching, developing, and implementing research-based best practices for middle school classrooms.
Anne Wick, the Senior Advisor for Middle School Matters at the Bush Institute, explained what her organization is doing to with regard to middle school grades. She highlighted that students at risk of failing to graduate high school can be identified in their middle school years. The Institute is working with the University of Texas to focus best practices on research-based methodologies. Dr. Sharon Vaughn, who leads the research project, testified on the university’s work to develop a field guide, saying that the idea was to focus on best practices grounded in high quality research. The final panelist, Farrah Gomez, represented San Angelo ISD where the best practices are being implemented in classrooms.
Several members of the committee asked questions regarding the staff’s commitment to the partnership. Ms. Gomez stressed that educator buy-in was a significant piece of implementation and that involving teachers in the identification of the methods ultimately used in the classroom allowed teachers to have ownership in the process. Another key piece that Ms. Gomez highlighted is the district’s focus on support. She said that supporting teachers central to leading the project is important to its success. Gomez added that while the district has seen gains in test scores, the focus is not on evaluations based on assessments.
In addition to staff development and support, the committee members and public testifiers addressed the need for balancing autonomy and consistency, the role of counselors, education for administrators, mental illness and wrap-around services, and the success of the community schools in middle schools, among other issues.
The second panel of witnesses was invited to address high performing students. Representatives from the Texas Education Agency, the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium, and the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented made up the panel.
The TEA representatives spoke about what the agency is doing with respect to high performing students. Robert Bayard of the Texas High Performing Schools Consortium spoke as a district program director for high performing students. Mr. Bayard shared his first-hand insight on the importance of students demonstrating the information they learn without the pressures of high stakes tests being attached. He said high performing students need to be liberated from “meaningless assessments” but also described how this could benefit other students. Priscilla Lurz of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented focused her testimony on the array of services offered, but also suggested that disaggregating the data of high performing students would allow school districts to focus on their needs and address any issues raised. She also recommended a variety of non-test-based measures. The committee members discussed with TEA how the accountability system could accommodate these recommendations.
The Senate Education Committee also held an interim hearing this week in McAllen, Texas. The committee met Wednesday to discuss legislation concerning the placement of cameras in special education classrooms and legislation involving support for counselors and middle school students. The committee’s vice-chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) of nearby Brownsville, authored last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring the addition of cameras in certain classrooms and has also filed several bills over the years relating to school counselors. Senators also received a briefing on English Language Learners at the meeting.
The Texas Legislature’s interim is busy and you can expect more updates from Teach the Vote as developments unfold.