ESSA advances: Will every student succeed?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)– the long-awaited revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act aka No Child Left Behind — passed the House 359-64, and is expected to pass the Senate next week. Present Obama will sign it.

The compromise is endorsed by most major education groups, but it misses “the sweet spot of reason in evaluating schools and teachers,” editorializes the Los Angeles Times.

No Child Left Behind made the nation aware, as never before, of just how poorly students of color or with low incomes were faring.

The solution working its way through Congress, though more reasonable than No Child Left Behind, threatens to leave many poor and minority students in schools that middle-class parents would never accept for their children. At minimum, the bottom 20% of schools in California and other states with comparatively poor student achievement need to take concrete steps toward improvement; the looming federal compromise would require intervention only at the lowest-performing 5%. That’s unacceptable. And is this country honestly ready to allow high schools to continue graduating a mere 67% or 70% of their students, with no sense of public outrage?

California dropped its Academic Performance Index in hopes of creating  a broader measurement of school effectiveness,  notes the Times. “Early indications are that the state might end up dumping out a hodgepodge of data for each school, with no overall sense of student performance. How will the state help its neediest schools if it can’t even identify them?”

Conservatives should oppose ESSA, argues Lindsey Burke of Heritage. Although it eliminates average-yearly-progress mandates, the proposed ESSA would not make Title I funds portable or cut duplicative programs, she writes. The act “would maintain significant federal intervention in local school policy for years to come.”

Evaluation isn’t about firing bad teachers

Nearly all teachers receive high ratings in most districts. Teachers are in short supply in some parts of the country, writes Paul Bruno for the Brookings Institution.“The extent to which a principal is willing to dismiss (or give a poor evaluation to) a teacher will likely depend in part upon her beliefs about the probability of finding a superior replacement in a reasonable period of time.”

Teacher evaluation systems should be seen as a way to help teachers improve, not as a system to “dismiss teachers,” responds Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington.

New evaluation systems were meant to be a tool to reward excellent instruction, provide opportunities for targeted professional development, and create systems of support in schools in districts. Unfortunately, new teacher evaluation systems in many places were sold as ways to “get rid of bad teachers,” which greatly hurt implementation efforts.

Effective evaluation systems let a principal who’s hiring know “what effective teaching looks like and how it is measured,” writes Pennington.

Teacher evaluation isn’t included in either version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Pennington points out. “States will not have the political cover from federal policy to move forward with teacher evaluation.” And if it’s seen as just a way to fire teachers, it will not survive.

A new ESEA?

The long-delayed revision of No Child Behind (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA) might actually happen this year. Or not.

A conference committee will try to reconcile a bipartisan Senate bill with a Republican-only House bill, reports Alyson Klein in Ed Week‘s Politics K-12. Key issues to resolve include “whether the updated law should include a preschool program, whether states should be able to allow federal funding to follow students to the school of their choice, and just how states should measure school performance.”

Both versions of the new ESEA limit the Education secretary’s power, writes Klein. There’d be no more setting policy by waiver.

Under the Senate bill, the secretary of education is prohibited from monkeying around with standards, tests, state goals, school turnaround remedies, and accountability systems. And the secretary would be specifically barred from offering conditional waivers, as Duncan has done. The department would get to approve states’ plans for using federal Title I money for low-income students, but it would only have 90 days to review them. (That’s compared to 120 days under current law.)

And states whose plans aren’t approved by the education department would get the opportunity to revise them, and even demand a public hearing exploring the reasons for their rejection. That would eliminate a lot of the behind-the-scenes-back-and-forth on the finer points of accountability plans that’s been a hallmark of the waivers.

The two bills are weak on accountability, editorializes the Washington Post. The Senate bill would let states “define which schools are struggling and when and what — if any — remedies should be adopted,” while the House bill would “water down testing requirements and allow parents to opt their children out of tests.”

Here’s Mike Petrilli’s cheat sheet for ESEA.

Duncan: Drop NCLB, but keep testing

Education Arne Duncan spoke yesterday at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

No Child Left Behind is “tired” and “prescriptive,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a speech yesterday. However, federal education law should include annual tests, Duncan said at a Washington, D.C. elementary school.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) is up for reauthorization, notes NPR. Duncan said he’d like to start over with a new bill, but retain annual testing.

In his speech, Duncan invoked famous phrases used by both President Obama and former President George W. Bush, the latter of whom introduced No Child Left Behind more than 13 years ago.

“This country can’t afford to replace ‘the fierce urgency of now’ with the soft bigotry of, ‘It’s optional,’ ” he said.

Duncan came out against “redundant” and “unnecessary” tests.

Brookings makes The Case for Annual Testing that tracks growth in student achievement, while eliminating most NCLB standards and accountability provisions.

Hill Republicans will decide what happens, writes Rick Hess in his ESEA predictions on Pundicity.  They see Duncan as “obdurate, unwilling to listen, and remarkably disinterested in what the federal government shouldn’t do or what it can’t do well.” So Sen. Lamar Alexander will work with Democratic senators, but Duncan could be out of the negotiations.

Accountability light and lighter

Sen. Tom Harkin and the Democrats have proposed a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind). So have Sen. Lamar Alexander the the Republicans. Both “move away from the strong federal accountability system at the center of the much-maligned NCLB law, but to different degrees,” reports Ed Week.

The Harkin bill would require states to create accountability systems that essentially build on the administration’s waivers (which are in place in 37 states plus D.C. so far), meaning that states would have to set goals for student achievement and come up with some sort of system to help turn around the schools that are struggling the most. The Alexander bill, on the other hand, would continue to require states to test in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but the senator is counting on transparency to be the main lever for school improvement. And under the Harkin bill, schools would be on the hook for helping the bottom five percent turn around—plus fixing another 10 percent of schools with big achievement gaps. There’s nothing like that in the Alexander bill . . .

Harkin wants teachers to be evaluated based on student achievement with the results used to ensure that low-performing schools get an “equitable” share of high-quality teachers. The Alexander bill eliminates the provision on “highly qualified” teachers and leaves teacher evaluation to the states.

The House Republicans don’t agree: Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education committee, wants to mandate teacher evaluation. He introduced his ESEA reauthorization bill today.

Alexander also would let “federal Title I dollars follow a child to any public school they want, but not to a private school or for outside options like tutoring,” writes Klein. And the Alexander bill specifically forbids the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring districts to adopt certain tests, standards, or accountability systems.

Harkin claims to be ending federal “micromanaging” of schools and offering states “flexibility.”

That’s laughable, writes Mike Petrilli on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.  He lists 40 policy questions that Harkin’s bill decides, ranging from “equitable distribution of quality teachers” to collaboration time for teachers in low-performing schools.

School report cards must include  (“detailed data on the number of pregnant or parenting students and their outcomes,” data on “school violence, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, in-school student suspensions, out-of-school student suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools), and student detentions” for each subgroup, etc.)

Fordham favors “reform realism” about the limits of federal power. On Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle calls that “mushy.” He thinks both bills are “lackluster.” But, at least, Harkin is trying to hold schools accountable.

States would still have to provide data on how districts and schools are helping poor and minority children, keeping one of the most successful aspects of No Child’s accountability provisions. States would also have to provide families with an “equity report card” complete with data on how well districts are doing in providing comprehensive college preparatory courses – including Advanced Placement classes – to all kids; this would make data easily accessible to families so they can make smarter decisions and be lead decision-makers in education.

But Harkin repeats the Obama administration’s error of focusing on the worst-performing schools and letting the rest off the hook, Biddle writes.

Neither bill will pass, nor will there be “anything even resembling a compromise, anytime ever until there are new folks in Congress (and maybe a new president),” writes Alyson Klein. That means rule by waivers will continue.

Let’s make a deal

Now that everyone’s cards are on the table, let’s make a deal on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind), writes Mike Petrilli on Gadfly.

Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration on Capitol Hill in advocacy groups and in think tanks are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization proposals released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be. While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his colleagues.

In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three years now, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers, Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac and the System Defenders.

Petrilli suggests a path to a workable — possibly bipartisan — policy.

Harkin-Enzi advances

The bipartisan Harkin-Enzi bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) made it out of committee with all the Democrats and three Republicans on board.

Credit Arne Duncan’s waivers for motivating the senators to take action, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. The Dems seem willing to vote for anything, he writes. The Republicans, notably Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former U.S. Education secretary, will have lots of clout.

“Civil rights groups and lefty reformers are getting rolled,” he concludes. Federally enforced accountability has lost political support. 

Petrilli thinks Harkin-Enzi is better than NCLB. Like Alexander Russo, I’m not so sure the states will hold schools accountable for educating all students. Duncan said the bill should include accountability, but didn’t fight for it — at least not in public — notes Russo. 

. . .  are they just hoping that this all falls apart on the Senate floor and in the House so that they can do the waiver thing?   

Meanwhile, President Obama’s plan to fund teachers’ (and public safety officers’) jobs died in the Senate when two Democrats and Independent Joe Lieberman sided with Republicans.

10 big issues for ESEA

Fordham’s ESEA Briefing Book looks at the 10 issues that must be resolved to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind).

It’s party time for Jay Greene, who has a drinking game linked to frequent mentions of  “tight-loose” regulation.

Fordham frames a debate between people who want the feds to mandate something, such as standards and cut scores, and those who want federal money without mandates, Greene writes.

Fordham takes the middle ground of saying that the feds should mandate standards, cut scores, etc… or allow states to prove to a panel of experts that their alternative approach is at least as good.

The alternative is worthless, Greene argues. “The burden of proving the merit of your alternative choices would effectively compel you to comply with the mandate.” And “more committees of so-called experts” is not what we need in education.

Fordham’s false middle isn’t the only sensible alternative, Greene argues.

I support a limited role of the federal government in education to facilitate the education of students who are significantly more expensive to educate, such as disabled students, English language learners, and students from very disadvantaged backgrounds. Only the federal government can ensure this type of “redistributive” policy in education because if localities attempted to serve more expensive students they would attract those expensive students while driving away their tax base.

Fordham is big on “college and career readiness,” Greene adds. So is the Gates Foundation.

No one knows what college and career ready means. It has no clear, technical, objective definition. It is yet another political slogan substituting for an idea with actual substance, sort of like “reform realism” or “tight-loose.”

And yet this empty slogan is the entire purpose of the nationalization project on which Fordham-Gates-AFT-U.S. Dept of Ed are embarked. Only in the D.C. bubble of power-hungry analysts who provide no actual analysis could we launch a radical transformation of our education system with little more than a series of empty slogans. It’s enough to make you drink.

Kevin Kosar is blogging on Federal Education Policy History.  Check out the graph on the use of “failing school” over time.

Outcomes matter

Federal education law should move from a command-and-control system to an outcomes-based system, says Rep. George Miller at the March 1 hearing on federal education regulations.  He makes an eloquent defense of data.

I met Miller about 25 years ago, maybe more. He hasn’t changed at all. It’s Dick Clark-like.

A national curriculum?

Common Core math and English Language Arts standards aren’t rigorous enough to prepare students for college work, writes Sandra Stotsky on Jay Greene’s blog. Yet wording in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would force all states to use tests based on the new standards.

States should be able to pick “internationally benchmarked, research-based” tests that satisfy their high school diploma requirements, argues Stotsky, who headed the writing of Massachusetts’ standards. “They may prefer objective end-of-course tests in algebra I, geometry, algebra II, U.S. history, chemistry, physics, and biology instead of ‘performance-based’ subjective tests.”

The two federally funded consortia developing tests for Common Core are creating what amounts to a national curriculum, writes Rick Hess. That will push all schools to teach the same material at the same time to give students a chance to pass the new exams.

The American Federation of Teachers wants a “common, sequential curriculum” to match Common Core standards so teachers “are not making it up every day,” reports Ed Week’s Curriculum Matters, quoting Randi Weingarten, the union president. (More here on what the test-writing consortia are working on.)

Congress banned the use of federal funds to write a national curriculum in 1979, but the consortia argue they’re just writing “curriculum frameworks, model instructional units and such” or a “clearinghouse of curriculum resources,” not a curriculum.