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Ten Questions About ESEA Reauthorization

By Alyson Klein — March 16, 2010 3 min read
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So, the places to see and be seen tomorrow are the two Capitol Hill hearing rooms where U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be taking questions from lawmakers on the House and Senate education committees about the ESEA blueprint.

He’ll start off in the Senate (at 10 a.m.) and move over to the House (at 2:30 p.m.)

As I’ve said before, reaction from many groups has been generally positive (except, of course, the unions). But we haven’t heard much from lawmakers, beyond canned statements (I guess they’re busy with this), so the hearings should be interesting.

There’s a lot in the blueprint that needs to be fleshed out, and maybe Congress can help us get some answers. Here are some suggested questions:

1) What exactly does it mean to be “college- and career-ready,” especially for states that don’t sign on to the Common Core State Initiative? And, in particular, what “careers” are schools responsible for preparing students for? For example, is Walmart greeter on the list? Because if it is, I think we’re mostly there already. I know, that’s probably not what you had in mind, right? How do we make sure we get the career part right, without being accused of being too prescriptive?

2) ) What’s up with this 2020 goal for getting all students college- and career-ready? You’re saying that’s not a hard-and-fast deadline. What will that look like in practice? How should we structure growth models around that?

3) How do you want us to structure the transition from the new accountability system to a new one? It could be a really messy process, and we’d like to avoid that.

4) The blueprint says that schools that aren’t in the lowest 10 percent of schools and those that don’t have a major achievement gap can pretty much choose their own interventions. Should we develop a menu, and do you have some suggestions for what should be on it? Or is it better to let folks think creatively?

5) What about schools that aren’t consistently low-performing (so not in the bottom 10 percent) but have persistent problems with a particular subgroup (but don’t fall into that 5 percent with the greatest achievement gaps)? I’m thinking of, say, a school where English-language learners fail to make progress three years in a row, but where the rest of the school is pretty much on track. Any intervention for them? Or you think we should trust the state and district on this one and focus the feds on schools in much worse shape?

6) And, on those schools with persistent achievement gaps ... What happens if the top students start to slip, does that constitute closing the gap? Probably not what you had in mind, right?

7) So you’re saying we should let states test students in subjects other than math and reading and let those tests count for the new adequate yearly progress, which you’re calling and College and Career Ready. You gave history as an example of an additional subject. Okay, that one makes sense. But do we also include, say, art and physical education? And if we do, does that make us look like we’re trying to make sure kids are exposed to a rich curriculum or like we’re being fluffy and watering down core academics?

8) How do you think a system of rewards and consequences for states and districts should be designed?

9) For Democrats to pose: Judging from your blueprint, it looks like you want a permanent authorization for Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation funds, which now are part of the economic-stimulus program. Once we authorize something like that, it’s pretty much on the books forever. So what if former Gov. Sarah Palin becomes president? Are you saying we give her Secretary of Education the same flexibility to design an incentive program that we gave you under the stimulus?

Alternate Question 9 (from Republicans): So you want to get rid of mandated SES and choice, huh? Okay, but we’ve taken a look at your process for turning around low-performing schools. And no matter how you slice it, that’s slow and difficult work. You’re saying kids in those majorly underperforming schools can’t have public school choice or tutoring in the meantime?

10) What should we name this new law? We need to think fast on this one because having that No Child Left Behind name out there in all the stories on your blueprint is really terrible PR. Also, we need a good acronym. Something snappy, like i3. Any suggestions? (Note: Please refrain from using the word “dramatically” in your answer.)

That’s the best list I could come up with. But I’m sure I missed something. What do you want to know? What do you want Congress to ask?

Before you answer, you may need to do some additional background reading, so check out these ESEA related items at Curriculum Matters, Inside School Research, and Teacher Beat.