A New ESEA: A Cheat Sheet on What the Deal Means for Teachers

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 24, 2015 3 min read
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My colleague Alyson Klein has been working double duty to bring you all the details on the bill that will replace the No Child Left Behind Act.

(Quick refresher on how this works. Both the House and Senate have passed their own versions. To iron out differences, the two bodies appoint conferees, which have crafted this outline.)

Both chambers are expected to vote on the compromise measure, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, next month. Alyson has secured some legislative language featuring the new version’s accountability and school improvement sections, so make sure to check that out first.

But what would the compromise mean for the law’s teacher provisions, including the “highly qualified” teacher mandate? Here’s our best guess based on the language we’ve seen so far:

No mandated teacher evaluation. This is a big one. States and districts can use teacher-quality funds to set up new teacher-evaluation systems, but they don’t have to. This is a big change from the Education Department’s ESEA flexibility waivers, which required them to revamp these reviews and to integrate student achievement. (States ended up stumbling on implementation and the department, after initially taking a harder-line stance on enforcement, is at this point looking the other way.)

Goodbye to the “highly qualified” teacher requirements. This is the other big one. Both the House and the Senate proposals eliminated the HQT provisions, and the compromise measure follows suit. We’ll have a lot more on what this means for the field in upcoming days, so stay tuned. The bottom line is that federal intervention regarding teacher qualifications—a first when NCLB was finalized in 2002—will be all but eliminated in the new bill.

A funding windfall for states with rural poverty. Most of the ESEA programs dole out cash by formula, usually weighted for population and poverty. The teacher-quality formula grant, usually called Title II, has a 35/65 ratio of population to poverty. For years some lawmakers, notably Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., have complained that this weighting favored states with larger populations and concentrated rather than spread-out poverty. And he managed to get a new weighting formula written into Title II. Under the bill, the $2.3 billion would be given out under a 20/80 ratio after a ramping-up period. A hold-harmless would ensure a minimum allocation for all states until 2023. (Note to program administrators: Any ideas about how this would affect individual states? Please contact me if you have some insight.)

Class-size restrictions. Title II grants could continue to be used for class-size reductions, but only “to evidence-based levels.” (Good luck trying to parse that research.) About a third of Title II funds are now spent on hiring teachers to reduce class size.

Equity language preserved. The NCLB-era teacher-equity requirement is maintained and slightly modified to refer to teacher effectiveness, rather than qualifications. Now states would have to describe how they make sure low-income and minority children “are not served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field, and inexperienced teachers.” As in the past, though, the Education Department doesn’t have many tools to enforce these plans.

Program consolidation. Some smaller teacher programs, like Transition to Teaching and Mathematics and Science Partnerships, would lose their authorization. And there are a few important programs that continue on and even a few new authorizations.

  • The compromise would protect the SEED program, which supports professional-development activities.
  • The bill would authorize the STEM Master Teacher Corps, a program that the White House backs. (Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has introduced legislative language for this program several times over.)
  • And it would authorize a teacher and leader incentive program that sounds a lot like a reworked Teacher Incentive Fund.
  • Which teacher program really dodged a bullet? That would be the Teacher Quality Partnership grants, a teacher-preparation initiative. The House bill sought a repeal of this program (which, confusingly, lives in the Higher Education Act), but the compromise preserved it.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.