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ESEA Renewal: What We Know So Far

By Alyson Klein — March 10, 2010 4 min read
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It sounds like the Education Department is edging closer and closer to releasing its draft proposal on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And even though we haven’t seen a comprehensive draft, a lot of the details have already been made public, either through announcements from the White House, the fiscal 2011 budget proposal, Race to the Top regulations, or U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s speeches.

For instance we already know that:

*The Obama administration wants to replace the current metric for gauging student achievement—adequate yearly progress—with a system that measures whether students are ready for college or a career.

*The administration wants to tie Title I funding to states’ adoption of college- and career-ready standards.

*The administration also wants states to develop a definition of “teacher effectiveness” that is partially based on student outcomes. And it wants states to link teacher effectiveness to student achievement data. This proposal was in the administration’s 2011 budget plan. It sounds like states would have to take those steps to get Title I money. (Check out Page 18 of this budget document and read this Teacher Beat item for more info.)

*The Education Department has a menu of interventions it would like to see states use in the schools struggling the most to reach the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. All of the options call for fairly dramatic interventions, and nearly all of them would require that a failing school get rid of its principal.

*The department wants to offer incentives to school districts that do a great job of closing the achievement gap. (That’s in the budget proposal too, on Page 4.)

*The department wants to consolidate smaller, targeted programs and create competitive grant streams.

*The department wants “richer assessments” and has dedicated $350 million in stimulus money from the Race to the Top Fund toward that goal.

And folks who have been closely following the debate over the reauthorization of the ESEA don’t need a crystal ball to know that some other things are practically a given:

*Growth models - Everyone seems to be for measuring student progress through growth rather than comparing groups of students with each other. The department already has a pilot project that allows states to use growth models. Growth models were in both the 2007 draft proposal for reauthorizing ESEA put forth by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and in the Bush administration’s 2007 blueprint for renewing the law. And Duncan has spoken quite a bit about how the current system doesn’t reward teachers and schools for helping individual students advance.

*Differentiated consequences - I think this is going to be a big part of the new accountability system. Again, it’s something everyone seems to be able to agree on, at least in principle. There is already a differentiated consequence pilot project run by the department. And the proposal was in both the Bush reauthorization plan and Miller’s 2007 draft, meaning it could generate bipartisan support.

What are differentiated consequences? Basically, they would involve a more nuanced look at a school’s performance. For instance, schools that miss achievement targets because all of their students are struggling would be subject to a different set of interventions than schools that generally are doing a good job with most students, but are having trouble with, say, helping students in special education learn to read. It’s a “tiered” approach to looking at how schools are doing and fixing their shortcomings.

Given the broad support for the concept in the past, it seems pretty likely that such an approach will be in the administration’s draft. The question is what it will actually look like. What will be the different tiers? What kinds of interventions will we see for each? Also, from a salesmanship perspective, “differentiated consequences” isn’t a very catchy name. I’m sure the folks who coined “Race to the Top” can think of something better ...

*Incentives - That’s the watchword of the Obama administration and likely to be a theme of the proposal. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama folks sought to make Race to the Top, the Investing in Innovation Fund, or both, permanent in their ESEA proposal. (If you take a look back at Miller’s draft, he had something very similar to i3 called the “Grow What Works” fund.)

Some big remaining questions:

*Will the administration seek to keep the 2013-14 deadline for bringing all students to proficiency (or college-and career-readiness—CCR?)

*What’s going on with school choice and tutoring?

*Exactly how will AYP (or CCR) be calculated? Will non-academic factors be part of the mix?

*How will we test students? In what grades? How often?

*What exactly does college- and career-ready mean, especially for states that don’t join the Common Core State Standards Initiative?

That’s about all the questions and obvious proposals I can think of now. But the law has many moving parts and I’m sure I missed something. Please let me know what it is in the comments section!

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