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Senate Democrats to Unveil Amendment to Boost Accountability in ESEA Rewrite

By Lauren Camera — July 14, 2015 3 min read
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As debate draws to a close in the U.S. Senate on a proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Democrats plan to unveil Tuesday their long-awaited amendment that would beef up accountability in the federal K-12 overhaul.

Among other things, it would require states to identify and intervene in their poorest-performing 5 percent of schools and those that graduate less than 67 percent of students for two consecutive years. But in trying to appeal to Republican sensibilities, what those interventions are would be left entirely to the states to decide.

The amendment is backed by the civil rights community, which has been pushing for tighter safeguards for months and which has said it will not back the Senate bill if such protections aren’t added.

And while the White House hasn’t made an official statement on the amendment, it’s pretty safe to say that the proposal would go a long way in addressing what it has outlined as shortcomings of the bill in its Statement of Administration Policy.

The real question, of course, is whether the amendment can garner support from Republicans to pass. It won’t be long before the answer to that’s revealed, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture on the bill last night, setting a 30-hour clock before which all debate on the bill must be completed.

Democrats said that while they would, of course, welcome Republican support for the accountability amendment. They think it’s likely Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., coauthor of the bill, will hold his caucus together in opposition. The highest priority and top goal of the amendment, Democrats said, is to have a strong showing of support with 35 or more Democrats voting in favor to make it clear that strengthening accountability is a top priority going into conference.

That number 35 is important, they pointed out, because along with the dozen or so Republicans they anticipate voting against the bill no matter what, they’d be able to block final passage of a conferenced bill should it not include stronger accountability language.

We’ll update this post as reaction from Republicans trickles in. But for now, he’s a breakdown of the amendment:

The amendment would require states to establish measurable state-designed goals for all students and separately for each of the categories of subgroups of students that take into account the progress necessary for all students and subgroups to graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education or the workforce without the need for post-secondary remediation.

State-designed goals would be based on the following indicators:

  • Academic achievement, which could include student growth on state assessments;
  • High school graduation rates;
  • English-language proficiency of all English-learners;
  • One additional academic indicator;
  • At least one additional measure of student readiness, such as successful completion of AP/IB courses, dual or concurrent enrollment, early college high school courses, or attainment of industry-recognized credentials;
  • And at least one additional measure of school quality or student supports, such as student attendance rates, educator engagement, results from student, parent, or educator surveys, or school climate and safety parameters, like incidents of bullying.

Importantly, the first four points must be weighted more than the fifth and sixth point combined. And the Secretary of Education would not be prohibited from specifying details about the weighting of the indicators.

In addition, the amendment would require states to identify schools where, for two consecutive years, students in any subgroup miss the state-designed goals. It would also require states to measure the annual progress of no less than 95 percent of all students and of each subgroup of students.

The amendment would require states to differentiate among public schools and identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools for interventions. States would also be required to identify and intervene in schools with graduation rates at or below 67 percent for two or more consecutive years.

Notably, the amendment would not tell states how they should go about intervening in these schools, though it would provide a list of a dozen suggestions for how school districts could respond to their failing schools.

Finally, the amendment would maintain a current provision in the law that allows students in schools identified as needing intervention the option to transfer to a different school within their school district, though the amendment adds language to prioritize the lowest-achieving children from low-income families. It would also keep in place language that would require states to notify parents if their child’s school was identified as in need of intervention.