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Teacher Evaluation Scaled Back in Senate’s Revised ESEA Draft

By Alyson Klein — October 17, 2011 1 min read
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Senators working on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have decided to scale back provisions relating to teacher evaluation.

The original bill, released last week, would have required all states to develop mandatory evaluation systems based, in part, on student outcomes. In the latest version, only districts that participate in the Teacher Incentive Fund—a voluntary federal program—will need to do evaluations.

This is a big change and seems to have been made in part to gain GOP support for the bill. Draft language last week was sponsored only by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. But now, Sen. Michael B. Enzi, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, has signed onto the measure. Last week, GOP lawmakers behind the scenes expressed concern about the fact that the bill mandated teacher evaluations, something they see as a state and local responsibility.

The bill now also has the support of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former U.S. Secretary of Education and a key member of the committee, who had previously introduced a bill to renew the law.

Here’s a snippet from Enzi’s statement, released today:

More than a year ago, members on both sides of the aisle agreed on the nine biggest problems with No Child Left Behind that needed to be fixed—and we set out to find solutions. As a result, our bill reduces the federal footprint in our nation's schools. It also continues the transparency that is critical to parents regarding student performance. The measure will also eliminate many duplicative and wasteful programs while providing states with more flexibility when it comes to addressing their unique education needs. This is not a perfect bill, nor does it solve every education issue. But it will make a huge, positive difference to our nation's young people.

The National Education Association is happy to see the change.

We commend the leadership of Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi in conducting bipartisan negotiations around this legislation that will have a significant effect on the quality of education students receive in our nation's public schools. We appreciate the commitment Senator Harkin and Senator Enzi have made to continuing to improve this legislation as it proceeds, and we look forward to offering more suggestions from America's public school educators.

But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan isn’t a fan of the shift.

I appreciate the efforts of Senators Harkin and Enzi to build into the reauthorization bill more flexibility for states and districts while maintaining accountability at every level. I believe, however, that a comprehensive evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student achievement, is essential for education reform to move forward. This view is shared by both national teacher unions and state leaders all across the country who are committed to doing a better job of preparing our young people for the global economy. We cannot retreat from reform.

Sen. Alexander said on the Senate floor that Congress should act on reauthorization before Christmas, and he said he would add amendments to strip the bill’s highly qualified teacher provisions, and language on schools with persistent achievement gaps.