What Are Some Juicy State-Policy Tidbits From the Senate ESEA Rewrite?

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 08, 2015 3 min read
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As Lauren Camera of Politics K-12 reported yesterday, on April 7 U.S. senators unveiled bipartisan legislation to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. At 601 pages, there’s a lot for folks to digest—my colleague Catherine Gewertz, for example, highlighted how the bill redefines what counts as “core subjects.”

One notable reaction, which Lauren pointed out, is from the Council of Chief State School Officers, which has reacted more favorably to this bill than it did to the proposed ESEA rewrite drawn up by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Here’s what CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich had to say:

And CCSSO isn’t the only state-level association applauding the April 7 bill—here’s the National Governors Association:

“Governors are particularly encouraged by the recognition of the role states play in K-12 education by prioritizing state flexibility and ensuring more alignment across education programs,” the NGA said in its statement reacting to the Senate proposal.

So what are some high-profile pieces of the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 as far as states are concerned?

• States would receive new freedom to design accountability systems. While tests would still have to be a part of those systems, how much they count would be left up to state policymakers.

“States will also be permitted to include other measures of student and school performance in their accountability systems in order to provide teachers, parents, and other stakeholders with a more accurate determination of school performance,” a summary from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions states.

Back in 2012, I wrote about the various, often complex formulas and ratings systems states were ginning up to satisfy requirements for receiving a waiver from No Child Left Behind. In those heady, early days of waivers, Idaho and Nevada planned five-star rating systems, for example, while Arizona proposed an A-F model for rating schools.

To the extent those systems were driven by what states thought might please the feds, it will be interesting to see what states come up in the future with if this part of the Every Child Achieves Act ultimately becomes law.

• Those teacher-accountability system mandates states have to include in their waivers from No Child Left Behind? Say goodbye to those. States could still build such evaluation systems if they wish, but the feds won’t demand it from states.

• In addition, the definition of a “highly qualified teacher” would disappear from the federal lexicon and, as with teacher evaluation systems, states would be allowed to define this term on their own.

• The U.S. Department of Education would not be allowed to “mandate or incentivize” states to adopt any set of content standards. That’s a direct response to the history of the Common Core State Standards, although this provision comes about five years too late for those who believe the federal government inappropriately pushed states to adopt the common core through the Race to the Top program.

• States would get additional resources to education English-language learners, but would also be required to track districts progress in educating ELLs. It also “affirms” the state’s role in having clear entrance and exit policies for English-learner programs.

And those are just a few highlights. Dig around for yourself to see how this bill would impact state policy.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.