ESEA Come, ESEA Go

October 13, 2011 | Blog

The chatter among the education cognescenti this week is about what is and what isn’t in the bipartisan ESEA draft released by Senate education chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) and ranking member Mike Enzi (R-WY).

Let me repeat my prior contention that, politically, ESEA reauthorization is an issue for 2013 — not 2011 or 2012. The Republican-led U.S. House is not going to give President Obama any kind of a political victory, despite the solid compromise put forth by the Senate HELP Committee. For that reason, the work currently underway is in part about laying the groundwork for a future compromise, in part a genuine attempt to get something done (despite the House), and in part political cover.

The bill itself represents a sensible step back from a pie-in-the-sky accountability goal of 100% proficiency in favor of annual state data transparency, continued data disaggregation among subgroups, and greater state flexibility over educational accountability. Personally, I am not an accountability hawk and am unswayed by spotty evidence and advocates such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who contends that it was Florida’s accountability system (rather than its major investment in literacy and other interventions) that fueled student test-score gains. Chairman Harkin nails it by saying that the bill “focuses on teaching and learning, not testing and sanctioning.” Amen to that.

Seeing as I have a day job that doesn’t allow me to analyze the entirety of 800-page bills, here is my quick take on a few elements in the draft bill:

Positives

  • Accountability: Eliminates AYP. Requires states to identify 5% lowest-performing schools and 5% of schools with the largest achievement gaps.
  • CSR: Tightens up the use of Title II, Part A for class-size reduction to ensure that those dollars are directed at research-based implementation of smaller class sizes. [UPDATE: This could potentially free up some Title II, Part A dollars for teacher professional development and new teacher support.]
  • Teacher & Principal Training & Recruiting Fund: This Fund would support state & local activities that further high-quality PD, rigorous evaluation and support systems, and improve the equitable distribution of teachers. The bill’s language significantly strengthens existing federal policy language regarding the elements of comprehensive, high-quality educator induction and mentoring.

Concerns

  • Equitable teacher distribution: The bill would require states to ensure that high-poverty and high-minority schools receive an equitable distribution of the most effective educators as measured by new teacher evaluation systems that must include four performance tiers. Sounds good and fair. But given that teacher working conditions significantly impact an individual educator’s ability to be effective in the classroom (and garner a “highly effective” rating [see DC]), wouldn’t this just create a massive game of musical chairs and major disruptions in the teaching pool unless a determined effort were mounted to improve the often poor teaching and learning conditions present in high-poverty schools?

Good Coverage & Analysis

Alyson Klein – Politics K-12 – Education Week
Joy Resmovits – Huffington Post
Stephen Sawchuk – Teacher Beat – Education Week
The Quick and the Ed (Education Sector)

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