Senate ESEA rewrite fits Brown’s ed agenda

Senate ESEA rewrite fits Brown’s ed agenda

(Calif.) The surprisingly bipartisan rewrite of the nation’s primary education law that emerged from the U.S. Senate last week would remove a lot of uncertainty surrounding key policy work undertaken by Gov. Jerry Brown and his appointees on the state board of education.

Not only would the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act return authority to the states and schools over most accountability decisions, but it would also embrace performance evaluation systems – like the one being built in California – that utilize measures beyond test scores.

Brown’s fight to delay reporting under-performing schools and districts while transitioning to the Common Core State Standards would also find support in the Senate proposal because it jettisons most of the sanctions of No Child Left Behind.

And, California’s failure to adopt teacher evaluation tools linked to test scores – a sore point with the Obama administration – would no longer be an issue as the Senate bill would outlaw any federal effort to promote the practice.

“The Senate’s action shows not only that there is broad consensus on the need to fix this law – remarkably there’s also broad consensus on how to fix it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, chairman of the education committee and co-author of the reauthorization bill.

“This is the consensus: continue the law’s important measurements of students’ academic progress but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about the results of those tests,” he said in a statement.

The bill, which passed on a vote of 81 to 17, is a long way from becoming law. It differs significantly from the version narrowly approved in the House earlier this month and does not yet appear to have support of the White House.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded the flexibility the bill would give states and its emphasis on early learner education but criticized the accountability measures.

“We cannot tolerate continued indifference to the lowest performing schools, achievement gaps that let some students fall behind, or high schools where huge numbers of students never make it to graduation,” Duncan said in a statement. “This bill should also do more to maintain focus on what matters most – whether students are actually learning and graduating, and whether those that need the greatest help receive the resources and support they need.”

Still, the bill represents a rare win for a legislative body that has been locked in a partisan grudge match for most of the time Barack Obama has been president.

No Child Left Behind, adopted in 2001, expired in 2007 and, despite growing dissatisfaction with aspects of the law, until now there had been little agreement on what to fix or how.

The reauthorization bill approved in the House of Representatives would also return to states control over student testing and school accountability. But a provision to allow Title I money to follow students either to traditional public schools, charters or private institutions has attracted opposition both by Democrats in the Senate and the administration.

The House bill, known as the Student Success Act, was approved without support from any Democrats and a handful of conservative Republicans who said the bill does not reduce the federal role in schools enough.

Both versions would maintain requirements for annual testing in reading and math for students in grades three through eight and once in high school as well as science testing between grades three and 12.

The Senate plan would allow states to design their own accountability systems although each would have to meet minimum federal standards. States would still be required to include all student subgroups in the testing and reporting system.

The proposal would leave unchanged a requirement that no more than 1 percent of all students can use alternative assessments aimed at students with disabilities.

The Senate proposal calls for the adoption of “challenging academic standards” but would prohibit the federal government from determining what those standards are or even encouraging any particular set – such as the Common Core.

Some changes are expected to well-established fiscal compliance rules, such as maintenance of effort and prohibitions on use of federal money to supplant state or local funds as well as comparability spending between Title I and non-Title I schools – although specific plans are still being discussed.

The bill allows, but does not require, states to develop and implement teacher evaluation systems.

There would be big changes to requirements surrounding English learners. States would no longer be held accountable for making annual measurable achievement objectives, according to analysis provided by Whiteboard Advisors. Instead states would have to develop their own measures of progress “toward language proficiency.”

As proposed, the Senate plan received support from a number of major stakeholders, including the nation’s largest teachers’ union.

“It sends a powerful message that equity really matters and that schooling must be more about teaching and learning than testing and measuring,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers in a statement. “More must be done to address the needs of historically disadvantaged children, but this bill offers a significant piece of the puzzle.”