Examining That Proposed Senate ESEA Reauthorization, Part III
This is my third post on contents of the Alexander-Murray, Senate reauthorization draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) scheduled to be presented to the Senate education committee on April 14, 2015.
Alexander and Murray call their 601-page draft, Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.
This ESEA reauthorization draft is not light reading; however, I am trying to produce a digest that is as easy to “digest” as is possible.
Let us abruptly dive in from this legislative precipice from the point at which I ended my second installment: ESEA funding for eligible private school students.
Page 162: Private schools can receive funding for eligible students (see my second, April 9, 2015, post for categories of eligible students). The Alexander-Murray draft stipulates that the ESEA funding allotted for children attending private school must proportionally equal the funding for qualified children attending public schools. This is not a statement endorsing fiscal portability of funding; it is only an assurance that the amount of funding per child is constant regardless if the ESEA-funding-eligible child attends public or private school.
The statement about federal funds “supplementing not supplanting” other funding is repeated in connection with ESEA funding paid to private schools for eligible students (see page 164). In other words, federal funding cannot replace other funding, such as tuition. For example, neither states nor local education agencies (LEAs) can use ESEA funding as a tuition substitute/ back door funding for a voucher program for public students to attend private schools.
As to compliance: ESEA funds for eligible children attending private school cannot include mandating “a particular instructional method” or “a particular instructional setting” (pg. 165). Furthermore, the US Secretary of Education cannot micromanage the criteria set by an LEA for determining funding eligibility to any school:
(4) PROHIBITION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize or permit the Secretary to establish any criterion that specifies, defines, or prescribes the specific methodology a local educational agency uses to allocate State and local funds to each school receiving assistance under this part.
Regarding states’ not using federal funds to replace state educational budgets, the Alexander-Murray reauthorization includes the stipulation that for states to receive its “full allotment of funds …for any fiscal year,” that state must budget in a given fiscal year not less than 90 percent of funding as compared to the previous fiscal year’s education budget. This stipulation also helps guarantee against general slashing of a state education budget: If the state budget drops more than 10 percent from one fiscal year to the next, that state will not receive its full allotment of ESEA funding for the upcoming year.
The penalty is proportional (pg. 167):
(2) REDUCTION IN CASE OF FAILURE TO MEET.—
(A) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary shall reduce the amount of the allotment of funds under this section in any fiscal year in the exact proportion by which a State fails to meet the requirement of paragraph (1) by falling below 90 percent of both the fiscal effort per student and aggregate expenditures (using the measure most favorable to the State), if such State has also failed to meet such requirement (as determined using the measure most favorable to the State) for 1 or more of the 5 immediately preceding fiscal years.
However, this is one situation over which the US secretary could issue a waiver:
(3) WAIVER.—The Secretary may waive the requirements of this subsection if the Secretary determines that a waiver would be equitable due to—
(A) exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances, such as a natural disaster or a change in the organizational structure of the State; or
(B) a precipitous decline in the financial resources of the State. (pgs. 167-8)
Page 168: Moving on to ESEA funding of assessments/standards: ESEA money can be used to fund assessments developed in “voluntary partnerships with other States, at the sole discretion of each such State.” ESEA funds can also be used for “developing or improving balanced assessment systems that include summative, interim, and formative assessments, including supporting local educational agencies in developing or improving such assessments” (pg. 170); however, there is no federal mandate that ESEA money be used to develop such assessment systems.
Federal funding per state for state assessments will be at least $3,000,000 (pg. 170).
Section 1203 is entitled, “Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority,” is an invitation for up to 5 states to apply to develop new, “innovative” assessment systems over an “initial period” of 3 years (with a possible 2-year renewal) as approved by the US secretary of education. The “innovative” systems must lead to “improved academic outcomes, including increased high school graduation rates for high schools” (pg. 173), and LEAs serving to pilot the “innovative” system may use it as a substitute for the annual assessments being used by the rest of the state (pg. 182). If the “innovative” system is deemed to be a success, then an entire state could use it to replace previously-approved annual assessments (pg. 184).
Concerning general provisions of Title I (section 1012, pg. 208): Several parts that were part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have been removed: NCLB Part E (“National Assessment of Title I”), NCLB Part F (“Comprehensive School Reform”), NCLB Part G (“Advanced Placement Programs”), and NCLB Part H (“School Dropout Prevention”). Also, removed were NCLB section 1904 (“Local education agency spending audits”), NCLB section 1907 (“State report on dropout data”), and NCLB section 1908 (“Regulation for sections 1111 through 1116, among the “basic program requirements” for “improving basic programs operated by LEAs”).
The cutting of these sections appears to be an attempt to reduce the federal control over how states spend Title I money.
NCLB included a section on “emergency situations” (section 1901(b)(5)) regarding the US secretary’s authority to act quickly in situations “in which regulations to carry out this title must be issued within a very limited time to assist State educational agencies and local educational agencies with the operation of a program under this title.” The NCLB language includes requiring the secretary to conduct regional meetings to review such proposed regulations”; however, the section offers no additional details.
The Alexander-Murray reauthorization adds to this “emergency” process the requirement that the secretary present the emergency issue in detail before Congress (including evidence that the secretary sought, received, and addressed LEA input and concerns, as well as a detailing of the “time, cost, and paperwork burden that the regulation will impose on State educational agencies, local educational agencies, schools, and other entities that may be impacted by the regulation”– pg. 213) and allow Congress a 15-day comment period.
This addition bespeaks an attempt to make the likes of Duncan’s NCLB waivers more difficult for him to craft.
Let us turn our attention to Title II funding, “Preparing, Recruiting, and Training High-quality Teachers, Principals, and Other School Leaders” (pg. 221). The Alexander-Murray reauthorization is concerned with funding activities such as the following:
(i) Reforming teacher, principal, and other school leader certification, recertification, licensing, or tenure systems or preparation program standards and approval processes to ensure that—
(I) teachers have the necessary subject matter knowledge and teaching skills, as demonstrated through measures determined by the State, which may include teacher performance assessments, in the academic subjects that the teachers teach to help students meet challenging State academic standards;
(II) principals and other school leaders have the instructional leadership skills to help teachers teach and to help students meet such challenging State academic standards; and 21
(III) teacher certification or licensing requirements are aligned with such challenging State academic standards.
Lots of focus on the “challenging state academic standards,” but the assessments are not emphasized. Yes, the assessments are still included in the Alexander-Murray reauthorization, but there is also language allowing states opportunity to develop/implement other forms of assessment (i.e., projects, portfolios).
Alexander and Murray included the stipulation of annual testing that President Obama says must be present in order to avoid his veto; however, from my reading the first couple hundred pages of the Alexander-Murray draft, I see that there is some room for states to move away from the NCLB fixation with standardized testing.
Unfortunately, Title II also includes language inviting states to “establish” a Teach for America (TFA) presence, both in the classroom and in administration. It is problematic that vulnerable populations are in the”especially” category for exposure to “alternatively trained” teachers. According to the Alexander-Murray draft, states could use Title II money for
(iv) Carrying out programs that establish, expand, or improve alternative routes for State certification of teachers (especially for teachers of students with disabilities, English learners, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or other areas where the State demonstrates a shortage of educators), principals, and other school leaders, for—
(I) individuals with a baccalaureate or master’s degree, or other advanced degree; (II) mid-career professionals from other occupations;
(IV) former military personnel; and
(V) recent graduates of institutions of higher education with records of academic distinction who demonstrate the potential to become highly effective teachers, principals, or other school leaders. (pgs. 231-32).
TFA is slippery; TFA recruits who remain as “educators” tend not to remain in a classroom and are instead quickly placed in positions of leadership. I would have liked for the Alexander-Murray draft to focus on alternative certification that leads to career classroom teachers minus the “principals, or other school leaders” language that allows for a two-year TFA temp teacher to be quickly placed in a position of leadership. Administration is where most TFA alum end up if they “remain in education”– where they propagate test-score-focused “reform.”
In the Title II suggestions, Alexander and Murray also promote the idea of merit pay. States could apply for Title II funding to promote:
(II) strategies that provide differential pay, or other incentives, to recruit and retain teachers in high-need academic subjects and teachers, principals, or other school leaders, in low-income schools and school districts, which may include performance-based pay systems. (pg. 233)
Note that the Alexander-Murray draft does not require states to incorporate merit pay. The above is only one of a number of suggested foci for state Title II applications.
As is true repeatedly throughout the Alexander-Murray reauthorization, when it comes to Title II funding, the US secretary’s power is tethered:
(e) PROHIBITION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any other officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control any of the following:
(1) The development, improvement, or implementation of elements of any teacher, principal, or school leader evaluation systems.
(2) Any State or local educational agency’s definition of teacher, principal, or other school leader effectiveness.
(3) Any teacher, principal, or other school leader professional standards, certification, or licensing. (pg. 239-40) [Emphasis added.]
A definite kick in the NCLB waiver.
LEAs applying to states for a portion of Title II funding must offer evidence regarding “appropriate class sizes” (pg. 243) for staffing classes of low-income and minority students. Allow me to offer as “evidence” for “appropriate” class size information from a school serving the children of the affluent, Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC. From the Sidwell Friends website:
All classes have team teachers. Individual class sizes range from one teacher for every ten students to one teacher for every twelve students during both the homeroom academics and the specials’ classes..
The fewer the number of students in any given class, the more opportunity I have to devote time to each individually. Common sense.
Title II also includes a “competitive grant” process available to higher ed, nonprofits, and for-profits (pg. 265) for possible 1) nontraditional certification for “underserved” LEAs, 2) professional development addressing needs of LEAs “and the students they serve,” 3) partnerships/cooperative agreements “for services and learning opportunities” to LEAs, and 4) “providing teachers, principals, and other school leaders with evidence-based professional enhancement activities, which may include activities that lead to an advanced credential” (pg. 262). These “competitive grants” would be for 3 years with a possible 2-year renewal. However, LEAs receiving grants must produce at least 25 percent of the cost from “non-Federal sources.” (The 25 percent could include “in-kind”contributions.) The US secretary is allowed to waive the 25 percent alternative funding stipulation in cases of “hardship.”
The competitive grants continue with one focused on school leader recruitment and support. Interestingly, “priority” is given not only to “an eligible entity with a record of preparing or developing principals who improved school-level student outcomes” (pg. 267) but also to entities “with a record of preparing or developing principals who “remain principals in high-need schools for multiple years” (pg. 268). That noted, the student outcomes” is listed first.
A “high needs school” is defined as “an elementary school in which not less than 50 percent of the enrolled students are from families with incomes below the poverty line; or a high school in which not less than 40 percent of the enrolled students are from families with incomes below the poverty line” (pg. 269).
For these school leader recruitment grants, the nonprofits and for-profits are not expressly considered as “eligible entities”; only state educational agencies and local educational agencies are eligible. Nevertheless, it is possible these days that a “public” school is run by either a nonprofit or a for-profit.
Well. This surely is enough information for one post.
In the next installment, I will begin with the “Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program” (pg. 269): Another “opportunity” for merit pay.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.