The Alexander-Murray, Proposed Senate ESEA Reauthorization, Part IV
This is my fourth 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.
My third post brought me to page 269 of those 601.
It is from that page that I now resume my writing:
Page 269: Part B of Title II is entitled, “Teacher and School Incentive Program.” This is a merit-pay “competition”:
(a) PURPOSES.—The purposes of this part are—
(1) to assist States, local educational agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop, implement, improve, or expand comprehensive performance-based compensation systems or human capital management systems for teachers, principals, and other school leaders (especially for teachers, principals, and other school leaders in high-need schools) who raise student academic achievement and close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students; and
(2) to study and review performance-based compensation systems or human capital management systems for teachers, principals, and other school leaders to evaluate the effectiveness, fairness, quality, consistency, and reliability of the systems.
Note the language about “closing the achievement gap.” Interesting choice of wording about the “gap” being “between high- and low-performing students. (That’s just funny: By definition, “low performers” do not perform “high.”)
But notice that regarding this “gap,” there is no reference here to race, ethnicity, or economics. Given the undoubted, deliberate choice of words in this document, it seems that the authors are trying to realign the “gap” concept with performance.
Closing the “gap” is now defined as all students performing relatively the same– for better or worse.
The “human capital management system” is defined as “a system by which a local educational agency makes and implements human capital decisions, such as decisions on preparation, recruitment, hiring, placement, retention, dismissal, compensation, professional development, tenure, and promotion; and that includes a performance-based compensation system” (pg. 271).
The “performance-based compensation system” is one that “differentiates levels of compensation based in part on measurable increases in student academic achievement” (pg. 272). Note that the “measurable outcomes” are only “part” of the compensation system and that the language, “increases in student achievement,” leaves room for measures not specifically tied to standardized testing outcomes.
Other factors in determining the levels of compensation include teaching “in high-need schools,” teaching “high-need subjects,” and “taking on additional leadership responsibilities” (pg. 279).
And then comes a typo: “A local educational agency may receive (whether individually or as part of a consortium or partnership) a grant under this part only twice once, as of the date of enactment of the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015″ (pg. 273). [Emphasis added.]
Either the local education agency (LEA) is eligible for a grant twice, or once. At any rate, the funded entity cannot depend indefinitely upon the federal government to fund its merit pay system. Receipt of the merit pay grant requires the receiving entity to match federal funds by 50 percent (see page 280).
Page 284: Another competition for the “Teaching of Traditional American History” grant “for the development, implementation, and strengthening of programs to teach traditional American history as a separate academic subject (not as a component of social studies) within elementary school and secondary school curricula….” This grant requires partnership with “an institution of higher education,” “a nonprofit history or humanities organization,” or “a library or museum” (pg. 285). Each of the partner entities could also “compete” for federal funds under the guise of “presidential or congressional academies.” There are also grants available for civic education (see pages 290-92).
Page 292: “Literacy Education for All: Results for the Nation” grants “to improve student academic achievement in reading and writing by providing Federal support to States to develop, revise, or update comprehensive literacy instruction plans that when implemented ensure high-quality instruction and effective strategies in reading and writing from early education through grade 12.”
“Comprehensive literacy instruction” is briefly defined as “instruction that includes developmentally appropriate, contextually explicit, and systematic instruction, and frequent practice, in reading and writing across content areas” and that “links literacy instruction to the challenging State academic standards” (pgs. 293, 95). There is much more to the definition (it is over two pages long). The literacy grants are for LEAs with high numbers of “children reading or writing below grade level, based upon the most currently available academic assessment data” (pgs. 295-96). States are to provide subgrants to “eligible entities serving a diversity of geographic areas, giving priority to entities serving greater numbers or percentages of disadvantaged children” and to serve “children from early childhood education through grade 12, including English learners and students 21 with disabilities” (pg. 298).
The section on literacy grants is extensive, with grants divided into grade spans. Let me note that there is no requirement for states to relinquish student data as a condition for receiving literacy grants. The US secretary is supposed to compile an evaluation report of the overall literacy program and make the report available to the public and to both the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce (pg. 313).
Regarding Title II funding in general:
(a) PROHIBITION AGAINST FEDERAL MANDATES, DIRECTION, OR CONTROL.—Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any other officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s—
(1) instructional content or materials, curriculum, program of instruction, academic standards, or academic assessments;
(2) teacher, principal, or other school leader evaluation system;
(3) specific definition of teacher, principal, or other school leader effectiveness; or
(4) teacher, principal, or other school leader professional standards, certification, and licensing.
(b) SCHOOL OR DISTRICT EMPLOYEES.—Nothing in this title shall be construed to alter or otherwise affect the rights, remedies, and procedures afforded school or school district employees under Federal, State, or local laws (including applicable regulations or court orders) or under the terms of collective bargaining agreements, memoranda of understanding, or other agreements between such employees and their employers. (pgs. 314-15)
Moving on to Title III, “Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students.” A recurring idea in Title III is that English learners “meet the same challenging State academic standards that all children are expected to meet.” Title III details span 33 pages (pgs. 315-47), and the phrase about “meeting challenging State academic standards” is repeated eight times.
The Alexander-Murray draft appears to avoid mentioning that the standards are tied to assessments, and that “meeting the challenging State standards” is tied to a measurable outcome as determined by the state.
Next is Title IV: “Safe and Healthy Students” the “drug-free schools” grants (pgs. 347-73). Included are grants available for “school-based mental health services”; “positive behavioral interventions and supports”; “bullying and harassment intervention programs,” and “pay for success initiatives.”
Regarding student mental health records:
(d) PRIVACY.—Each local educational agency receiving a subgrant under this part shall ensure that student mental health records are accorded the privacy protections provided under the regulations promulgated under section 264(c) of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–191; 110 Stat. 2033) and section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (20 U.S.C. 1232g)(commonly referred to as the ‘Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974’). (pg. 372).
And the prohibitions regarding Title IV funds– including (oddly) “construction”:
(a) PROHIBITED USE OF FUNDS.—No funds under this part may be used for—
(1) construction; or
(2) medical services or drug treatment or rehabilitation, except for integrated student supports or referral to treatment for impacted students, which may include students who are victims of, or witnesses to, crime or who illegally use drugs.
(b) PROHIBITION ON MANDATORY MEDICATION.— No child shall be required to obtain a prescription for a substance covered by the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) as a condition of receiving an evaluation, services, or attending a school receiving assistance under this part. (pg. 373)
The next section, Title V, is on charter schools. It is too much to delve into at the end of an already-lengthy post, so I will save Title V for the next installment.
In closing, here are some general observations based upon my having read over half of Alexander-Murray’s reauthorization draft:
As was true of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Alexander-Murray reauthorization is an assessment-centered document. A principal difference between this draft and NCLB is in the role of the federal government, with the federal role being much more prescriptive (and punitive) in NCLB. The Alexander-Murray draft mandates assessments; however, the particulars it leaves up to states without the punitive outcomes of NCLB.
Thus, state selection of assessments is critical. What a state chooses as its assessments largely determines the focus for the rest of the Alexander-Murray programs and “competitions.”
The “competitions” in the Alexander-Murray draft are optional to states; nevertheless, when coupled with a state’s choice of assessments (which could be assessments specific to the “competition”), state involvement in many of these “competitions” could mimic the oppression of NCLB or even US secretary of education Arne Duncan’s NCLB “waivers.”
A state could go the way of NCLB oppression. Or it could not.
It all depends upon the preferences of a state’s governor, or legislature, or board of education, or superintendent.
The Alexander-Murray reauthorization leaves room for states to implement assessment systems that require a lot less classroom time lost to testing, for example, or to even further downplay the importance of standardized tests by also incorporating projects and portfolios in the assessment process. However, the important piece here is that the states must be willing to pursue these avenues and include them as the official assessments selected for inclusion in the state ESEA application.
The state-level choice of assessments is critical in determining the degree to which education in that state will continue to be “NCLB-like” or even “Common Core-PARCC-SBAC-like.” Beyond that, the state’s choice of Alexander-Murray “competitions” can set the same NCLB/CCSS “stage.”
The mandate of annual assessment aside, under the Alexander-Murray draft, the state is the principal decision maker and therefore the primary entity for determining the degree of pressure brought upon public education by both the assessments it chooses and the ESEA “competitions” in which it participates for ESEA-related funding.
The state is even able to change its standards and assessments after receiving ESEA money by submitting the changes for re-evaluation by the US secretary– who does not have the authority to mandate a particular set of standards or particular assessments. According to the language of the Alexander-Murray draft, there is no rigid, seven-year lock-in to state standards and assessments. That noted, it would be best for a state to be certain about its choice of assessments at the outset of the application process for the proposed Alexander-Murray reauthorization.
Enough for now.
I’ll be back.
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.