The Senate ESEA Reauthorization Draft, Part VI– My Final Post
On April 7, 2015, the Senate education committee announced the following as part of a press release:
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7 – Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today announced a bipartisan agreement on fixing “No Child Left Behind.” They scheduled committee action on their agreement and any amendments to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 14.
The result of the Lamar-Murray collaboration on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization (the latest version of which is renamed No Child Left Behind) is this 601-page document entitled, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.
On April 7, 2015, I began reading and writing about the content of those 601 pages. My writing has resulted in a series of six posts.
This is my sixth and final post, just in time for the Senate education committee meetings that will begin on April 14, 2015, regarding this possible ESEA reauthorization draft.
My other five posts on the Alexander-Murray reauthorization draft can be found here:
At the end of part V, I left off with Title VI, “Innovation and Flexibility.”
That is where I begin this final post.
Let’s jump in.
Page 429, Title VI, “Innovation and Felixibility,” involves ESEA money available “to support State and local innovation in preparing all students to meet challenging State standards” and “to provide States and local educational agencies with maximum flexibility in using Federal funds provided under this Act” as well as “to support education in rural areas.”
Title VI is loosely defined because it allows states and local education agencies (LEAs) to submit for consideration of federal funding potential programs (or components of programs) that do not fall under previous titles.
LEAs receiving grants directly from the US secretary must agree to administer assessments “that are consistent with” (pg. 437) the state assessments that states agreed to use to receive Title I funding (see pgs. 35-40 for Title I assessment info). This means that LEAs that receive Title VI money directly from the US secretary will have to establish that the assessments they use for the Title VI funding somehow “match” the state’s chosen assessments for Title I.
As is true throughout the Alexander-Murray draft, the fact that assessments are tied to those “challenging State academic standards” is downplayed by only mentioning “meeting” the standards. However, in sections in which “meeting” the standards is mentioned as a necessary criterion for funding, all goes back to Section 1111(b) of Title I, which involves setting those “challenging State academic standards” and the assessments.
“Meeting challenging State academic standards” is a euphemism for adequate marks on assessments, whatever those adequate marks might be.
The prohibition on federal control is repeated in Title VI:
Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction, as a condition of eligibility to receive funds under this Act. (pg. 441)
Title VI also includes this interesting rule:
Nothing in this title shall be construed to mandate equalized spending per pupil for a State, local educational agency, or school. (pg. 442)
Next is Title VII, “Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education” (pg. 442):
It is the purpose of this subpart to support local educational agencies in developing elementary school and secondary school programs for American Indian and Alaska Native students that are designed to—
(1) meet the unique cultural, language, and educational needs of such students; and
(2) ensure that all students meet the challenging State academic standards adopted under section 1111(b)
All goes back to those “challenging State acedemic standards,” the front door for the state assessments.
Page 496: Title VIII, “Impact Aid,” involves grants to LEAs “whose boundaries are the same as a Federal military installation or an island property designated by the Secretary of the Interior to be property that is held in trust by the Federal Government; and that has no taxing authority.” Title VIII was designed to assist schools located on federal property because these schools do not benefit from local taxes. Some language in Title VIII indicates that it also serves districts “located in a State that by State law has eliminated ad valorem tax as a revenue for local educational agencies” (pg. 502) or that serves high percentages of children residing on federal land (for example, see pgs. 503-04).
An interesting note: If a state board of education takes over an LEA eligible for Title VIII money, the LEA remains eligible for Title VIII impact aid for two years (pg. 506).
The details on Title VIII eligibility extend to page 528 and makes for some very tedious reading.
The next-to-last title in the Alexander-Murray draft is Title IX, “General Provisions” (pg. 528). The first part of Title IX is the glossary that applies to the ESEA document; the remainder are rules/restrictions.
Some notable definitions:
Paragraph 11, “core subjects,” has been expanded. Here is how it read in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law:
(11) CORE ACADEMIC SUBJECTS.—The term ‘core academic subjects’ means English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography.
And here is how it reads in the Alexander-Murray draft:
(11) CORE ACADEMIC SUBJECTS.—The term ‘core academic subjects’ means English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, and physical education, and any other subject as determined by the State or local educational agency. (pg. 529). [Emphasis added.]
The Alexander-Murray intention to take the spotlight off of the assessments behind the standards is evident in this change of language for English language learners:
[From the NCLB law] striking ‘‘State’s proficient level of achievement on State assessments described in section 1111(b)(3)’’ and inserting ‘‘challenging State academic standards described in section 1111(b)(1)’’ (pg. 530)
However, when it comes to “professional development,” those assessments are clearly mentioned as one of the areas in which “teacher understanding” needs to be “advanced” (pg. 536):
(I) [“Professional development” means activities that… advance teacher understanding of….] challenging State academic standards and assessments under section 1111(b) (pgs. 534, 36, 37).
(Note: Section 1111(b), pgs. 28-56, means under Title I.)
The complete definition of “professional development” is seven pages long (pgs. 534-40).
Now, here we go with a term that corporate reform likes to toss about and not live up to: Paragraph 21: “evidence-based”:
(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subparagraph
(B), the term ‘evidence-based’, when used with respect to an activity, means an activity that—
‘‘(i) demonstrates a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes based on—
(I) strong evidence from at least 1 well-designed and well-implemented experimental study;
(II) moderate evidence from at least 1 well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental study; or
(III) promising evidence from at least 1 well-designed and well-implemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias; or
(ii)(I) demonstrates a rationale that is based on high-quality research findings that such activity is likely to improve student outcomes or other relevant outcomes; and
(II) includes ongoing efforts to examine the effects of such activity.
Hinging high-stakes decisions on “1 study” is not wise. Plus, notice the “catch-all” that the nebulous wording of (ii)(I) provides.
Anything goes with “evidence based” as defined above– for better or worse.
On to some Title IX rules/restrictions:
Regarding waivers: The general rule is that agencies desiring waivers of any federal requirements must follow a chain of command, so to speak. That is, schools must submit a request to the LEA, that must approve and submit to the state, that must approve and submit to the US secretary (see pgs. 543-44).
And the US secretary may approve or deny, but not create additional conditions for waiver approval:
(3) SPECIFIC LIMITATIONS.—The Secretary shall not place any requirements on a State educational agency, local educational agency, or Indian tribe as a condition, criterion, or priority for the approval of a waiver request, unless such requirements are—
(A) otherwise requirements under this Act; and
(B) directly related to the waiver request. (pg. 549-50)
Regarding state plans submitted to the US secretary for ESEA funds: The US secretary has 90 days to communicate with the state regarding disapproval; otherwise, the plan is assumed approved. Also, if a state plan is not approved, the secretary must “present substantial evidence” (pg. 551) that the plan does not meet the requirements for the specific ESEA funds sought.
States with disapproved ESEA plans must be afforded a hearing and opportunity to revise and resubmit within 45 days (pg. 552-54).
The same rules regarding state submission of applications to the US secretary apply to states as they review LEA requests for ESEA funding (pgs. 554-57).
Let us now consider prohibitions on the use of federal funds:
(a) GENERAL PROHIBITION.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government, through grants, contracts, or other cooperative agreements (including as a condition of any waiver provided under section 9401) to—
‘‘(A) mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, instructional content, specific academic standards or assessments, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act;
(B) incentivize a State, local educational agency, or school to adopt any specific instructional content, academic standards, academic assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction, including by providing any priority, preference, or special consideration during the application process for any grant, contract, or cooperative agreement that is based on the adoption of any specific instructional content, academic standards, academic assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction; or
(C) make financial support available in a manner that is conditioned upon a State, local educational agency, or school’s adoption of any specific instructional content, academic standards, academic assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction (such as the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative, any other standards common to a significant number of States, or any specific assessment, instructional content, or curriculum aligned to such standards). [Emphasis added.]
(b) PROHIBITION ON ENDORSEMENT OF CURRICULUM.—Notwithstanding any other prohibition of Federal law, no funds provided to the Department under this Act may be used by the Department directly or indirectly, including through any grant, contract, cooperative agreement, or waiver provided by the Secretary under section 9401, to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum (including the alignment of such curriculum to any specific academic standard) designed to be used in an early childhood education program, elementary school, secondary school, or institution of higher education.
(c) PROHIBITION ON REQUIRING FEDERAL APPROVAL OR CERTIFICATION OF STANDARDS.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content or academic achievement standards approved or certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance under this Act. (pgs. 559-61).
States can use federal funds for developing standards (pg. 562); however, the federal government cannot impose its authority on said state standard development.
There is also a prohibition on federally-sponsored testing:
(a) GENERAL PROHIBITION.—Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law and except as provided in subsection
(b), no funds provided under this Act to the Secretary or to the recipient of any award may be used to develop, incentivize, pilot test, field test, implement, administer, or distribute any federally sponsored national test in reading, mathematics, or any other subject, unless specifically and explicitly authorized by law, including any assessment or testing materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative or any other academic standards common to a significant number of States. [Emphasis added.]
(b) EXCEPTIONS.—Subsection (a) shall not apply to international comparative assessments developed under the authority of section 153(a)(5) of the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 and administered to only a representative sample of pupils in the United States and in foreign nations. (pgs. 563-64)
States can still use ESEA funds to develop their own assessments.
Title IX also includes details on evaluation of ESEA programs, including the role of the US secretary as working through the director of the Institute of Educational Sciences, who must present to Congress a biennial evaluation plan for ESEA programs (see pgs. 566-70).
The final pages of the Alexander-Murray draft concern Title X, “Education for Homeless Children and Youths” (pgs. 570-601). I will leave that for readers to peruse at their leisure.
As fr me, my marathon read of the Alexander-Murray, ESEA Senate reauthorization draft is done.
A few final comments:
On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, the Senate education committee is scheduled to meet and consider this draft, including amendments. As it stands, the draft reads like a NCLB with much of the mandatory sting removed. Through this draft, the federal government continues to tether states to annual testing; however, the leash is loosened and lengthened. But it is still a leash.
On the plus side, under this draft, the US secretary of education has his/her leash considerably shortened. Considerably.
But back to that other flip side:
The Alexander-Murray draft obviously promotes “choice” via hybrid-funded “public” charter schools. This funding hybrid can be viewed as an attempt to introduce charter schools while requiring that charters not deplete as much state and local educational funding as they would if they were not partially funded via non-public money. Yet the depletion of funds continues to choke many already-strained traditional public school systems, which run the risk of becoming a convenient means of “choice” schools having a ready place to send students that, shall we say, “just don’t fit” as charter school students. Furthermore, as previously noted in Part V of this series, the hybridized, “public/private” charter funding allows many charters to dodge audits of public money as they are able to selectively hide behind the label, “private entity.”
I could comment more, but I really need to have a reasonable bedtime tonight.
Thank you for reading.
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.