Filed under: Education
The Senate – Senators Enzi and Harkin – are making the rounds of their draft ESEA bill.
The bill is receiving high remarks from the Department of Education:
“A bipartisan bill will not have everything that everyone wants, but it must build on our common interests: high standards; flexibility for states, school districts and schools; and a more focused federal role that promotes equity, accountability and reform,” he said in a statement. “This bill is a very positive step toward a reauthorization that will provide our students and teachers with the support they need, and I salute Senators Harkin and Enzi for their good work and their bipartisan approach.” – Secty Duncan
But scorn from civil rights groups that worry that the elimination of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Here’s my cursory view:
Student learning: The draft ESEA bill takes some of the steps needed in order to re-distribute the priorities of No Child Left Behind and put the focus back onto student learning, rather than endless testing and memorization. This is mostly achieved through the elimination of the 2013-2014 deadline for “all proficient”.
AYP: While most people can agree that the AYP structure was flawed (students cannot all be deemed proficient when tests are based on a bell curve), eliminating it completely and replacing it with the nebulous “continuous improvement.” In order to close achievement gaps, it is essential that achievement and improvement data be tracked for all students and subgroups. If a school “continuously improves” as a whole, but its poor students are doing worse, is this okay under the new bill? Strict accountability for all students and subgroups is necessary to close achievement gaps and ensure that all students are prepared for college.
Codifying Obama Programs: The Obama education programs – Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhoods will all be codified. This is great – it means that once the Democrats lose the White House (and therefore top control over the Department of Education), these programs will remain, unless their funding is cut, of course.
Teacher Evaluation: The bill will requires states to develop new teacher evaluation systems. If this leads to distinct developments in teacher evaluation systems (value-added, etc.), this would be great. But, due to teachers’ unions, it’s highly unlike to have this much effect.
Interventions in Schools: Under the new bill, states would decide how to intervene in schools. This makes sense – education power is an inherent state right. However, one of the purposes behind NCLB and the Common Core Standards was to ensure that all states are holding their schools to high standards. The one worry under this specification is that states will allow schools to fall through the cracks – although under the current structure NCLB, states already are allowed to choose how they intervene and they’re able to set their own standards for AYP, so maybe it’s not that bad. The new law would also require the identification of the lowest 5% of schools and dropout factories and provide for more intensive interventions. This makes sense – so long as the interventions discussed are more intense than what are currently in place (or else this provision of the bill just reflects what is currently in place).
So the overall view – changes being made are necessary to adapt NCLB to the reality that the federal government does not have absolute power in education and to allow for some leeway for schools in terms of AYP and proficiency. However, the bill should not lax the standards by which to judge states, districts, schools, and students. High standards are necessary in order to ensure that every school is able to provide every child with a quality education. The reality is, we just can’t put so much pressure on this kids to perform on tests – that’s not learning anyway!
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