After years of carping and political wrangling, House and Senate conferees approve an agreement for a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind).
The agreement, which has been stalled for years, passed the measure by a vote of 39-1 and would scale back the federal role in education for the first time since the early 1980s. The deal would largely dismantle the federal accountability system created in 2002 by NCLB, which required schools to demonstrate academic progress as measured by standardized test scores.
Under the deal, the Education Dept. would still require that states test students annually and publicly report the scores. The agreement also creates competitive grants to help states plan, organize and expand preschool programs for low-income children. The grant program was a priority for Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member of the Senate education panel and a former preschool teacher.
And it also would require states to intervene with “evidence-based” programs in schools where student test scores are in the lowest 5%, where achievement gaps are greatest, and in high schools where fewer than 67% of students graduate on time.
Specifically, it would:
- Repeal adequate yearly progress (AYP) and replaces it with a statewide accountability system. States are required to improve student learning in the state’s lowest performing 5% of schools, high schools with high dropout rates, and schools in which any group of students is consistently underperforming.
- Maintain important information about student performance. The agreement maintains annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12.
- Improve accountability for learning outcomes for all students. The framework sets high standards for students with disabilities by putting in place a state-level participation cap of 1% of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who can take the alternate assessment aligned to alternate academic achievement standards.
States would design their own accountability systems, deciding for themselves how to evaluate school progress, how much weight to devote to standardized test scores, and whether or how to evaluate teachers. DoEd would be legally barred from influencing state decisions about academic standards
The deal leaves in place the complicated funding formulas used to determine Title 1 grants, the money sent by the federal government each year to help educate students in high poverty schools. It does not allow Title 1 funds to “follow the student” when a low-income student transfers to a different school. The deal also does not allow federal dollars to be used as vouchers for private school tuition.
Outlook: The final agreement will be brought to the House for a vote, said Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, before it goes to the Senate. If it passes, President Obama is expected to sign the measure, which would mark a major transfer of power and authority over public schools.