Sunday, January 10, 2016

Every Student Succeeds Act, the long-awaited successor to NCLB/ESEA

The biggest news in a long time is that both houses of Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, the long-awaited successor to NCLB/ESEA. While I have mixed feelings about it – as does everyone – I'm glad it passed, as I think (hope) that it'll be better than continuing the status quo.
a) Below is a NYT editorial about it:

When federal lawmakers took up a draft proposal earlier this year, they seemed poised to weaken the law by watering down its protections for impoverished children. Fortunately, the compromise version that passed the House last week and that deserves to pass the Senate as well preserves important parts of the original law while eliminating some significant flaws.

…The bill isn't perfect. But it is a considerable improvement over the original law and would continue pushing schools toward better performance.

Civil rights groups, which fought hard to keep some requirement that states intervene in the lowest-performing schools as well as schools that consistently failed to educate racial minorities or poor students, cautiously welcomed the bill.

But they expressed concerns that without sufficient federal intervention, numerous children would still be left behind.

"This certainly makes us nervous," said Liz King, director of education policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "The lesson of the civil rights movement and community is that the federal government is the defender of vulnerable children and we are worried that with new state and local authority, vulnerable children are going to be at risk."

But others said states and local communities were better able to meet the educational needs of students. "This now means that instead of directing your attention to Washington, you now need to direct your attention to Albany and Trenton and Columbus," said Andy Smarick, partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit education consulting and research group.

"Over the past 10, almost 15 years," he continued, "we've so focused on reading and math scores and this is the real opportunity to make sure we're capturing the things that are important, whether it's grit and persistence or school culture or parent engagement, and the only way to do that is to give power back to the states. You cannot centrally manage an innovative, creative accountability system from Washington D.C."

c) Here's DFER's Charles Barone in this Time article (
"It's middle ground," said Charles Barone, the director of policy at Democrats for Education Reform. "I don't think it's perfect policy by any stretch of the imagination, but it has some of what both sides wanted. The folks primarily concerned with rolling back the federal role in education were handed a big treat."
… "The silver lining here may be that, because states and districts have to come up with their own accountability and intervention plans, they'll have more ownership," Barone said. "Before they could say, 'The feds are requiring us to do this. We don't like it, but we have to do it.' Now they have to own their own plan."
d) Below is a memo from Barone with more details:
Dear Senior Leadership Team and State Directors  -
Wanted to let you know that the House of Representatives will bring the ESEA reauthorization - the Every Student Succeeds Act - conference report to the floor for a vote today, and we expect it to pass by a wide, bipartisan margin. The Senate will likely take up the conference report next week, where we expect it to pass also by a wide margin and after which President Obama will sign it into law.
This is not a perfect bill - no bill ever is - but because of the hard work of those with whom we've worked in coalition, as well as many of you, we beat the political odds in making significant improvements over the course of this year, especially in conference over the past few months. 
As such, it's a bill that: 
Big Picture. Contains key safeguards on assessment and accountability, including a focus on closing achievement gaps; 
Annual Testing. Maintains annual, statewide testing in grades 3-8 (which was in jeopardy early on in the process) and testing at least once in high school i.e., grades 9-12;
e) Below are two infographics that nicely summarize the bill and how it benefits high-quality charter schools.
f) Lastly, here's Andy Rotherham with his concerns:

That's why the champion of the bill in Congress, former Secretary of Education and current Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, is probably right when he says that the new law will unleash innovation in some states and school districts. At times federal rules and programmatic requirements do interfere with state and local innovation. But those rules and requirements also play a vital role in protecting groups of students who have traditionally been underserved by the public schools – in particular low-income students, minority students and those with special needs. It's not by accident that more attention was paid to the needs of these students during the No Child era than ever before.

Many conservatives have long argued that the costs of these federal rules outweigh their benefits, making this sort of quality unevenness at least preferable to the alternatives. That's a debatable premise in the face of both actual data and history, but not a crazy one if one assumes times have changed and this is an era of reform. And the teachers unions and the traditional education establishment are on board with all this. They see the accountability rules, which are hard on adults in the education system and embarrassing for the underperformance they lay bare, as loathsome. Localized decisionmaking is a boon for them because they hold more political sway in states and localities. That's the odd political marriage and the two bets that birthed this new law. 

For students in states with leaders who are deeply committed to equity and prepared to stand up to the myriad special interests in the education sector on behalf of students the new policy could be a win. There is plenty of room for innovation. But students in states without those elements or lacking alignment among key policymakers may be facing years of educational stagnation, or worse backsliding, at a time when they and the country can ill afford it. There is plenty of room for cosmetic rather than real fixes – traditionally the way things are done.

So for individual Americans, whether this law represents progress or not depends a lot on what side of our educational wall you happen to live on and where you go to school. That's exactly the kind of randomness and inequity the federal government has traditionally tried to hedge against in education policy. Now, creating the conditions for it is heralded as a bipartisan breakthrough. And although you'd be excused for thinking otherwise given the craziness of the education debate, it's not a fantasy show. For American students, especially the most disadvantaged among them, this is real life.

A New Education Law Is Coming

States now have free rein on accountability, and that'll be bad news for some students.

This might not end well.

By Andrew J. Rotherham Dec. 10, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. + More

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