Harkin Releases Proposal for ESEA Reauthorization

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) released his draft proposal for the reauthorization of ESEA on October 11. To date, the proposal has been met with mixed reactions across the country.

Civil rights groups assert that the proposal to scrap Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is a giant step backwards when it comes to accountability for poor and minority children.  The language replacing AYP would only require that states ensure “all students are making continuous improvement.”  There would be no specific achievement targets, either for students overall or for subgroups such as ELLs; and it would be left for states to decide whether or not to intervene in schools.  Raul Gonzalez, director of legislative affairs for the National Council of La Raza, has stated that leaving out achievement targets could lead to “two education systems, one for poor and minority kids” and one for others.

In addition to eliminating AYP language, the bill would:

—  Codify Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhood programs.

—  Require states to set college- and career-readiness standards (such as the Common Core)

—  Keep the existing testing system, but eliminate the 2013-14 deadline for bringing all students to proficiency in reading and math.

—  Require states to identify the 5% of lowest performing elementary, middle, and high schools that need intensive intervention; high schools with graduate rates below 60% would also be targeted for these interventions.

—  Move Troops to Teachers to the Dept. of Defense; authorize the Teacher Incentive Fund (a differentiated-compensation initiative); and authorize a new Teacher Pathways program.

With respect to teacher-quality policy, the bill has several key pieces.  Every state receiving Title II funds would have to create at least four statewide ratings categories for teachers and principals; districts would then have to create teacher-evaluation systems based on student achievement data and classroom observations.

The bill also requires states and districts to use the results of their teacher evaluation systems to report on the percentage (by performance category) and retention rate (by performance category) of the teacher force.  Using this information, states and districts would then be required to equalize disparities among high- and low- poverty and high- and low-minority schools, and would have funding curtailed if they didn’t make progress.

The bill would allow districts to continue using part of their Title II funds to reduce class sizes, but only if the practice aligns with research on class size (i.e., the findings from the STAR study).

Teacher’s salaries will have to be taken into account when performing the Title I comparability calculation, meaning that districts will have to send more of their own money up front to schools where teachers are paid less in order to draw down federal funds.

The bill would keep the “highly qualified teachers” provision in place, but would waive them (except for new teachers) once districts had operational teacher-evaluation systems in place.  It would also permit teachers receiving alternative certification to be considered highly qualified for up to three years.

To read more, please visit http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/esea/    or http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2011/10/harkin_esea_bill.html