Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Leaving "No Child Left Behind" Behind

Last week, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (S.1177) by a vote of 369 to 64. This week, the Senate followed suit and passed the bill by a 85-12 vote. Once it is signed into law by the President, this bill will replace the 14 year-old No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 through FY 2020.

The compromise legislation, drawn up in conference from both the House and Senate versions, shows promise of final enactment thanks to bipartisan provisions addressing the key goals of both Republicans and Democrats. The bill appeals to Republicans for its limitations on the role of the federal government and to Democrats for its efforts to protect low-income and minority students. At a time when all things political feel divisive, efforts to collaborate and compromise are refreshing.

So what does this mean for the state of education nationally; and how will this affect the education landscape of the District? 

Key Provisions:

State and Local Control. Overall, the bill moves a lot of the decisions about education out of the federal Department of Education to state and local educational agencies (OSSE, DCPS and individual charters here in the District). Instead of being nationally mandated, standards (ie the Common Core), teacher evaluations, the type and frequency of standardized student assessments, and other items are at the discretion of individual States.

NCLB Waivers. The bill outlines how states should transition from the current use of waivers under NCLB to the new law. Waivers will no longer be in effect starting on August 1, 2016 but states will still have to continue supporting the lowest-performing schools and schools with large achievement gaps until the new state accountability plans are finalized.

Accountability. ESSA requires states and local school districts to establish their own accountability measures and goals, including how to use test scores to determine a school's performance and developing plans to improve the lowest-performing schools. States will still have to submit their accountability plans to the Department of Education but states can now choose their own goals to include in their accountability systems. States will have to identify and intervene in the bottom five percent of schools based on the performance measures they design.

School Choice. The final bill does not include the provisions from the bill the House passed earlier this year related to Title I that would allow federal funds to follow a student to the school of their choice. Additionally, the bill does not change the Title I formula, as the Senate bill proposed, to ensure that a greater share of Title I formula dollars go to districts with higher concentrations of students in poverty. It does however allow for states and localities to pilot a weighted funding formula using blended funding. (This is a strategy the District has adopted.)

Afterschool Funding. The bill authorizes $1 billion per year for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.

Homeless Students- McKinney Vento Funding. The bill authorizes $85 million per year for the activities under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This funding supports transportation, school uniforms and school supplies among other things, and reflects an increase from the $70 million per year that was authorized under No Child Left Behind.

Early Childhood. ESSA authorizes $250 million per year for an early childhood education program similar to the current Preschool Development Grant program. The program will be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in coordination with the Department of Education, to maximize alignment with other HHS funded early education programs, like Head Start.

Here in DC:
The effect the passage of ESSA will have on the education landscape of the District remains a bit unclear. In 2012 and again in 2015 DC applied for and received a NCLB Waiver. This means that much of the flexibility articulated in ESSA has been implemented- to some degree- locally. However, the protections placed on the use of 21st Century Learning Center funding (which under a waiver could be reallocated from after school programming to other school day activities), the modest increase in the McKinney Vento funds, and the focus on early childhood service coordination could all have a very real impact in the District as ESSA is implemented in the 2017-2018 school year.

This week's blog is courtesy of Amy Davenport. In addition to her 9-5 gig as a public policy specialist, Ms. Davenport is member of DCAYA's Board of Directors and volunteers with Covenant House Washington. 

1 comment:

Kathryn Baer said...

Of course, we won't know for some time what the new law means for DC because even more is left to the discretion of state and local agencies. However, this post is somewhat misleading. Common Core standards were never nationally mandated. And states do still have limited standardized testing requirements.