Tag Archives: ESEA

Real Autonomy, Real Accountability: Pacts Americana

We had an idea.

It started with two really depressing facts. NCLB hadn’t worked. But the pre-NCLB era hadn’t worked either–that’s why we got NCLB, for goodness sake.

But instead of obsessing about the weakness of both (we and everyone else had done plenty of that already), we started thinking about the strengths of both. Before NCLB, states and their districts and schools had lots of flexibility. They could develop policies and practices that fit local needs, and they could change courses swiftly when things went wrong. Education leaders were in charge of their standards, tests, and accountability systems, so they felt a sense of ownership over their state’s system of public education.

In the NCLB era, we got an increased focus on student achievement. We were able to track the performance of all kids, and we were assured of meaningful school and district interventions when students were falling behind. We also enjoyed an unprecedented increase in accountability for billions in federal taxpayer funds.Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 11.39.57 PM

Our question became: Is it possible to marry the best of both eras? We started sketching something out.

We eventually hit upon what turned out to be The Big Question–the one that ultimately brought about “Pacts Americana,” the report we’re releasing today: Does the education world have some kind of time-tested system–something could be brought to bear on ESEA reauthorization–for combining real accountability with real autonomy?

Yes, we realized. That’s precisely what chartering is all about. Continue reading

8 Thoughts on Lamar Alexander & Patty Murray’s “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015”

Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray released a bipartisan draft bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Check out Education Week’s Lauren Camera for the rundown, or read the full 600-page bill yourself. Here are my 8 takeaways:  Continue reading

3 Observations On Senator Lamar Alexander and School Choice

Three observations on Senator Lamar Alexander and school choice:

1. Although Senator Alexander supports school choice, his proposal to reauthorize No Child Left Behind isn’t really a school choice bill. In the past Alexander, has personally sponsored a private school voucher bill, and at the Brookings Institution yesterday he outlined four things he thinks the federal government could do to boost school choice–vouchers, vouchers for students with disabilities, vouchers for District of Columbia students, and expanding the federal charter school program. Of those four things, only one, charter schools, made it into Alexander’s draft proposal for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind.

Maybe this is the Senator playing politics–he clearly still supports vouchers–but his NCLB reauthorization proposal is actually worse on public school choice than current law. Under current law, low-performing public schools must allow students the option to transfer to another school in their district. Alexander’s draft would make this provision optional, closing the only existing federal rule that ensures families have a choice of school for their children. Continue reading

Let’s Make a Deal: The ESEA Compromise Congress Should Make

Just like your favorite sitcom, Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been engaged in a will they/won’t they relationship for eight years over reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Could the 114th Congress be the season where they finally get together? That’s what some ardent, right-leaning ESEA watchers (like Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and AEI’s Rick Hess) are hoping, given their general fandom of Senator Lamar Alexander’s current approach. But despite hopes for consensus, Alexander’s draft bill actually makes it harder to reconcile the largest issue on the table: the federal role in education.

Let me explain. New hope for an ESEA compromise isn’t just driven by ideology. On the policy surface, it also appears that the stage could be set for a deal. Everyone agrees on a more limited set of federal requirements than NCLB. For example, both political right and left think that states (not the feds) should play a starring role in creating school rating systems based on performance, graduation rates, and other measures; identifying low-performing schools; and designing and implementing interventions to improve them.

Further bolstering the mood? The annual testing plot-twist nobody everybody saw coming appears to be a mere diversion to create fresh conflict between the major players, instead of recycling storylines from past seasons (see: the 112th Congress “Should teacher evaluations be mandated?” and the 113th “Should Title I funding be portable?”). In predictable fashion, the annual testing drama seems likely to be resolved mid-season. There are just too many key political players (e.g. Kline, Murray, Boehner, Duncan), civil rights organizations, business groups, and state leaders defending annual testing for Alexander to open the grade-span testing floodgates.

Thus, old conflicts are set to re-emerge in the coming episodes of the reauthorization drama. And none looms larger than “What is the appropriate federal role?” It’s the “We were on a break!” conflict driving the entire ESEA reauthorization plot. Continue reading

The Burden of Proof in Federal Education Policy

Are states entitled to federal education money? Lamar Alexander, the Republican Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, seems to think so. His draft bill to reauthorize the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act would entitle states with $14.9 billion a year federal dollars in exchange for…not much.

For the last 50 years, since the first federal K-12 education dollars began flowing to states, states had to ensure federal money was being spent on poor students and that they weren’t using federal investments as a replacement for state or local funding. Since the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, states have also had to measure and do something about student learning results.

Alexander would end this quid pro quo relationship. Instead of states having to comply with federal rules in order to get federal money, Alexander’s bill would require the U.S. Secretary of Education to prove states didn’t deserve federal money. Here’s the key provision:

The Secretary shall…deem a State plan as approved within 45 days of its submission unless the Secretary presents a body of substantial, high-quality education research that clearly demonstrates that the State’s plan does not meet the requirements of this section and is likely to be ineffective or is inappropriate for its intended purposes.

Not only would it have the U.S. Secretary of Education acting like a time-constrained prosecutor, but the bill is sprinkled with at least 16 50 other ways to limit federal oversight over federal money.

Continue reading