from the Brustein & Manasevit - Federal Update / via e-mail
From: Michael Brustein, Julia Martin, Steven Spillan, Phillip Burgoyne-Allen
Date: January 30, 2015
This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held its second hearing on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), this time focusing on the support of teachers and principals. While members of the Committee generally agreed that accurate teacher evaluations are important for improving the public education system, it appears unlikely that their version of an ESEA reauthorization will include specific requirements surrounding those evaluations.
During his opening remarks, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) referenced his work as Governor of Tennessee, during which he implemented a compensation system based on teacher performance. Despite his support of such policies, he said he does not believe they should be enforced at the federal level, and that “finding a way to fairly reward better teaching is the holy grail of K-12 education…but Washington will get the best long-term result by creating an environment in which States and communities are encouraged, not ordered, to evaluate teachers.”
Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) said that States need ways to measure how educators are doing, but she is “wary of using them as the sole factor in setting salaries or using testing as the sole indicator in an evaluation.” Rather, Murray believes the Committee should find ways to recruit and retain a diverse teaching force and ensure that successful teachers are working with the students who need them most.
Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, one of the hearing’s witnesses, said there needs to be an overhaul of the entire teacher and principal pipeline, including recruitment, preparation, evaluation, and professional development. However, he thinks that States should lead this transformation, saying that “in order to create a system of support for teachers and school leaders, we as State leaders in education do not need review or approval from the U.S. Department of Education.”
Christine Handy-Collins, a principal from Gaithersburg, Maryland, emphasized that States and districts should be required to ramp up their recruiting and training efforts for principals working in low-income school districts. Similarly, Seattle first grade teacher and National Education Association (NEA) member Rachelle Moore spoke in favor of improved recruiting and training programs for teachers. She cited the Seattle Teacher Residency, a teacher-induction program that pairs novice teachers with experienced teachers for an entire year, as a proven example.
Meanwhile, Saul Hinojosa, Superintendent of the Somerset School District in Texas, focused on compensation models that award teachers with additional pay for their individual classroom performance, the performance of their students and school, and for taking on new leadership roles and responsibilities. “We must recognize and reward teachers who accelerate student learning, take on the most challenging assignments, and serve in leadership roles, rather than basing teacher pay solely on years of experience and degrees earned,” he said.
Another witness, Dan Goldhaber, is the director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research at the American Institutes for Research and the director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington, Bothell. He was generally opposed to the compensation methods supported by Hinojosa, which he said have limited impacts on student achievement. Rather, he cited evidence showing that higher permanent salaries reduce teacher attrition, leading to more experienced educators.
The hearing also exposed another major policy debate between Republicans and Democrats: Title II (preparing and recruiting teachers and principals) and Title IV (creating safe and healthy schools). The reauthorization discussion draft circulated earlier this month by Senate Alexander would provide funding from Titles II and IV in the form of block grants and allow States to freely transfer funding from one to the other.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) spoke in opposition to the draft’s language, arguing that it would provide States with millions of dollars without requiring that they spend any of the funds on teachers. “Maybe it will happen sometimes,” Warren said, “but nothing in this proposal requires States to spend a single dollar on teachers.”
In an interview after the hearing, Chairman Alexander was asked whether there might be room for negotiating with Democrats on that issue. In response, he laughed and said, “That's a traditional difference of opinion between Republicans and Democrats.”
Questions from the Senators also returned to the topic of testing and accountability, which was the focus of the Committee’s first hearing last week. At one point, Chairman Alexander asked Commissioner Holliday about his stance on the current testing regime and accountability measures. Holliday said that he favors federally mandated annual assessments, but anyone who thinks that States cannot be trusted to implement their own accountability systems is “stuck in the 80s.” He also referenced the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federally-controlled standardized test given every two years in a variety of subjects, saying that it already provides “a treasure trove of data to hold States accountable.”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who strongly criticized the number and quality of assessments in his home State at last week’s hearing, asked each witness to approximate how much standardized testing should be reduced. The witnesses’ general consensus was that students should take about 50% fewer tests. However, Dan Goldhaber said that reducing the current law's annual testing requirements would hinder the ability of States and districts to judge educator effectiveness.
The HELP Committee will meet again on February 3rd for a roundtable discussion focused on innovation in education at the State and local level. Chairman Alexander said he still anticipates a completed markup of the reauthorization bill by March, but noted that the process is far from over. “We have to go to the [Senate] floor for an extended period of debate and discussion. Then we have to go to conference, and then we have to discuss it with the President. So this isn't the final word. This is step one.”
Last week, Chairman John Kline (R-MN) of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce said that he supports keeping annual assessments in a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This week, he clarified his comment, underscoring that he supports consistent statewide testing, rather than a mix of State and local assessments.
According to Kline, maintaining ESEA’s current testing regime, under which students take annual math and reading assessments in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, is necessary to provide transparency for parents and local school boards.
Kline’s viewpoint is echoed by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), who was the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee during the last ESEA reauthorization in 2001.
According to a Boehner spokesman, “The Speaker supports the House approach, which includes annual [statewide] testing, which was in the House bill last Congress and will be in our bill this Congress as well.”
While the testing debate has not yet been decided in the Senate, it appears that the House has made up its mind on the issue, and emphatically so.
Alyson Klein, “Rep. John Kline: Annual, Statewide Tests Give Parents, School Boards Transparency,” Education Week: Politics K-12, January 28, 2015.
Alyson Klein, “Speaker Boehner Supports Annual Tests in NCLB Renewal,” Education Week: Politics K-12, January 28, 2015.
Senate Committee Passes ESRA Reauthorization
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions voted Wednesday to pass a bill to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). The legislation, known as the Strengthening Education through Research Act (S. 227), was adopted by the Committee through a voice vote – a sign of the bipartisan support for the measure, which had made significant progress through the legislative process but did not see final passage before the last Congress adjourned.
While the bill largely preserves the structure of education research programs, it does make some modifications to the way data is shared and used, requiring the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to provide more timely access to its data, and requiring outcome-based decisions regarding continued support for regional educational laboratories and comprehensive centers. It would also require ED to reduce the burden on States and ask NCES to collect data on a number of new items, including:
- Secondary school graduation and completion rates;
- Postsecondary education completion;
- The supply of, and demand for, school leaders;
- School safety that includes data on school climate and in- and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions;
- Access to, and use of, technology to improve elementary and secondary schools; and
- Access to, and opportunities for, adult education and literacy activities.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for approval. It is still unclear whether the House will adopt the Senate version of the bill, or whether it will introduce its own bill and force both chambers to go to conference. Given the lack of conflict over the bill, however, and the near-identical nature of the House and Senate versions in the last Congress, the former seems more likely.
Lauren Camera, “Senate Education Committee Clears Education Research Bill,” Education Week: Politics K-12, January 28, 2015.
Per-Pupil K-12 Spending Continues to Fall, Says NCES
Data released Thursday by the National Center for Education Sciences (NCES) says that national average per-pupil spending dropped in 2012 for the second year in a row. Schools nationwide spent an average of $10,667 per student in 2012, a decline of 2.8% from the year before (after adjusting for inflation).
The size of the decrease varied from State to State, but thirty-seven States saw their per-pupil expenditures drop by at least 1%. Wisconsin saw one of the biggest decreases, as funding dropped nearly 9% percent between 2011 and 2012. Texas also saw a reduction of more than 8% in per-pupil expenditures. NCES blames the decrease in funding at least in part on the end of federal stimulus funds, which provided billions of dollars in additional federal support after the 2008 fiscal crisis. At the same time these funds were running out, many local governments saw State-level funding decrease as legislatures cut spending and property tax revenues decreased.
Some States did see increases in spending. Vermont increased its per-pupil expenditures by 10% between 2011 and 2012, and spending in Delaware rose by nearly 6% over the same time period.
Emma Brown, “Nation’s per-pupil K-12 funding fell for second consecutive year in 2012,” The Washington Post, January 29, 2015.