What’s missing in ESEA reauthorization?

A new framework for #ESEA passed the Conference Committee 39-1. It will likely go to the House & Senate floors for votes in early December.  Goodbye NCLB?

By Pamela Kondé, Director, Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions, PLLC

Almost fifteen years after the last reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (#ESEA), called “No Child Left Behind” (#NCLB), a new ESEA framework passed the Conference Committee by 39-1 today.  The full legislation of “Every Student Succeeds Act” (#ESSA) is expected to go to the House and Senate floors for votes in early December.  The original version passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support, so the House will be the one to watch.  The focus may be on “Title I portability” (a.k.a. vouchers), which is not in the compromise version.  Without the portability, the veto-threat is gone, and President Obama could be signing away NCLB by year’s end.

This new ESEA framework maintains testing and disaggregating the data, but it eliminates some of the most onerous provisions of NCLB, like “Adequate Yearly Progress” and “Highly Qualified Teachers,” as well as the very restrictive list of sanctions for schools that failed to satisfy those requirements.  Additional protections to ensure accountability were added during negotiations, but  education reformers are concerned that states and local educational agencies will slide back into old habits.  Time will tell whether “local control” is the panacea that Congressional leaders describe.

At the behest of the House leadership, the new ESEA framework consolidated a number of programs into a block grant.  Some programs, such as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (#21stCCLC), which supports after-school programs, will retain a separate pot of funding.  Plus, at Senator Murray’s request, there will be a new early education program, however, it will be housed in the US Department of Health and Human Services, not in the Department of Education. Watch for education policy conversations about the merits of different programs.

If passed into law, this new ESEA framework can begin to move our American educational system away from the unintended consequences of NCLB.  Missing in the bill, in my opinion, is a fully comprehensive approach to education reform — Education Reform’s Final Chapter — Comprehensive Reforms, but perhaps that will be for state and local leaders to develop.