By Dave Reid
A reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – now proposed to be called The Every Child Achieves Act – is becoming closer to a reality. On April 7th Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray released a new, bipartisan bill to make significant changes to the existing law. The bill would change education policies around accountability, assessments, charter schools, and standards. Additionally, adjustments to many issues surrounding teaching and teacher quality are proposed in the bill. While the bill is not yet finalized, it appears that several important policies that concern teachers will change.
No More Highly Qualified Label
Under the new proposal the formerly used “highly-qualified” label will no longer exist. The highly qualified label meant all states needed to ensure all classrooms were staffed by a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in their subject area, state certification, and demonstrated subject-matter competency, typically on state mandated teacher assessments.
The removal of this provision does not mean anyone can teach. States are still responsible to disclose information about their teachers’ qualifications, including who is teaching where and the credentials of teachers (e.g. experience, education level, type of teaching certificate they currently hold).
Under the proposed revisions states are no longer required to design and implement federally mandated teacher evaluation systems. However, states can chose to implement and use these systems or they may design their own.
Incentives for ELLs and Literacy
The new bill provides incentives to better recruit, train, and professionally develop teachers for English Language Learners (ELLs). Additionally, the bill brings to the forefront the importance of community and family engagement for ELL students and provides incentives for teachers and schools to explore and expand upon the practice of family and community engagement.
Finally, the bill provides incentives for statewide literacy programs. Senator Alexander has been a big proponent of state-wide literacy programs and these incentives are an important piece of what he feels can most help improve educational outcomes.
Political experts are hopeful and confident the ESEA reauthorization will pass. The redesign of ESEA has drawn support from numerous groups, including teachers’ unions and some educational experts. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supports parts of the reauthorization, but believes the bill falls short in several important areas, such as assessments, evaluations, and accountability. As was discussed previously on Green & Write Secretary Duncan has some strong feels about the reauthorization, but his stance on some of these issues may have softened in recent weeks.
Reactions to the Reauthorization
This is the first time there has been bipartisan support to reauthorize this education bill since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. The ESEA reauthorization is a rare example of compromise from a Congress that has been slow to compromise on anything.
However, important questions remain.
One of the biggest challenges with NCLB has been how to actually enforce equal distribution of teachers, which President Obama deemed a priority of the bill. This important provision continues to be part of the law, but it has not been addressed how it will be better enforced. Critics have argued the Obama administration often talk about the important of the equal distribution of teachers, but the actions of the administration do not align with what they are saying.
Additionally, there is some concern that the bill does not do enough to support poor and minority students and help close achievement and opportunity gaps.
However, the bill appears to be a step in the right direction for supporting the development of effective teachers, which is extremely important for student achievement.
The new proposal moves away from an overemphasis on high-stakes testing and standardized teacher evaluations. Instead, states and local districts have more freedom to do what is in the best interest of their local context. This has the potential to attract more people into teaching and keep more people in the profession as the emphasis moves from the stressful world of testing and sanctions to teaching and learning.