A bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is expected to advance to the floor of the House as early as Dec. 2. Months after both chambers of Congress passed their versions of the rewrite to the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act this summer, a conference committee met Nov. 18-19, 2015, adopting eight amendments while constructing an agreement to reconcile differences in the bills.

Although the full text of the bill is not yet available, lead Congressional negotiators developed a preliminary framework to guide the conference committee in the process. Among other provisions, the agreement apparently prohibits federal mandates on teacher evaluations, like the ones USDE has imposed in exchange for continuation of Texas’s and other states’ ESEA waivers. The information below was compiled from the framework and news reports.  

Timeline

The new bill authorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for four more years, as opposed to the typical five, giving lawmakers a chance to revisit the policy under the next president should they choose to do so.

Accountability systems

The bill repeals adequate yearly progress (AYP) and replaces it with a statewide accountability system (which must be submitted to the U.S. Secretary of Education for review).

  • State accountability systems must use multiple measures beyond test scores; they may use measures like student engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, and school climate and safety. States must take low student testing participation into consideration in their accountability systems.
  • States will determine the weight of test scores in state accountability systems.
  • Accountability for English language proficiency moves from a separate system in Title III to Title I, to ensure that states are focusing on the unique needs of students who are learning English.
  • Annual reporting of data disaggregated by subgroups of children is maintained.

Interventions for struggling schools 

  • States would be required to identify and take action in the bottom five percent of schools, and schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate. 
  • States would also have to identify and take action in schools where subgroup students (including English-language learners and students in special education, as well as poor and minority students) are struggling.
  • States could reserve up to seven percent of their Title I funds to help with turnarounds and other interventions. (Increased from four percent in current law.)
  • State interventions must be evidence-based.

Testing

  • Maintains annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12. Authorizes a pilot program for states to develop and implement innovative assessments and allows states to choose to offer nationally recognized or local assessments at the high school level if the tests meets certain technical and quality standards.
  • Authorizes the use of federal funds for states and districts to conduct audits of state and local assessment systems to eliminate assessments that do not contribute to student learning.
  • Maintains the federal requirement for 95 percent student participation in tests, but instead of automatically being labeled as failing, schools not meeting these requirements would be subject to state and local decisions about consequences.
  • Allows states to create their own testing opt-out laws.

Academic standards

  • Requires states to adopt challenging academic standards (instead of college-and-career-ready standards currently required).

Teacher quality

  • Eliminates federal highly qualified requirements.
  • Provides resources to states and school districts to implement various activities to support teachers, principals and other educators, including by providing high quality induction services for new teachers, ongoing evidence-based professional development for teachers, and opportunities to recruit new educators to the profession.
  • Prohibits federal mandates on teacher evaluations, while allowing states to innovate with federal funding.
  • Adjusts the allocation of Title II formula funds by ensuring that states with higher numbers of students in poverty receive funding that is reflective of their current student populations.

Additional funding for disadvantaged students

  • Authorizes the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program to help states and local school districts target federal resources on local priorities to better serve disadvantaged students. For example, school districts would be able to use these resources to help provide students a well-rounded education, promote the effective use of technology in schools, and protect the health and safety of students.

Preschool programs

  • Codifies an existing program, "Preschool Development Grants," in law. It is a competitive grant program using existing funding to support states that propose to improve coordination, quality, and access for early childhood education and will be administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services jointly with the Department of Education.

School choice 

  • Authorizes a pilot program allowing districts to try out a weighted student funding formula, which would also essentially function as a backpack of funds for kids. The program would allow 50 districts to combine state, local and federal funds into a single pot that could follow a child to the school of their choice. Participation would be entirely up to district officials.
  • Enhances the Charter Schools Program by investing in new charter school models, as well as allowing for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter school models. Incentivizes charter school accountability, transparency and community engagement practices. Prioritizes grants to evidence-based magnet school programs, including inter-district and regional magnet programs, and provides opportunities to expand magnet school programs with a demonstrated record of success.