ESEA reauthorization: What Ohioans should know

The
education policy debates at the Statehouse might have some of us forgetting
that another education debate is afoot on Capitol Hill, over the
reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
ESEA is the law authorizing federal funding and policy directives for K-12
education; for the past ten years it’s been better known as No Child Left
Behind.

What are the
major policies related to ESEA? What are the thorny issues holding up its
reauthorization? In a new briefing book, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and
Chester E. Finn, Jr. take a look at the reauthorization of ESEA to identify the
key questions Congress and the Obama Administration must answer in order to
reach an agreement on the Act and offer up Fordham’s recommendations for moving
forward. You can read the entire briefing book here, an opinion piece from last
week’s Education Gadfly here, and continued coverage on
Fordham’s Flypaper blog here.

For readers
focused on the impact of ESEA here in the Buckeye State, below is a quick take on
the ten big issues that Finn and Petrilli identified, Fordham’s recommendation
for the direction the feds take, and where Ohio currently stands on each point.

Standards and Assessments

1. College and career readiness. Should
states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college- and
career-readiness (such as the Common Core)?

Fordham says: Expect states, as a condition of Title I funding, to
adopt rigorous (i.e., “college- and career-ready”) academic standards in
reading and math (either the Common Core standards or equally rigorous ones). 

Where Ohio stands: Ohio has adopted the Common Core standards in
math and English language arts.

2. Cut scores. What requirements, if
any, should be placed upon states with respect to achievement standards (i.e.,
“cut scores”)?

Fordham says: Likewise, expect states to adopt
rigorous “cut scores” on tests aligned to those standards–cut scores that
signify true readiness for college and career. 

Where Ohio stands: Ohio’s State Board of Education has not
revisited or raised the “cut scores” for the state’s most recent iteration of tests
since the exams were rolled out in 2003, despite a promise at that time to do
so. And Ohio’s bar for achievement is demonstrably not a high one. For example,
while 78 percent and 82 percent of fourth graders passed the state’s math and
reading tests, respectively, in 2009, just 45 percent and 36 percent were
“proficient” in the same subjects on the National Assessment of Educational
Progress, aka the Nation’s Report Card. In Fordham’s 2007 report The
Proficiency Illusion
, Ohio’s state assessments were consistently ranked in the bottom half of
all states in terms of difficulty.

3. Growth measures. Should states be required to develop
assessments that enable measures of individual student growth?

Fordham says: Require states to develop the
capacity to measure student growth over time. 

Where Ohio stands: In reading and math in grades four through
eight, Ohio has a strong measure of student progress (value-added) and the
state has promised via Race to the Top to develop growth measures in additional
grades and subjects.

4. Science and history. Must states
develop standards and assessments in additional subjects beyond English
language arts and math?

Fordham says: Demand regular testing in science
and history, not just reading and math, in order to push back against the
narrowing of the curriculum. 

Where Ohio stands: Ohio has academic standards across multiple subject areas; however, the state eliminated testing in
writing and social studies in 2009 as a cost-savings measure (science tests are
still required).

Accountability

5. School ratings. Should Adequate
Yearly Progress (AYP) be maintained, tweaked, or scrapped?

Fordham says: Eliminate AYP and instead require
states, as a condition of Title I funding, to adopt school rating systems that
provide transparent information to educators, parents, taxpayers, and voters.
Such state reporting systems would have to be pegged to college and career
readiness and, for high schools, to graduation rates. They would have to rate
all schools annually on their effectiveness and include certain elements such
as disaggregated data about subgroup performance.

Where Ohio stands: Ohio’s current school rating system relies
heavily on student test performance in the middle grades and the state’s
low-rigor high school exit exam. Graduation rates currently account for 1/26
“indicators” for a district and 1/12 for a high school. While the state
provides some college-readiness information (ACT and SAT scores and
participation rates, AP test information), it does not figure those into the
ratings schools and districts receive.

6. Interventions. What requirements, if
any, should be placed on states in terms of rewarding and sanctioning schools
and turning around the lowest performers?

Fordham says: Eliminate all federally mandated
interventions in low-performing schools. Allow states to decide when and how to
address failing schools.

Where Ohio stands: The state has proved timid to force
interventions in low-performing schools under NCLB and other federally
incentivized turnaround measures, like School Improvement Grants. Governor
Kasich’s pending budget proposals put more rhetorical emphasis on accountability
and intervention, but it remains to be seen how strong the new administration
will be in forcing district schools to improve. They will surely face a lot of
pushback from school districts and arguments about local control.

Teacher
Quality

7. Teacher effectiveness. Should
Congress regulate teacher credentials (as with the current Highly Qualified
Teachers mandate) and/or require the evaluation of teacher effectiveness?

Fordham says: Eliminate the Highly Qualified
Teachers mandate.

Where Ohio stands: “Highly qualified,” as a determiner of
teacher effectiveness, has taken root in Ohio. Even Senate Bill 5, which seeks
to eliminate seniority-based layoffs and tenure for teachers (and other public
workers), leans on highly qualified status and other measures based largely on
credentials and years of service to “replace” seniority.

8. Comparability. Should school
districts be required to demonstrate comparability of services between Title I
and non–Title I schools, and if so, may they point to a uniform salary schedule
in order to do so?

Fordham says: Rather than demand “comparability”
of services across Title I and non-Title I schools, require districts to report
detailed school-level spending information (so as to make spending inequities
across and within districts more transparent).

Where Ohio stands: Governor Strickland’s House Bill 1 made some
good moves toward better reporting and transparency of building-level spending,
and Governor Kasich has indicated that his education reform budget (to be
unveiled later in his term) will move the state further toward student-based
funding and building-level spending accountability.

Flexibility
and Innovation

9. Flexibility. Should the new ESEA provide greater
flexibility to states and school districts to deviate from the law’s
requirements?

Fordham says: Offer states the option of signing
flexibility agreements that would give them greater leeway over the use of
their federal funds and that would enable them to target resources more tightly
on the neediest schools.

Where Ohio stands: It is unclear how Ohio might take
advantage of such opportunities. As said above, the state has been timid about
forcing improvement among its worst schools under NCLB and the last governor
moved Ohio toward a one-size-fits-all approach to school funding and spending. However,
Governor Kasich’s early policy proposals indicate his belief that local school
leaders need more flexibility in how they spend their funds and educate their
students, so he may be disposed to such flexibility agreements.

10. Competitive grants. Should reform-oriented competitive grant
programs, including Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3), be
authorized in the new ESEA?

Fordham says: Whenever possible, turn
reform-oriented formula grant programs into competitive ones. Specifically,
transform Title II into a series of competitive grant programs, including Race
to the Top, I3, charter-school expansion and improvement, a competitive version
of School Improvement Grants, and an expanded Teacher Incentive Fund.

Where Ohio stands: While Ohio won Race to the Top funds, the
state did not use the opportunity to pass major reform legislation, nor will all of the state’s students and districts benefit from the reforms.

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