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).
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.
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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