News-in-Brief – June 2013

Senate Moves Forward on ESEA

On June 13 with a straight party line vote of 12-10, the Democratic majority of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (“SASA,” S. 1094), a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind). Education laws generally are reauthorized every five years. ESEA was scheduled for this intensive reexamination process in 2007. Efforts to reauthorize the law since that date have been stymied by philosophical party differences, in part related to what role the federal government should play in education policy.

It is important first to remind readers of the process of passing an ESEA reauthorization bill through Congress. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce will take up its majority bill, which differs significantly from the Senate HELP Committee version. The committee-passed bills each must be brought to the floor of the respective chambers for debate and passage, followed by convening of a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House bills. After the conference committee produces a single compromise bill, each chamber must vote on that final bill and the resulting bill is sent to the president for signature or veto. In other words, passage of SASA by the Senate HELP Committee is just the first step in a long legislative process.

As noted in the opening of this article, there is a wide philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans on the federal role in education. During the HELP Committee debate on SASA, senior committee Republican (“ranking member”) Senator Alexander (R-NC) spoke frequently about the bill’s creation of a “national school board.” His inference was that the bill includes a number of requirements on States and much greater oversight than the Republicans believe is necessary. Republican senators supported amendments that reduce the requirements on States and allow States and local school districts maximum flexibility to design accountability systems and determine the educational process in their own jurisdictions. Democrats, led by HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), support a strong federal presence, giving the rationale that federal oversight is necessary and important for all children to have “equity and access” to the same educational opportunities.

Following are some key provisions of SASA:

  • Maintains subgroups, including students with disabilities, and accountability for their progress through disaggregation of data and other emphases on their progress.
      • Establishes an “n” size of 15, requiring disaggregation of data for subgroups of 15 or more students.
      • Continues the requirement for testing at least 95 percent of all students and 95 percent of each subgroup.
    • Requires States to adopt “college- and career-ready” (CCR) academic content and achievement standards in mathematics and reading/English language arts by the 2015-16 school year.
      • Continues the requirement to assess students annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10 through 12 in math and reading/English language arts, and once in each of the grade spans (3-5, 6-9, 9-12) in science.
  • For States that use Title I funds for early childhood education, requires those States to have early learning guidelines and standards for kindergarten through third grade.
  • Eliminates “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) and the requirement for all students to meet proficiency by 2014.
  • Replaces AYP with State-developed accountability systems that
    • Measure academic growth, where “sufficient growth” means a student is performing at or above grade level either within three years or by the end of the student’s grade span, or through another model approved by the Secretary of Education.
    • Establish performance targets by adopting (a) targets set through the State ESEA waiver process; or (b) the goal of every school meeting the achievement level of the highest-performing 10 percent of the State’s schools within a reasonable period of time, with annual progress toward that goal for each subgroup (including students with disabilities) and an assurance of accelerated progress for subgroups starting with the lowest levels of student achievement.
  • Allows up to one percent of students with significant cognitive disabilities to be taught to alternate achievement standards and assessed on alternate assessments.
    • Prohibits use of other alternate or modified standards under Title I-ESEA.
    • Prohibits more than 1 percent of the total number of students in each grade in the State from being assessed on alternate assessments.
    • Allows separate determinations by subject of whether students will be tested on alternate assessments.
    • Allows schools to count as graduates up to 1 percent of students tested on alternate assessments who have received a regular high school diploma or a “State-defined alternate diploma.”
  • Continues requirement for State, district, and school report cards with additional elements, including, among others, data on
    • School discipline, incidence of school violence and bullying, districts’ implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports, students receiving early intervention services and the impact on special education identification, and districts’ implementation of school-based mental health programs.
    • Rates of remediation for high school graduates enrolled in postsecondary education, and rates of passage of college credit worthy courses such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.
    • Evaluation results of teachers and principals.
  • Requires States to identify three categories of schools – schools needing local interventions, focus schools, and priority schools.
    • Local intervention schools have not met the same performance target for the same subgroup after two consecutive years and must develop, with district collaboration, a locally designed intervention for each subgroup.
    • Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools in the State that are not priority schools and have the greatest achievement gaps among the subgroups, and for high schools are among the 10 percent of schools with the greatest graduation gaps for subgroups. Corrective action plans must be developed and implemented.
    • Priority schools are the lowest achieving five percent of elementary schools, the lowest five percent of high schools, and any high schools with a graduation rate of less than 60 percent. One of several restructuring and turnaround models must be adopted.

The 1150-page bill contains many details beyond what can be summarized in this article. LDA will provide additional summaries in the upcoming issues of News-in-Brief, both of SASA and the House bill which will be considered in this week. Once LDA has analyzed the House bill, we will provide some political “realities” on whether a final bill is likely this year.


House Committee Passes ESEA Bill

On June 19, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed its bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind, NCLB). The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) passed its version the previous week. Since the House majority is Republican and the Senate is Democratic, the two bills look very different.

In his opening statement as the House Committee began consideration of the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), Chairman Kline (R-MN) stated that NCLB had left schools with “a mountain of red tape” and little room for innovation. He outlined four “pillars” on which H.R. 5 is based:(a) reducing the federal footprint in education; (b) restoring local control; (c) shifting the focus from “highly qualified teachers” to “highly effective teachers”; and (d) empowering parents.

Ranking Democrat George Miller (D-CA) said in his opening statement that the bill is a “step in the wrong direction” and does not make the changes required to meet students’ needs. He noted that no one believes the rewrite of the ESEA should be as rigid as No Child Left Behind, but that the real fight is about “equity.”

There were only three amendments offered.

  • The first was a full Republican substitute for the Chairman’s bill offered by Rep. Rokita (R-IN), which included a few small changes to the underlying bill. The amendment passed on a party-line vote as the replacement for the bill introduced by Chairman Kline.
  • A second non-controversial amendment passed (Sponsor: Rep. Heck (R-NV) which encourages school districts to expand dual enrollment and early college high school programs.
  • The final amendment considered by the Committee was a Democratic substitute offered by Rep. Miller as a full substitute for the Republican bill. The amendment failed on a party-line vote.

The extended discussion about both the Rokita and Miller substitutes pointed up the major philosophical differences between the two parties. Simply put, the Republican bill would seriously reduce federal involvement, oversight, and funding for education, while the Democratic bill is similar to the Senate majority bill with a strong focus on accountability and performance targets and consideration of school climate and barriers to learning.

It is difficult to see how the Senate and House bills can be reconciled in a conference committee. However, before that step, each bill must be passed in the respective chambers. House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) has said he will allow floor time for the bill in July. It is unclear at this time what the Senate schedule will be. It remains to be seen if this bill will clear both chambers before the end of the year.


Funding Cuts to Hit Schools Soon

Federal education funding works somewhat differently than funding for other programs. Rather than disbursing checks in December or January for IDEA, ESEA, and other federal programs, most education funds are sent to States from the U.S. Department of Education in July, a process known as “forward funding.” Because school districts have not yet seen the five percent reduction in these program funds as a result of sequestration (the automatic across-the-board cuts that went into effect on March 1), it has been hard to gauge the real effects of the cuts on classrooms around the country.

Actually, many school districts budgeted less for the current school year in anticipation of further belt tightening that will occur for the 2013-14 school year. School districts will absorb the additional cuts in a variety of ways. Some will be forced to reduce staff, most likely beginning with administrative personnel and moving on to specialized instructional support personnel such as school counselors, nurses, and speech-language pathologists. Since students with learning disabilities require and receive specialized instructional support services as part of their individualized education programs, any decrease in staffing could mean fewer hours of these critical supports. In addition, any loss of classroom teachers could mean increased class sizes and less time for individual instruction.

Other changes might include cutbacks in before- and after-school programs, fewer extra-curricular activities, and further narrowing of the curriculum through elimination of arts programs where some students with learning disabilities may excel. Another area that could be affected is career and technical education, programs that help prepare students with SLD for postsecondary education and employment.

LDA needs YOUR help! We would like to start collecting stories, if possible with data to accompany the anecdotes, which point to cuts in school district programming that affect the education of students with learning disabilities. Those stories can be sent to the LDA National Office at https://www.ldaamerica.org/contact/contact.cfm and will be used by LDA’s Policy Director Myrna Mandlawitz on Capitol Hill to describe why sequestration and any further cuts to education are harmful to students with SLD. As noted above, most likely these cuts will be felt as the next school year gets underway. Please share any stories with us.

LDA continues to work aggressively in partnership with other organizations to turn around the dismal fiscal outlook for education and other critical services that affect the lives of individuals with learning disabilities and their families.


President Proposes High School Redesign Initiative

As part of his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014, President Obama outlined a new effort to address the problem of high school disengagement. The goals of the initiative are to have all adults attend at least one year following high school of postsecondary education or career training and for the United States once again to lead in the number of college graduates. To reach these goals, the president proposes a redesign of high school and an increased focus on and strengthening of career and technical education programs.

According to the 2012 Gallup Student Poll, three-quarters of elementary students and two-thirds of middle school students reported being highly engaged in schools. However, less than half of high school students felt highly engaged. The president’s program is designed to reengage high schoolers and expose them to skills and curricula that are better aligned with actual employment and career needs.

The president would invest $300 million in a new competitive grant program to support partnerships among school districts, higher education, and business, industry, non-profits and community-based organizations working to redesign high schools. Priorities would include partnerships that include employers ready to provide students with career-related experiences or credentials and partnerships that focus on high-poverty and rural areas that lack access to career and college opportunities. Redesigned schools would use successful models such as career academies, dual enrollment, and early college high school programs.

In addition, the initiative calls for a $1.1 billion investment in a reauthorized Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. States would be rewarded for better aligning CTE programs with needs identified by employers and with higher education programs leading to employment in growth industries. Students would be better prepared at graduation to enter the workforce with strong skills or have a solid foundation for postsecondary education leading to jobs in high-demand fields.

Finally, the program would support $1.1 billion in the GEAR UP and TRIO programs beginning in middle school. These programs provide early college preparation and awareness, summer learning opportunities, and support for students who would be the first in their families to attend college. In addition $42 million would support a Dual Enrollment Program allowing more high school students to receive college credits for accelerated coursework.

LDA is a strong supporter particularly of the Perkins CTE program and generally of providing better skills development and more hands-on work experiences while students are still in high school. In addition to increasing students’ motivation and engagement, students would leave high school with enhanced pathways to higher education and employment.


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