40 Reasons to Call Harkin’s Claim of Flexibility Laughable

The ESEA-reauthorization bill released by Senate HELP committee Chairman Tom Harkin this week is advertised as getting “the federal government out of the business of ‘micromanaging’ schools’” and offering states significant “flexibility.” As I told the New York Times, that claim is laughable. Here are forty policy questions which Chairman Harkin could have let states or local school districts answer, but didn’t. (In contrast, Senator Lamar Alexander’s bill remains silent on all forty, leaving these issues to the states or localities.)

Early Childhood Guidelines and Standards

1.   States must adopt “early learning guidelines” that address “infants, toddlers, and pre-school age children.”
2.   The guidelines must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development” for “each age group.”
3.   The guidelines must “address the cultural and linguistic diversity and the diverse abilities of young children.”
4.   States must also adopt “early grade standards” for Kindergarten through third grade.
5.   The standards must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development.”
6.   The standards must also “address cultural, linguistic, and ability level diversity.”


7.   State accountability systems must “differentiate” school districts and schools on the basis of academic achievement and student growth.
8.   State accountability systems must also consider English-language proficiency and growth for English learners.
9.   State accountability systems must expect the “continuous improvement” of all public schools in “the academic achievement and academic growth of all students,” including subgroups.
10.   State accountability systems must establish “ambitious and achievable annual performance targets.”
11.   State accountability systems must establish “not less than 3 categories of students”—1) those who are meeting achievement standards; 2) those who are not meeting achievement standards but are making “sufficient academic growth,” and 3) those who are both below grade level and not making sufficient academic growth.
12.   State accountability systems must define “sufficient academic growth” as a rate that will get students to grade level within three years, or to grade level by the end of the grade span (3–5, 6–8, or 9–12) or “another aggressive growth model approved by the Secretary.”
13.   States must establish “annual performance targets” for “each subject and grade level assessed.”
14.   These performance targets must aim for every school to attain the current “achievement level of the highest-performing 10 percent of schools in the state”; otherwise states must set targets that “are equally ambitious” and are approved by the Secretary.
15.   Targets must be set for student proficiency, student academic growth, English-language proficiency, and, for high schools, high school graduation rates.
16.   Targets for English-language proficiency must be set to ensure that English-language learners are on track to achieve proficiency “not later than 5 years after being identified as English learners.”

State Plans and Reports

17.   States must develop plans that, among other things, describe how they “plan to increase the number of students in the State who are enrolled in full-day kindergarten.”
18.   State plans must also describe “how the State will assist local educational agencies in identifying gifted and talented students, including high-ability students who have not previously been formally identified for gifted education services, and implement educational approaches at the elementary school and secondary school levels to support the learning needs of gifted and talented students to ensure that such students make appropriate learning gains, such as early entrance to kindergarten, enrichment, acceleration, curriculum compacting, and dual enrollment in secondary school and postsecondary education.”
19.   States must also describe how they will “reduce suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and other disciplinary actions that remove students from instruction.”
20.   States must provide an annual report on “in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, and disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools).”
21.   States must explain how they will “plan for pregnant and parenting students to be enrolled, attend, and succeed in school.”

Equitable Distribution of Quality Teachers

22.   States must “provide for the equitable distribution of teachers” within districts and within the state so that low-income and minority children are not taught by ineffective teachers are higher rates than other students.
23.   States must report annually on the distribution of teachers who 1) are not classified as highly qualified; 2) are new; 3) have not completed a teacher-preparation program; 4) are not teaching in the subject or field for which the teacher is certified or licensed; and 5) are those with the highest and lowest ratings in teacher-evaluation systems.

School Report Cards

24.   School report cards, to be developed by states, must include, among other things, detailed data on the number of pregnant or parenting students and their outcomes.
25.   School report cards must also include data on average class sizes, by grade.
26.   Report cards must also include data on the incidence of “school violence, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, in-school student suspensions, out-of-school student suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools), and student detentions” for each subgroup.
27.   Report cards must also include data on the number of school districts that “implement positive behavioral interventions and supports,” the number of students “who are served through the use of early intervening services,” and the number of districts that “implement school based mental health programs.”
28.   These report cards must be “concise.”
29.   School districts must also develop “equity report cards” for each school that include data on, among other things, student achievement disaggregated by subgroup; the amount of federal, state, and local funding spent at the school; and school climate (including results of student surveys).

Interventions in Low-Performing Schools

30.   States must identify schools as “focus schools” if they are among the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state in terms of their achievement gaps or graduation gaps.
31.   States must identify schools as “priority schools” if they are among the 5 percent lowest performing schools in the state or if their graduation rates are below 60 percent.
32.   In all “priority schools,” districts must “provide time for collaboration among instructional staff.”
33.   In all “priority” elementary schools, districts must “coordinate with appropriate high-quality early childhood programs” in order to “align instruction to better prepare students for elementary school.”
34.   For all priority schools, districts must report how they will “adopt and implement policies or practices to develop, implement, improve, or expand positive behavioral interventions and supports, early intervening services, and school-based mental health programs.”
35.   Districts must choose among five school-improvement strategies for priority schools: transformation, turnaround, whole school reform, restart, or closure.

Teacher Policy

36.   Districts must ensure that all new teachers are “highly qualified.”
37.   Districts must ensure that Title I schools have “comparable” state and local resources as non-Title I schools, and must taking actual expenses (including teacher salaries) into account.
38.   Districts must implement “professional growth and improvement systems” (i.e., teacher and principal evaluation systems).
39.   Principal-evaluation systems must be “based in significant part on evidence of improved student academic achievement and growth and student outcomes, including the English language proficiency of English language learner students, and evidence of providing strong instructional leadership and support to teachers and other staff.”
40.   Teacher evaluations must be based “in significant part” on improved student achievement and growth; observations of classroom teaching; and other measures.

—Mike Petrilli

This originally appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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