After months of negotiations to develop bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), House Education and Workforce Chair John Kline (R–Minnesota) announced in mid-December 2011 that continued talks between Republicans and Democrats would only “further stall the ESEA process.” On January 6, House Republicans introduced a summary of partisan ESEA legislation addressing teacher performance and evaluation and the ESEA accountability system.
While their counterparts on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved one massive bill in October to reauthorize ESEA, the House Education and Workforce Committee is moving its version of ESEA in smaller sections. To date, the House education panel has approved three bills: one to eliminate more than 40 education programs, another to reauthorize and streamline charter schools, and a third to allow districts to transfer funds among federal education programs. The full House has approved the charter schools bill, the only one to receive Democratic support.
Highlights from Building a Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Math Education Agenda
For several years, governors and education policy leaders have been working to strengthen science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education throughout the states.
The immediate goals are twofold: Increase the proficiency of all students in STEM, and grow the number of students who pursue STEM careers and advanced studies. STEM occupations are among the highest-paying, fastest-growing, and most influential in driving economic growth and innovation. Individuals employed in STEM fields enjoy low unemployment, more prosperity, and increased career flexibility. In short, STEM education is a powerful foundation for individual and societal economic success.
The reasons the United States lags behind its competitors in producing STEM graduates have been well documented. They include
- lack of rigorous K–12 math and science standards,
- lack of qualified instructors,
- lack of preparation for postsecondary STEM study,
- failure to motivate student interest in math and science, and
- failure of the postsecondary system to meet STEM job demands.
States and their educational institutions have taken the following actions to address these challenges:
- Adopted rigorous math and science standards and assessments,
- Recruited and retained more qualified classroom teachers,
- Provided more rigorous preparation for STEM students,
- Used informal learning to expand math and science beyond the classroom,
- Enhanced the quality and supply of STEM teachers, and
- Established goals for postsecondary institutions to meet STEM job needs.
States must push ahead with their STEM initiatives. Fortunately, most elements of the STEM agenda—improved standards, more qualified teachers, and access to advanced coursework—directly align with larger education reform efforts. Where unique actions are needed to boost STEM education—such as the creation of STEM-focused schools and support systems for teachers and students—some states are combining their resources with those of the private sector, philanthropic community, and federal government. By efficiently allocating resources in the K–12 system and improving the productivity of postsecondary institutions, states can find ways to advance STEM education without additional expense.
Although no specific language addressing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education appears in the Republican House ESEA bills introduced on January 6 (Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act and the Student Success Act), the Student Success Act does call for the elimination of federally required state–administered science assessments.
The Student Success Act also eliminates the Adequate Yearly Progress requirement. Instead, states would be required to develop and implement accountability systems that annually measure the academic achievement of all public school students, identify the academic performance of each public school in the state, and include a system for school improvement in poorly performing Title I schools. States and districts would be given maximum flexibility to move federal funds across certain programs (but not out of Title I) to address key needs with school interventions and improvements for low-performing schools. The proposed Republican bill also eliminates the Highly Qualified Teacher requirement.
The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act supports the development and implementation of teacher evaluation systems that include student achievement as “a significant part of the evaluation.” The bill consolidates current federal funding for teacher quality programs and includes funds to recruit, hire, and retain teachers; increase alternative certification routes; create performance and differential pay systems; establish teacher career pathways and new teacher induction programs; and provide additional professional development to teachers and school leaders.
It will allow states to reserve 10% of their funds to support state and local programs outside the traditional school system that will increase student achievement (such as after-school activities, scholarship funds, and tutoring).
In the Senate, the committee-passed Senate ESEA bill, the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011, makes substantial changes to the current NCLB law. It includes language that would reauthorize and strengthen the current NCLB Math and Science Partnership Program (Title II B) at the Department of Education by providing competitive grants to states and districts to improve student achievement in STEM fields.
In the current Congressional climate, partisan legislation passed by the House has very little chance of becoming law. With the House seemingly now at a complete impasse over ESEA reauthorization, Senator Tom Harkin (D–Iowa), chair of the Senate education panel, has said he will not take the ESEA bill to the full Senate for consideration without a bipartisan House bill.
Many believe it is almost certain that ESEA reauthorization will not happen until 2013, under the auspices of a newly elected Congress and President. Until then, as reported in the November 2011 issue of NSTA Reports, the majority of states are seeking waivers from the Department of Education that will provide flexibility in NCLB requirements in exchange for stringent and rigorous state-led reform efforts (www.ed.gov).
For the latest news and information on the ESEA legislation, visit the NSTA website.
Math and Science Partnership Funding
The final budget agreement Congress passed in mid-December 2011 to fund fiscal year (FY) 2012 federal education programs through September includes $150 million for the Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnership program, roughly $25 million below the FY 2011 funding level. House Republicans proposed to eliminate this program in their FY 2012 funding proposal.
NGA Issues Report on STEM Education
In December, the National Governors Association (NGA) released a key report it hopes will be used to shape STEM education. Issues discussed in Building a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education Agenda include Goals of the STEM Agenda; Why the STEM Agenda Is Important; and Implementing a State STEM Agenda. Read the full report. (See the sidebar for more information.)
NGA also released an issue brief, New Models of Teacher Compensation: Lessons Learned From Six States, based on discussions during a policy academy with governors and state leaders. The report includes key recommendations for state leaders to consider when developing new teacher compensation systems. Read it online.