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State Chiefs Join Calls for More Accountability in Senate ESEA Rewrite

The Council of Chief State School Officers added its voice to those calling for stronger accountability provisions to be included in the bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act rewrite that the Senate began debating Tuesday.

"Some have questioned whether or not this bill includes enough in the way of accountability," said Chris Minnich, CCSSO executive director, in a statement sent to senators Tuesday. "As state leaders in education, we believe this bill includes many solid provisions, but can also be improved upon before final passage."

Minnich outlined three specific changes the state chiefs' group is looking for:

  • Identifying at least 5 percent of the schools in each state as lowest-performing;
  • Benchmarking for high school graduates (specifically for schools that have less than a 67 percent graduation rate);
  • Additional state-determined measures that ensure state accountability systems address achievement gaps for subgroups of students.

The call for tighter accountability came just minutes before the Senate kicked off debate on the bill and just one day after the White House said that the neither the House nor the Senate ESEA reauthorization bills do enough to ensure states stay focused on struggling schools and on closing the achievement gap.

Minnich underscored that the accountability changes the group is seeking are aligned with its original priorities for the bill, which was released in January, and that the changes would strike the right balance between the state and federal role when it comes to accountability in education.

For example, identifying the poorest-performing 5 percent, Minnich said, still would maintain states' flexibility to determine the best way to work with local school districts to improve academic progress.

Notably, Minnich said CCSSO isn't necessarily fixated on specific percentages.

"If you're not graduating two-thirds of your kids in high school, that's a problem," he said. "But again, it's less about penalizing these schools and more about making them work better. The numbers are not as important as the concept behind them."

Whether to beef up accountability provisions in the Senate bill is the biggest debate currently taking place. The underlying bill was carefully crafted by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and strengthening the federal role in any way could result in the loss of support from Republicans.

"I think Republicans have always been for accountability," Minnich said. "[These proposals] don't tell states how to turn around their schools. They simply put a threshold in place. I think Republicans will stand for these things."

Pressure for increased accountability has been mounting after a number of civil rights organizations banded together in June to reiterate their opposition to the Senate bill as written and demand a slate of changes.

Senators are planning to offer amendments that would provide additional safeguards for disadvantaged students, including from Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who were still finessing their proposals Tuesday. 

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