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ESEA Reauthorization: A Look at a Draft of the Bill

We've brought you all the details of the deal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and a peek at what appeared to be the framework, but we know you've been on pins and needles waiting for real, live legislative language.

And it looks like we have a late stage draft, from sources in the know, of what could become the latest iteration of the ESEA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. (One note: This is a draft, so expect at least a few tweaks when the bill is formally introduced, likely Monday.)

If the bill passes in the next few weeks, as lawmakers plan, it will replace the current version of the law that we all know and few folks like: the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Before you dive in, a couple things to note right off the bat that we didn't put out in our extensive, must-read cheat sheet:

  • The bill outlines the transition plan from the Obama administration's ESEA waivers to this bold new era of accountability. Waivers would appear be null and void on August 1, 2016, but states would still have to continue supporting their lowest-performing schools (a.k.a. what the waivers call "priority schools") and schools with big achievement gaps (a.k.a. "focus schools") until their new ESSA plans kicked in.
  • So it seems that 2016-17 will be the big transition year. It will be partially under the Obama administration, and partially under the new administration.
  • In general, ESSA would apply to any federal competitive grants given out after Oct. 1, 2016, so most grants would still be under the NCLB version of the law for the rest of this school year.

Are there any changes from the framework Politics K-12 posted last week? Yes!  It appears that there have been a few, key last minute tweaks to better reflect the agreement the conferees reached.  

The short version: In this latest draft bill, academic factors now have to weigh much more as a group in state accountability systems than other factors, as opposed to just "more." But, in exchange, the education secretary may ultimately be more limited in how much direction he or she could give states when it comes to the weight of each indicator. And the draft bill closes a big potential loophole on opt-outs.  

Here's the longer version, for a fuller explanation of those tweaks:

On opt-outs: Under the original framework, states would have to count test-participation rates alongside other indicators, like graduation rates and tests, in their accountability systems. Andrew noted in a blog post last week that that could lead to all kinds of unintended consequences.

So now, test participation would be a standalone factor and states would have to decide how to figure it in—it's not one of the indicators in the accountability system. 

But the basic idea is the same: Just like under NCLB, schools would need to test 95 percent of their students, plus 95 percent of subgroups of students, like students in special education, English-language learners and racial minorities. Under NCLB though, schools that failed to meet that threshold got an automatic fail.

But under ESSA, states would get to decide what low-participation rates meant. They would have to figure them into accountability somehow. But just how to do that would be up to states.

On how much each indicator, including tests, should count relative to other factors: There has been broad agreement that academic factors (tests, graduation rates, maybe chronic absenteeism) need to count more, as a group, than the other factors (like school climate, safety, teacher engagement, access to and success in advanced coursework, etc.)

But from there, Republican and Democratic aides had different ideas. A Republican aide said the academic stuff just has to count at least 51 percent, and the other factor, or factors, could be up to 49 percent. A Democratic aide said the regulations might turn out differently, when all's said and done. (In this aide's view, the department could set a range for each individual indicator, ultimately giving the academic factors as a group significantly greater weight than the other factors.) 

So how did things shake out? It could ultimately be harder for the department to set a range for each indicator. (Why? This gets technical, but essentially, the prohibition against the secretary when it comes to interfering with indicators is much broader in the actual bill than it was in the framework.)

But, in exchange and very importantly, one word has been inserted into the draft bill that doesn't seem to have been in the framework: "much." 

So now, academic factors—tests, graduation rates, and one other academic factor—would have to weigh "much" more as a group, than any school quality indicator (like say, school climate).

So what is the definition of "much"? Would it preclude 51 percent academic factors to 49 percent school quality/opportunity to learn factors? My guess is it probably could, but we'll have to wait and see how it plays out. (Cue the lawsuits if states think the Education Department is taking that "much" er, much too far and rejecting their plans.)

Dig into the bill below. For Title I, each part has its own PDF, except for Parts E and F, which share a PDF. All other titles have separate PDFs.

Title I Part A

Title I Part B

Title I Part C

Title I Part D

Title I Parts E and F

Title II

Title III

Title IV

Title V

Title VI

Title VII

Title VIII

Title IX

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