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Administration to Seek Teacher-Student Link in Title I

Our own Alyson Klein alerted me yesterday to something that I'd totally overlooked in the administration's budget request. I was so busy paying attention to the proposal to put teacher-evaluation systems at the heart of the Title II teacher-quality state grant program that I missed a potentially even bigger marker in the budget in the Title I section.

In its "College and Career-Ready Students" program (basically its new brand for the Title I program, and possibly for NCLB/ESEA in general), the administration says the funding, which is doled out to states and districts under four complicated formulas, would require states "to develop a definition of 'effective teacher' that is based in significant part on student learning, and to put in place a system that links the academic achievement and growth of students to their teachers and school leaders."

It's one thing to put a definition of effective teaching in the Race to the Top program and to require student achievement to be considered in making determinations about teachers. That's a competitive grant program. While there's been a lot of grumbling about the teacher parts of the program, there's always been an unspoken, money-where-your-mouth-is defense: If you don't like the strings, don't apply.

Making Title I funding contingent on establishing a link between teachers and student performance is a different story. With about $14 billion hanging annually in the balance, it's the farthest-reaching federal K-12 program, and an important part of many districts' budgets. Like No Child Left Behind's requirements before it, it would be pretty much financially impossible to say no thanks.

To be fair, the administration doesn't say what states or districts would be expected to actually do once they've put this link into place. Maybe that's where Title II comes in. And this is just a budget line, not an actual proposal, so it has a long way to go before being put into place.

Still, while I'm not sure what the teachers' unions think of this yet— or if they're even aware of it—it's safe to say that this is going to cause some interesting discussions. The American Federation of Teachers, under certain conditions, has supported the link of student-to-teacher data, but there are implications for collective bargaining not addressed here that could be worrisome for Randi Weingarten.

And this will probably cause downright consternation at the National Education Association, where we have a couple of precedents. Back in 2007, when the Aspen Commission put out its recommendations for renewing ESEA, one of them was to put a "highly qualified effective teacher" measurement into the law based on value-added test scores. The NEA came out swinging against the proposal and switched its lobbying into high gear.

Later on that year, about 30 members of the California Teachers Association showed up on U.S. Rep. George Miller's doorstep to protest a proposed performance-pay program inserted in a draft ESEA bill that, compared to the size of Title I, was itsy-bitsy-rinky-dinky in size.

So while I may be getting ahead of myself here, this is definitely something that could change the game from mostly polite and noncommittal responses we've had so far on the budget.

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