Thursday, January 14, 2016
The Every Student Succeeds Act's Random Additions: Charter Schools, Data Collection, Testing Limits, and Discipline
My prior post detailed the Act’s new approaches toward academic standards and accountability, teachers, funding, and the federal role in education. The Act also included some other important changes and additions that do not fit into those categories. These changes are one-offs that look like bones thrown to various different and competing constituencies (which is probably true of a few of the progressive changes I noted last time). In other words, they are pet projects that helped the bill get passed. These changes include for charter schools, data, test validity, test opt outs, and school discipline
The act includes new competitive priorities for charter school grants. For those unfamiliar with the term competitive priority, it means that states or districts that include certain policies in their competitive charter school grant application will receive extra points in the assessment of their plan. As a practical matter, it makes it far more likely that they will receive a grant. It also makes it highly unlikely that states and districts that do not include those policies will receive a grant. In short, they are implicit mandates for those who want money.
So what are these special charter school policies? They are exactly what charter advocates have been lobbying states to do, often with little success. The priorities are for states that increase the number of entities in the state that can authorize new charters, states that give charters per pupil funding equivalent to that in traditional public schools, and states that give more robust support for charters in need of facilities.
Nothing really changed for magnet schools, and that is the point. Magnet school financial support and policy has been stuck in neutral for nearly two decades. By comparison, this means magnet schools are moving backward while charters rush forward. There is, however, one potentially explicit retrogressive addition for magnets. The Act seemingly requires or strongly prefers socio-economic integration over any other form of integration. Socio-economic integration is, of course, immensely important. The point here is the attempt to take race off the board—a position that the Bush Administration took, that the Obama Administration eventually retracted, and that has now resurfaced.
The Act requires states to collect and submit far more detailed data, and the new data it seeks is important: funding and teachers. This will be a boon to researchers attempting to drill deeper into problems of resource inequity.
Valid Tests (Potential Bombshell)
A provision of Title I indicates that states can only use the mandated tests for purposes for which they are valid. To most, this may read as no more than technical jargon, but it is potentially the single most powerful provision in the bill for those who would seek to block the misuse of tests. As I detail here, the tests on which states rely to run their teacher evaluation systems (value added models and student growth percentiles) are not valid for those purposes. Others have also long raised validity problems with certain states use of high stakes tests for student graduation and promotion as well. Who knows whether this was Congress’s intent, but the Act certainly would appear to have the effect of preventing states from using standardized tests for illegitimate purposes. The question that remains is whether individual teachers or students could rely on this provision in litigation or whether it is up to the Secretary to enforce this provision through the administrative process.
The Act gives parents the right to opt their children out of standardized tests. Opt-outs were big news last year, as large percentages of students refused to take tests in New York and New Jersey and the states scrambled not knowing whether the Department would hold this against the states. The Act now specifically indicates that these opt-outs will not count against the state in determining the percentage of students who took the tests.
Discipline: Bullying and Suspensions
Finally, the Act gives a big boost to progressive discipline policy. Previously, there was no such thing as general federal authority in regard to discipline. The only foothold had been in regard to racial disparities in discipline (pursuant to Title VI). The Act now specifies that states’ plans should include policies to reduce bullying, suspensions, and averse responses to student misbehavior. The bullying provision is, likewise, significant because it is not limited gender or race based bullying--a big stumbling blocking in past enforcement efforts. To be clear, however, this discipline provision operates within the larger structure that offers states’ enormous autonomy in their plans and severely limits the Secretary’s ability to reject a state plan.