As committee work progresses on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a group of Senate moderate Democrats including Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl sent a statement outlining their goals for reform to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), ranking member Mike Enzi (R-WY) and to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
"As moderate Democrats in the United States Senate, we would like the opportunity to express the urgency of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)," the Senators wrote. "We recognize that, while we work to recover from the recession, we must also be building the foundation for our long-term economic success. We believe that the following principles and policies will drive us toward the outcomes we need to remain competitive in a global economy and give all our children the opportunity to fulfill their potential."
The principles address five key components of ESEA reauthorization: Accountability Structure, School Turnaround, Teachers and Leaders, Innovation and Equity in Resources.
The 11 moderate Senators are putting forth an innovative vision for education that sets a high bar for all students and attracts and supports the most talented teachers and leaders in our schools. The Senators' Statement of Principles addresses several problems in No Child Left Behind, including the lack of an accountability system that is accurate and fair in measuring student growth. The Senators support the development of meaningful ways to measure teacher and principal effectiveness, while providing necessary support for educators, especially those in high-need schools. They believe aggressive action is critical if we are to turn around persistently low-performing schools, and that the federal government should support and encourage innovative state and local efforts to improve schools through programs such as the Race to the Top.
Below is a summary of the Senators' principles:
Accountability Structure: Reward growth and progress. The No Child Left Behind Act treated all schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress the same and did not tailor interventions to meet the specific needs of schools. The old accountability system fails to recognize growth and constantly labels failure. A new accountability structure needs to provide more flexibility for schools to determine the best way to meet the needs of their students, instead of a one-size-fits all approach from Washington.
School Turnaround: Support bold, aggressive action to change the odds for students in schools that persistently fail to provide a quality education. Under current law, states and districts frequently choose the least intensive option for reform.
Teachers and Leaders: Dramatically improve our system for recruiting, training, supporting, retaining and paying teachers and leaders. Competitive funds to create and replicate effective teacher and leader preparation programs is an essential element. Require better teacher and leader evaluation systems that include examination of student learning gains and provide extra compensation for those who take on additional responsibilities.
Foster Innovation: Create opportunities for states, districts and schools that want to push beyond the status quo through innovative and promising new approaches.
Equity in Resources (Close the Title I Comparability Loophole): Closing the loophole to require school districts to report actual expenditures at the school-level, including those devoted to salaries for teachers, when applying for Title I funding. Title I, the largest program in ESEA, provides grants to districts with children living in concentrated poverty. Closing this loophole will result in more equitable funding between schools.
"As we work toward making critical changes to this law, we believe that these principles will move us further down the path to ensuring that all students receive a high-quality, well-rounded education that has prepared them for college and a career," the Senators wrote. "It is our objective to work to accomplish this goal in the context of rewriting ESEA."
"I want to thank this group of moderate Democratic Senators for their leadership on these important issues and applaud their sense of urgency and commitment to reform," Secretary of Education ArneDuncan said. "I also very much appreciate the strong leadership and hard work of both Chairman Harkin and Chairman Kline, as well as Senator Enzi and Congressman Miller, and I appreciate these Senators' desire to work with their colleagues in a bipartisan way to fix the law this year."