As part of its 3-day agenda, the NASSP Board of Directors on Thursday took a half-day for advocacy to engage in a roundtable discussion with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and the office of a Democrat Congressman in the House.
On the forefront of the Board’s minds were questions around the Administration’s waivers and ESEA reauthorization. In regard to waiver applications, Board members expressed concerns about the feasibility of developing rigorous evaluation systems based on improved student achievement when principals currently don’t receive standardized test scores until two weeks remaining in the school year, leaving them to scramble to factor in student achievement into teacher evaluations. ED staff acknowledged this snag but emphasized that for tested subjects and grades, student achievement should continue to be a factor in evaluations. At the same time, ED staff noted that the waiver applications require states to describe how they included and consulted with relevant stakeholders (including principals) in developing their plans so that their concerns and insight around evaluations and other issues are taken into account.
Board members also asked the Hill staff some tough questions about ESEA reauthorization, primarily how they can foresee it happening given the polarized views on the federal role in education among members of Congress, especially in the House. Staff of the House conceded that the accountability piece will be the most contentious in the House Education and Workforce Committee to tackle, as many Committee members want the most limited federal role possible in education, while others-led by Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA)-want to retain achievement targets for student subgroups as exists under NCLB. Given that the House has yet to introduce its accountability bill, it’s difficult to project where Committee members’ minds are on this issue.
On the Senate side, the Senate HELP Committee staff acknowledged that many civil rights groups have publicly opposed the bill because it no longer sets achievement targets for student subgroups, but noted that compromises including this one had to be made in order to produce a bipartisan bill that would have the chance to pass in the Committee and in the Senate overall. Board members thanked the Senate HELP Committee staff for pushing for the mandatory Title II 2-5% state set-aside for principal professional development, a victory for school leaders who can now rely on dedicated funding toward their professional development instead of worrying that it will be siphoned away into other endeavors like reducing class size as has been the case under NCLB.
When asked whether ED would support Sen. Harkin’s ESEA draft bill that was recently approved in Committee markup, staff said that Secretary Duncan wants a comprehensive reauthorization to occur and will support movement towards that. While Secretary Duncan has made positive comments about many of the bill’s provisions, he was displeased with the elimination of teacher and principal evaluation requirements, stating “We cannot retreat from reform.” In the meantime, however, these waivers will give states much-needed regulatory relief from NCLB that will remain in law until Congress can dedicate the time on its legislative calendar and the political will to reauthorize ESEA.