roundtable discussion ESEA

A Senate Committee hearing on the ESEA Reauthorization was held this morning in a roundtable discussion.  You may find the hearing here.  Written witness testimony provided to the Senators may also be downloaded at the link.

It was a fast paced two hour discussion on various aspects of the ESEA, funding, programs, accountability, shortcomings and strengths, and frustration by Senator Alexander on who should make the decisions for these issues and how they are measured.  Several times he asked WHO DECIDES WHAT IS SUCCESS, FAILURE AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT? 

Listen to the comments from the seven witnesses and the questions of the Senators.  I took rough notes during the testimony which are found below.  What are your thoughts about the goal of this committee after listening to the hearing?



Alexander: important to deal w/ accountability measures. Reading suggestions from witnesses…how would they balance state/federal requirements?


Witness: mandates on structures of accountability and not rigorous on standards. Ensure there is a rigor of standards. Allow states then to institute accountability measures….

Witness: from Democracy Prep. Setting clear mandates on what rigor looks like for schools.

Witness: (Alexander asks WHO should determine what success looks like?) Witness says yearly accountability should remain. Annual testing is aligned w/ state goals, not from a single program. Louisiana students starting to see gap closing.

Alexander: how do we write the programs?

LA witness: We want to set the goals but we need national accountability to see how we are doing. (This is from Franken’s questioning.)


Witness: Most important thing to remember is that Inverted Pyramid: those closest to children are the most important voice. These are the people who treat the children. Only one part of the portfolio. Should not be used to determine if everyone is failing. Emphasis should be on high quality teaching. Accountability measures are only one part.

Murray: We should goals as a NATION. STEM, Early Education, etc.

Murray: Which programs have made a difference?

Witness: (Community Director.) My concern, testing & assessments. Children are more than accountability. Talk about mental health. ‘I don’t need to ‘fix’ poor people’ I need to give them opportunity. After school programming, breakfasts, dinners. We are from cradle to college career.

Murray: Is it important to have targeted funding for districts? Is that important role?

Witness from Promise Neighborhood: (Compares to results seen in Harlem’s Children Zone.) We see strongest outcomes from 0-8 years old. We need direct funding.

Witness: Need clear investments in innovation. We need Federal funding. RTTT, 21st century schools….have been useful.

NC Senator: One of the proposals is to up the funding, 67 programs collapse and put in one pot of $$. Can move to Title II and Title IV. Today, dedicated funding doesn’t come w/ flexibility. Decrease burden of proof on state’s part. Innovation, Creativity and Outcome. But first we should be concerned about Outcome.

Witness: worked in all type of schools w/in 50 mile radius. Each community has very different needs. Need flexibility.

Witness: can propose a way to get to the outcome. All her schools have Title I funding. Flexibility is incredibly important.

Witness: to get from innovation to outcomes, need Fed direction. We have to have kids graduate college to career ready.

Alexander: federal nudge might be helpful but it becomes a rule.

Witness: non profit org. Promise Neighborhoods model. Need family/community outcome as well as school outcome. Performance measures. Need to see some growth and trajectory.

Witness: we’ve been able to select programs based on evidenced based research. (Promise Neighborhood).

NC Senator: Are WE the ones to determine what these programs are? Create the program and we get the $$: Not fiscally responsible.

Senator: Concerned about rural districts. I am unaware of connection between Title II and achievement. Which are the ones of the programs that have had success? The grants? That number is above 0, below 67. Tell us which ones we should keep.

Witness: Anything that is competitive to hit a specific goal is the right vehicle. Decrease the amt of paperwork. Allows a manner to get to an outcome.

Alexander: (To reduce paperwork…..) Every state’s application for Title I should be entered by the state’s Senator! And the waiver by the other senator!

Senator: When I read (Taylor’s) testimony….children of the wire….with all these partnerships, who funds this work? We need to look at the wraparound services. Social worker, school nurse, become a mandatory part of Title I? Wouldn’t have to forage for grants.

Witness: Need a school nurse, social worker? Title I….how I am paid: thru 21st Century grant. If we had flexibility in funding, principal could say…this is what we need and we could pay for it then. Every $ that is given by the state, I bring in $4 from the partnerships.

Alexander: A lot of $ in Title I. There is a proposal to take Title I $… many children are under poverty level? (All) What would happen if you could take the $ and each child had $1300 pinned to them and you could spend it as you think is best? Do you trust your principal?

Witness: It’s a muddy area. How would I spend those funds? Not my purview. I would need to follow my principal. I would trust my principal absolutely. I provide the needs assessments. I’m trying to be very specific. My neighborhood needs child care but another area needs something different.

Witness: Add to senator’s stack of paperwork (waivers and Title I paperwork): LA story. Money is in supplies and printer cartridges. I need magazines. No. Printers….level complexity. In full support of competitive grants. Some flexibility of timing of fundings in alignment w/ state $$.

Witness: wrap around services. 20% of children in public ed suffer from mental illness….key people are in short supply. (She is principal). Wants more mental health professionals to work in school. PD is a key part of Title II. As teachers are growing and evolving we need funding. Not as an afterthought. How do we encourage innovation? Teachers evolve from who they are to who they will be.

Franken: Nothing more important than education. Get this group together and go to Camp David and hammer this out over the next few weeks. Agree w/ mental health. Sees mental health provider in school as important. Loves preK funding. What gets measured gets done…..MacNamara model (after Robert MacNamara)….measure what can easily be measured. NCLB is about testing, accountability. Disregard what can’t easily be measured….we need to measure creativity….what can’t be measured easily isn’t really important….question: how should we do assessments? I’m for 3 tests….low stake tests to measure progression. You talk about portfolios. They are not as objective as a score. Can we create tests that measure more of what we want to measure? Can we design accountability tests that excite children?

Witness: Problem is we have so much riding on these tests that may not value what we want to know…measure what you don’t know….can interfere w/ innovation. How will this impact this year’s scores? Just a snapshot. Parent loves the child anyway even if the child is in the lowest % for height and weight at dr visit. (Then Franken makes a joke). Every child is taught in a hybrid approach. There is a risk for innovation because of consequences when the scores come out. Drill and kill and kids don’t learn. Drop out intellectually before they drop out physically.

Witness: Local buy in important. Leverage Fed spending. Franken is correct. Need better assessments. Critical thinking, problem solving, need tests and assessments that are better aligned. Multiple measures of approach. Look at high achieving districts….see what they are doing.


Witness: Is school doing the right thing? Is this school getting the kid ready? Is the kid developing through the stages? We need lots of data not for accountability but that you should do something about it. States had more interesting demanding tests before NCLB.

Franken: (From Minnesota teachers/administrators) We like testing 3 times a year….from teachers, principals, etc…Immediate results.

Alexander: we heard from FL that there were too many tests.

Witness: growth is most important. We can’t assess w/ only one test. We use more tests. Use a variety of tests. Democracy Prep. They are tied to promotion and retention decisions and salary decisions for teacher.

Senator Casey: What was happening before NCLB? Millions were being left behind because of state politics. Where have we gone too far and what happens in states now that leaves kids behind? States should make sure to target lowest performing schools. A lot of states were not doing that beforehand. What about preserving in new draft the idea that states should still have a focus on lowest schools….expectation for them…not so many mandates?

Witness: Coalition of the willing….wasn’t until Federal accountability that every single principal knew that graduation rate mattered. They had to deal w/ set of schools and problems.

Senator: Targeted investments in these kids. We need to structure this….

Witness: Suburbs that are receiving inner city students and they don’t have the structures in place need assistance.

Witness: Stop using phrases like low performing schools/students. Poverty. Every child counts. Low performing politicians! (Laughter) We have to realize all children are our children. We don’t want to categorize schools as low performing, we are pointing out fingers at the children.

Senator: So how do we look at children?

Witness: Using test as one criteria. Community centers. Educate the whole child. Not just thru the testing lens. You can get data back….well, that’s worth measuring. We are not capturing the other data points. No data that are saved every day in the schools.

Witness: Need rigorous standards, accountability, etc….we can give strategies/solutions.

Witness: We have community school models. Wraparound services. Social emotional needs. Coordinator works w/ principal, teacher. Not just academic needs.

Senator: In your testimony, increasing Head Start under whole child. Page 5 of testimony. Other indicators. Must be able to id indicators of health, wellness, family engagement….how would we support these? If you say these are important, how can we help you do that?

Witness: To talk about barriers: attendance….that affects 3rd grade reading scores….need wrap around services. It’s a family issue. Community school models. Maybe it’s a bedtime routine? Service that provides more than an academic place. Health: immunizations. 77 students who weren’t immunized. I called drs. to come in and provide at school. Parents: will you give consent? How do you measure wrap around services? I need to be able to access school’s data. Wellness: Social Emotional wellness. Happens for the families. Incarcerated mother. I make those plans.

Senator: Early learning. Important points. A new venture for some people. If kids learn more now they learn more later. We need to figure out ways to support you.

Witness: Takes a collective approach. Everything we do is data driven. Shared across all partners. Health care provider can reach out to school and school goes to family.

Witness: Wrap around supports. Title I schools. Nudge schools for data just for themselves. Chronic absenteeism.. We don’t measure that.

Senator Whitehouse: (Heard from Constituents): Testing gone mad. 42 days of testing in one year. Not an efficient job of testing. January is hell month. Testing students, states, schools. LET HIM KNOW OFF LINE ON YOUR IDEAS OF TESTING. Testing burden shuts down bandwith…secondary issue….passing the PARCC test. There are students you don’t reach w/ these tests. That combination has created a huge sacrifice for those kids you haven’t reached. Second comment: kids who don’t show up. We saw attendance plummet in middle school…joined gang, become pregnant….those kids won’t succeed in high school. Get them before they get into truancy.

Alexander: (He’s heard from many on the over testing). Why concern about over testing when Feds only have 17 tests? Yet we have this explosion of resistance to testing? Coming from the tests or accountability measures?

Witness: Nervous about the accountability.

Alexander: Is from the definitions and consequences?

Witness: Yes. need to prep for these tests.

Witness: Many requirements on lots of levels. Combination of those requirements. We need to make sure we aren’t over testing. We need to be careful that all of these aren’t having detrimental effect.

Senator Murray: Need to teach to all kids, heard about social services….it’s important to keep testing but w/o high stake consequences. How do we keep in Federal Law that we are reaching important goals w/o consequences?

Witness: The consequence shouldn’t be motivating the schools and administrators. Should include holistic approach. In many communities tests are being used as a weapon against everyone. You can have the testing w/o the sanction. Testing measures student growth in only one way.

Senator Murray: Original bill put in testing, accountability because kids weren’t being left behind. But how do we get this knowledge?

Witness: maybe don’t test every year.

Alexander: Who says this is success, failure?

Witness: Gentle guidelines and look to the higher education system. Have states determine what kids need to succeed in that system. Nudging by the states.

Witness: In NYC, DOE had performance metric. Lots of data. Another metric Aspirational Metric Performance test. If you require remediation, that school has not prepared that student well. If not successful in college, not successful in life. Adults are failing kids. Metrics must look at the softer data.

Alexander: One more word for us to remember. If we have annual disaggregated tests, who decides what is success, failure and what do we do with it? We don’t have consensus.

Witness: Vision for future and feeling safety in the present. Stop the blame for results in one test. Continue to work w/ teachers and not use social pressure to blame them.

Witness: FedGov ensure rigorous expectations. Need data/info States have reasonable accountability measures tied to assessments….enable innovation.

Witness: Exciting time to be reauthorizing ESEA. Focuses them to challenges and highest needs. Combine evidenced based support. If kids can’t focus, that effort is dissipated. Some Title I needs to be used for EVIDENCED BASED programs.

Witness: Allowing wraparound services to support the whole child so educators can educate.

Witness: We will work w/in the confines of the reauthorization. Has to be based on outcomes, data. Committed to be data driven.

Witness: Students who benefit from Democracy Prep benefited from Title I.

Witness: Preserve accountability. Stay committed to students w/ needs. Wouldn’t categorize tests as weapons. Use them for school choice.

Franken: Good time to reauthorize because we now know so much more.

Senator: Those kids who need wraparound systems need NCLB. Redoing NCLB we need to keep this in mind. Our Democratic members want to work in a bipartisan manner.

Alexander: Our job as senators is to narrow the issues and develop a consensus. Biggest area: accountability. If we were to have federal tests, disaggregate results,question remains. WHO DECIDES WHAT IS SUCCESS, FAILURE AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT? My feeling is that you can’t do it from here (Fed level). Federal definition has not been good in NCLB.

Next Tues at 10:00 will be a hearing about vaccinations.






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