Monday morning, Congress released a proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind.

The proposal, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, would makes some important changes to No Child Left Behind, such as eliminating Adequate Yearly Progress mandates (standardized testing benchmarks), but would not accomplish conservative policy priorities of:

  1. Allowing funding for Title I (federal funding for low-income children) to be made portable by states
  2. Allowing states to completely opt out of federal programs through the APLUS provision
  3. Cutting programs and spending that have accumulated over the decades

The proposal also creates several major new programs and initiatives, maintaining a “program for every problem” structure. As such, the proposal would likely maintain significant federal intervention in local school policy for years to come.

New Programs

Reconstituted School Improvement Grant program. In 2009, the Obama administration created the School Improvement Grant program as a stand-alone program funded primarily through more than $3 billion provided through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, often referred to as the “stimulus” package. The School Improvement Grant program was geared toward turning around the worst-performing schools in a state through specific interventions tied to the stimulus funds.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the structure of the School Improvement Grant program is eliminated, but the existing 4 percent set aside in Title I is increased to 7 percent and is to be used for school improvement activities. Although the School Improvement Grant program is eliminated, states will now be able to use a larger share of Title I funding for the same purpose, with Title I funding itself increasing. So while the School Improvement Grant program disappears in law, funding for the same functions effectively remains intact.

New STEM program. The Every Student Succeeds Act would also include a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Master Teacher program. The STEM Master Teacher Corps program had been introduced as a stand-alone bill by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in February in an effort to create a network of STEM leaders who would be eligible to receive additional compensation funded through the federal program.

Family Engagement in Education Program. Part E of Title IV would also provide $10 million in federal funding beginning in 2017 and continuing through 2020 to reconstitute the Parental Information and Resources Center (PIRC)—which had not been funded since 2010—into statewide Family Engagement in Education Programs.

As the proposal states, these programs would, among other purposes, “assist the Secretary, State educational agencies, and local educational agencies in the coordination and integration of Federal, State, and local services and programs to engage families in education.” The secretary of education would award grants to statewide organizations to establish family engagement centers to “carry out parent education, and family engagement in education, programs; or provide comprehensive training and technical assistance to State educational agencies, local educational agencies … organizations that support family-school partnerships, and other organizations that carry out such programs.”

New preschool program. Title IX would house a new federal preschool program authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act and establish annual funding at $250 million. The new preschool program would be housed at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and jointly administered by the Department of Education.

The funding would be made available to states to help coordinate existing government preschool programs, such as those operated by the states and Head Start, and to establish new preschool programs. Although some funding has been appropriated for the preschool program for the past two years, the new Every Student Succeeds Act would codify the new $250-million federal preschool program, creating mission creep in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Additionally, this move would continue the trend of growth in federal programs affecting the youngest Americans at a time when there is more empirical evidence than ever on the shortcomings of government preschool programs.

New civics program. The Every Student Succeeds Act would also establish a new program known as Presidential Academies for the Teaching of American History and Civics, which would provide professional development to improve the teaching of history and civics to between 50 and 300 teachers annually, selected from public and private elementary and secondary schools throughout the country. It would also establish Congressional Academies, a similar initiative geared toward high school juniors and seniors at the recommendation of their principal. All participants in both programs receive a stipend for travel expenses.

Annual Testing and Adequate Yearly Progress Mandates

The Every Student Succeeds Act would end the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) mandates under No Child Left Behind, which require that all students in all states make “adequate” annual progress toward universal proficiency in math and reading or have the state risk federal sanctions.

Yet the Every Student Succeeds Act retains the annual testing requirement that students be tested every year in grades three through eight and again in high school. States promulgate their own tests to assess students in advance of the federally mandated state tests, resulting in students in large districts taking an average of 112 mandated standardized tests by the time they graduate.

The proposal would keep the annual testing structure in place. Regardless of the relative merits of standardized testing, federally mandated annual testing would continue to have a real effect on local school policy.

The Every Student Succeeds Act would also include requirements for the new “state-based” accountability plans. Although less prescriptive than the Adequate Yearly Progress mandates, the proposal is specific about the types and the proportion of accountability options that must be included. Approximately 51 percent of a state’s accountability would be required to be based on quantitative measures such as graduation rates and performance on state tests, and the other 49 percent would be based on other more subjective measures, such as school climate and educator engagement.

Under the new proposal, states would also be required to intervene in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, have school-level interventions in schools in which subgroups of students perform poorly, and intervene in schools in which fewer than two-thirds of students graduate.

Overall, the proposal would retain a labyrinth of federal programs, and high levels of federal spending, continuing a trend that has maintained federal intervention in local school policy while failing to improve educational outcomes for children.