Title II

What to Think About the DC IMPACT Study

October 17, 2013
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Few teacher evaluation reforms have been as contentious as the IMPACT system in D.C. Public Schools. But a new study published by Thomas Dee and James Wyckoff provides the first empirical evidence that the controversial policy could be encouraging effective teachers to stay in the classroom – and improve their practice.

Dee and Wyckoff examined teachers that scored on the cusp of various IMPACT performance levels– namely, teachers just above and just below the cutoff for effective and highly effective (HE) ratings. The idea is that teachers near the cut points share similar characteristics, regardless of their final rating. By examining these teachers’ outcomes in subsequent years, researchers can isolate the effect of IMPACT’s incentives on teacher behavior. Do teachers that barely receive a HE rating fare differently than those that just missed the distinction? And do minimally effective (ME) teachers close to the effective cut point respond differently than teachers who barely cleared the effective hurdle?

Turns out, they do. The incentive structure within IMPACT had significant effects on retention and performance, particularly after the second year of implementation (2010-11) when IMPACT gained credibility. At that time, teachers with two ME ratings became eligible for termination and those with two HE ratings earned permanent salary increases, not just bonuses. Teachers that received their first ME rating after the 2010-11 year were significantly more likely to leave DCPS (over 10 percentage points) than teachers that scored just above the cut point. Further, the threat of dismissal improved the performance of ME teachers that chose to stay for the 2011-12 year – their scores improved by 12.6 IMPACT points compared to teachers that just received an effective rating, an increase of five percentile points. Similar effects were seen for teachers that could become eligible for increases in their base pay if they remained HE – their 2011-12 IMPACT scores improved by nearly 11 points compared to teachers that missed the HE cutoff, an increase of seven percentile points.

So what do these results tell us about IMPACT and teacher evaluation reform overall? Is this a moment for cautious – or all-out – optimism?

1. Evaluation systems like IMPACT don’t necessarily improve the performance of teachers across the effectiveness spectrum.  That’s because Dee and Wyckoff only examined a narrow band of DCPS teachers: those scoring right at the cut points between ratings. These teachers are the most likely to be influenced by the incentives built into IMPACT – say, when the ratings affect job security. Instead, the research demonstrates the effect of certain incentives, on a certain group of teachers. Those incentives worked –and worked well – but we still don’t know how the performance of most teachers changed in response to the new evaluation system.

2. That said, the research is rigorous, and the results are encouraging. There is evidence that the district’s teacher workforce improved overall. Some ME teachers voluntarily chose to leave DCPS, and the newly hired teachers that replaced them in the 2011-12 year had higher IMPACT scores, on average. And there is no evidence that highly effective teachers were pushed out of the system by IMPACT. Further, many ME and HE teachers tended to improve on IMPACT when they remained with DCPS.

However, more research is needed to determine what interventions were most effective in helping these teachers improve – and to determine whether other teachers (not just those near the cut points) saw similar outcomes. Evaluation systems must define what effective teaching is, and also provide the knowledge and support for teachers to meet these expectations. We know far more about identifying effective teachers than we know about what to do next.

Of course, that brings up another important caveat: improvements in performance here are measured based on changes in IMPACT scores. The authors don’t link these results to student learning explicitly – another area for future research.

3. Finally, while the results are positive and provide some of the best evidence to date on the success of IMPACT, the research may not be widely applicable to other districts and states. IMPACT and DCPS remain outliers in many respects:

  • IMPACT uses value-added data to measure an individual teachers’ contribution to student learning, which many evaluation systems have eschewed.
  • IMPACT includes not one, not two, but five observations of classroom practice over the course of the year. Further, two of these observations are conducted by master educators, rather than school principals. Hiring and training objective observers takes time, capacity, and resources that many states and districts do not have – or are unwilling to dedicate – for evaluation.
  • IMPACT’s improvement and incentive structures are also well-developed and supported. DCPS has made a concerted effort to improve the quality of its coaching and professional development and link it to IMPACT. Further, the bonuses and salary increases for highly effective teachers are substantial, thanks in part to foundation funding. While this external support may raise questions of sustainability, these incentives have been institutionalized in the district’s contract with the Washington Teachers Union.
  • In a way, IMPACT operates at both a state- and district-level. Some of the lessons learned from IMPACT may not be applicable in states, which face additional layers of governance and greater heterogeneity. On the flip side, IMPACT may not be a model for other districts, where administrators could have less autonomy to develop, implement, and revise evaluation systems.

In other words, the results from D.C. are encouraging, but there is still much to learn. More worrisome, as teacher evaluation reform takes hold across the country as part of Race to the Top and states’ ESEA waiver plans, these positive results may prove to be a one-off. IMPACT is as rigorous and comprehensive as teacher evaluation systems get – especially compared to the rudimentary, half-baked, and vague evaluation systems described in many states’ waiver requests. While it is important for states to follow through with their promises to implement new evaluation systems, the quality of this implementation should be of equal – or even greater – concern to policymakers, educators, and advocates moving forward. 

New Report Highlights Top Teachers’ Views on Education Policy

September 18, 2013

“Good teaching is hard to define, even for the profession’s most successful and reflective members.” So says a new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) that compiles highly effective teachers’ voices on issues ranging from their profession to hotbed education policy topics.

At National Journal: Where Teachers Fit in Today’s ESEA Debate

July 18, 2013

Last week the National Journal Education Expert blog posed a question about teacher provisions in the House (H.R.5) and Senate (S.1094) ESEA reauthorization bills and whether the “highly qualified teacher” credential should be eliminated.

Senate Panel Approves New Early Education Funding for 2014

July 15, 2013
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For more details on the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor-HHS-Education bill, check out this post from our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

Senate Appropriations Panel Approves 2014 Spending Bill

July 15, 2013
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For more details on early education in the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor-HHS-Education bill, check out this post from our sister blog, Early Ed Watch.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to approve a fiscal year 2014 spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS), and Education. (Fiscal year 2014 starts this October 1.) That development is a reminder that key funding decisions for education programs are wending their way through Congress, and that the House and Senate could not be further apart in their proposals.

While the House hasn’t yet published or voted on an education appropriations bill for 2014, it indicated earlier this year that it would reduce overall funding substantially – from $150 billion in 2013 to $122 billion next year – for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS), and Education.

Why the big cut? The House wants to conform to the spending limit set forth in law by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which requires total appropriations funding be cut by $18 billion from fiscal year 2013 to 2014, to $966 billion. But the House also wants to hold defense spending harmless in those cuts, with domestic programs making up the difference. (For more details, check out our April issue brief on this issue, Federal Education Budget Update: Fiscal Year 2013 Recap and Fiscal Year 2014 Early Analysis, and our May post, House Could Set Education Funding Back to Year 2001 to Fund Defense.)

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are ignoring the $966 billion overall appropriations limit for fiscal year 2014, and instead drafting bills within a $1.058 trillion limit. The president, for his part, supports that higher level.

Leaving aside the gulf between the House and Senate, the Senate’s committee-passed Labor, HHS, and Education bill totaling nearly $166 billion gives us some clues about senators’ priorities in the budget fight that looms in the latter half of the year. (See table below for more details.)

For most programs, the Senate appropriations bill would reverse the across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) that took effect earlier this year, and would actually increase funding for many programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee would increase the two largest federal K-12 programs, Title I grants to school districts and special education grants to states, from 2013 levels, even over the pre-sequester total. The committee would also reverse sequestration for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants and the Teacher Incentive Fund, but wouldn’t increase funding over those levels. It would bump up Impact Aid slightly from 2013 pre-sequester totals.

Under the bill, the Obama administration’s signature competitive grant programs, Race to the Top (RTT) and Investing in Innovation (i3), receive funding for new competitions next year. The Department of Education would run a Race to the Top college affordability and completion competition, rather than the early learning and K-12 ones it has already run. But the bill would appropriate only $250 million for the competition, shy of the $548 million it received last year pre-sequester and well short of the administration’s requested $1 billion. It would fund i3, meanwhile, at $170 million, above the $149 million provided in 2013. The committee also approved a healthy increase in funding for state data systems, from $38 million last year to $75 million.

Another of the administration’s own initiatives gets a mention, too: preschool. The Senate Committee explains that the president’s “Preschool for All” program isn’t included in the appropriations bill because the administration requested mandatory funding for it, which is provided outside the appropriations process. (Sen. Patty Murray [D-WA] has said she plans to introduce this portion of the pre-K plan separately.) But the Senate panel did include the president’s requested $750 million for Preschool Development Grants to help states build systems, as well as a $1.6 billion increase to Head Start, much of which will go to the White House’s proposed Early Head Start-child care partnerships.

On the higher education side, the Committee maintains a maximum Pell Grant award of $4,860, which, when combined with supplemental entitlement funding, brings the total figure to an estimated $5,785. It also awarded small funding increases to several pet projects, including international education and the high school intervention programs TRIO and GEAR UP. The president’s request for $250 million for a First in the World higher education competition was not granted.

In total, funding for the Department of Education – and for discretionary spending across these three agencies – would increase next year. But as explained above, it’s so far from what the House has indicated it will support that the two committees may as well be on different planets. It’s too early to say what the ultimate House-Senate agreement looks like for fiscal year 2014 education funding, but not too early to predict that a lot of squabbling lies ahead.

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Update: A New NCLB Reauthorization Cheat Sheet

June 19, 2013

After the partisan markup in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, it is the House of Representatives' turn to debate reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The Student Success Act, offered by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), is set for a markup Wednesday morning in the House Education and Workforce Committee. Accordingly, we’ve updated our Senate markup cheat sheet to provide a comprehensive, side-by-side comparison of current law, the Obama administration’s waiver policy, and the current legislative proposals in the Senate and House. You can download the new cheat sheet here.

Here are a few of the highlights from the Kline proposal:

  • The Student Success Act would eliminate over 70 programs and consolidate many stand-alone programs (for instance, Title III for English Language Learners) into Title I, with flexibility for states and districts to shift money between them. The bill would also eliminate maintenance of effort requirements, meaning states and local school districts would not be penalized for spending less on required education programs.
  • Kline would not require states to adopt college- and career-ready standards, but they would have to maintain academic content standards – and aligned assessments – in reading, math, and science. And the bill includes really specific language, over and above the Alexander proposal, to prohibit the federal government from promoting participation in the Common Core State Standards initiative in any way.
  • The bill, similar to the Alexander proposal, would allow states to design whatever school accountability and improvement systems they want, including setting performance targets (if any). Kline would also clamp down on the Secretary of Education’s authority to offer waivers to states and districts in exchange for external conditions.
  • Kline, however, would be more prescriptive than either Harkin or Alexander in one area: teacher evaluations, with states required not only to develop them, but also to use the results to make personnel decisions.
  • Kline would not allow Title I funding to follow the child to other public or private schools, but there is speculation that a backpack funding provision could be added to the Student Success Act at a later point. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), for example, has expressed an interest in some sort of portability provision.

Stay tuned to Ed Money Watch and Early Ed Watch for continuing coverage of these bills and the markup, as well as any alternative proposal from Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the Ranking Member on the House committee. And be sure to follow the markup on Twitter with me, @afhyslop, and my colleagues @LauraBornfreund and @ConorPWilliams

Podcast: Show Me the Data

June 10, 2013
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This podcast originally appeared on New America’s In the Tankblog.

What place do data have in the classroom? Last week, the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program produced a new report that describes how teachers can use their students’ data to improve classroom outcomes, and how states can help give teachers those skills. The report dives into two states – Oregon and Delaware – that are doing it right.

In this week’s Education Policy Program podcast, New America Managing Editor Fuzz Hogan talks with the report’s co-authors (Jennifer Cohen Kabaker, former Senior Policy Analyst at New America and now Corporate and Foundation Relations Manager at KIPP Los Angeles Schools, and Clare McCann, Program Associate with the Education Policy Program). We discuss the potential of data-driven instruction in K-12 classrooms, the challenges that Oregon and Delaware faced–and that other states could face in similar efforts–and the merits of helping teachers master these skills.

Click above to listen to the podcast. To view the report, click here.

Harkin, Alexander, and Waivers: Your ESEA Markup Cheat Sheet

June 10, 2013

Tomorrow morning, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will markup the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, the latest ESEA reauthorization proposal from Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA). Ed Money Watch and Early Ed Watch have already recapped many of the changes proposed to accountability for schools and educators, as well as Title I and early learning programs. But we have yet to weigh in on the alternative proposal offered by the Committee’s Republican members, led by Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

Here are the three biggest differences between the two bills:

1. No love for Common Core. Alexander’s bill – the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act – includes detailed language to explicitly prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from exercising any direction, preference, or control over state’s academic content standards (like the Common Core State Standards) or achievement standards (i.e. cut scores that determine what it means to be college- and career-ready). This also has big implications for education data and reporting – more on that below.

Clearly concerned with federal overreach, this level of specificity around the Department’s role should appeal to critics of the common standards, claiming they are step one toward a “federal curriculum” or “national school board.” But Alexander is silent on a specific timeline or transition to college- and career-ready standards and tests – another increasingly divisive issue. Harkin’s bill would allow states a one-year “pause,” requiring implementation by the 2015-16 school year, even though both Common Core consortia say they will deliver their assessments on-time in 2014-15.

2. A mini-backpack for Title I funds. Another sharp contrast with the Harkin proposal: states could allocate Title I funds to districts based only on their number of eligible children – and federal funding could then follow the child to any public school in the district. Similar to a Romney campaign proposal (but on a smaller scale, without the option to use Title I funds to attend out-of-district public schools or private schools, or to pay for tutoring), it is unclear how many states would take advantage of this provision. How would it work in districts that lack other public school options – in particular, rural districts or districts where the overwhelming majority of schools are low-performing? Funding fights are always messy – how would school and district administrators respond to the change? The Alexander bill would also eliminate maintenance of effort requirements, meaning that states and districts would not be penalized for spending less on education from year to year, another potential sore spot for local school leaders.

3. States: choose your own accountability adventure. Unlike the Democrats’ bill, Every Child Ready for College or a Career would not require performance targets for schools. As Politics K-12 predicted, this was a major partisan sticking point between Harkin and Alexander. And transparency – rather than accountability – is the key policy lever in the Republican proposal. States can choose to differentiate between schools as they see fit.

Further, the Senate Republican proposal would prohibit the Department from specifying, defining, or prescribing any measure that states include in their accountability systems. Presumably, this means states could choose how they want to define everything from adequate student growth, to a cut score for college and career readiness, to how they define graduation rates. Would this undermine data comparability between states, including efforts to report a uniform graduation rate?

Alexander’s bill also doesn’t require states to identify any set percentage of Title I schools for improvement, leaving both identification and intervention entirely up to states (with the exception that students be allowed to transfer if their schools are identified). Given states’ history with setting rigorous goals and expectations for schools (as this new Education Sector report reminds us), Alexander’s bill would effectively set federal education policy back twenty years – to the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act.

Finally, Alexander’s bill would not require states to develop teacher or principal evaluation systems, but they could use Title II funds for these purposes. And unlike Harkin’s proposal, states could partner with for-profits, as well as nonprofit organizations or higher education institutions, to implement their plans for preparing, training and improving the quality of teachers and school leaders. Because the bill also eliminates the “highly qualified teacher” provision, states would not have to report, whether teachers are distributed equitably between Title I and non-Title I schools – another blow for accountability and a big difference between the Alexander and Harkin proposals.

The bottom line? Alexander’s bill doesn’t actually require states to do anything. And that’s a problem. As Chad Aldeman also notes in his smart take on the Alexander bill, Every Child College or Career Ready relies on assurances from states that they will implement rigorous and high-quality standards, assessments, and accountability systems. As Aldeman writes: “There are no serious standards for these things and, even if there were, there would be no way to verify state assertions.” If a plan is a poor substitute for policy, then an assurance as policymaking is downright laughable.

To help keep both draft bills – along with No Child Left Behind and the Obama administration’s waiver policy – straight, download this side-by-side cheat sheet to use during the markup. You can click also click on the image below to enlarge it. And of course, the always-helpful Politics K12 team has another side-by-side comparison that features the House Republican plan

Comparing ESEA Reauthorization Proposals

Follow along with us tomorrow, and stay tuned to Ed Money Watch for continuing coverage.

Harkin Bill Reforms Teacher and Principal Programs

June 6, 2013

Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA). We profiled its major changes here, and a few significant mentions for early childhood education here. Our sister blog, Ed Money Watch, wrote about the Title II teacher and principal provisions today (for more, click here). We’ve collected a few notes on the early education and early grade connections to the Title II reforms:

Teachers and Principals in Senator Harkin’s NCLB Reauthorization Plan

June 6, 2013
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In many ways, the latest reauthorization effort from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)–the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA)–reads like an endorsement of the administration’s NCLB flexibility plan. States that have received NCLB waivers would be able to continue with those plans in most respects. What’s more, SASA builds on the waiver process, with states’ Title I plans replacing the Department of Education’s flexibility request. Title I plans (which describe each state’s standards, assessments, and systems of accountability and school improvement) would be subject to Department approval every four years.

But what about Title II? We know effective teachers and principals have a lifelong positive impact on students. And it’s no secret that human capital reforms – from teacher evaluations to preparation and tenure – are among the most contentious in education. How does Harkin’s bill navigate these issues?

Evaluations

Unlike the Senate’s 2011 reauthorization proposal, states and school districts would have to develop and implement a professional growth and improvement system by the 2015-16 school year to receive Title II funding – a big sticking point with Senate Republicans, like Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who have introduced a competing reauthorization plan. These systems must be developed in consultation with educators, provide meaningful feedback, include multiple performance categories, align with professional development, and provide for training of evaluators. Echoing the results of the MET study, teachers would be evaluated based on three components: student achievement and growth; classroom observations; and other measures, like student surveys. These guidelines are broad enough to apply to all teachers, including those in the early grades and untested subjects that lack test-based data on student achievement. Student Learning Objectives or other measures could be used so long as they are “evidence-based.” Principals would be evaluated based on their instructional leadership, as well as student achievement, growth, and academic outcomes, including students reaching English language proficiency.

Notably, SASA deviates from states’ waiver plans by not requiring evaluations to inform personnel decisions. To some, like Democrats for Education Reform, this means stripping all accountability from the new evaluation systems. To others, this is welcome relief given states’ simultaneous adoption of new assessments and implementation of evaluation systems based on them. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, practically praised the bill for requiring “a variety of measures to evaluate teachers, rather than making test scores the be-all and end-all.” Further, any state with a waiver-approved teacher evaluation plan would be allowed to continue with it. But even with these provisions in place, some state advocates, like the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Chris Minnich worry about the “prescriptive language” around teacher evaluations.

Despite the noise, this seems like a comfortable compromise between both extremes – states are not prohibited from using evaluations for personnel decisions, and some may continue to do so in their waivers. At the same time, states must develop evaluations and include student achievement and growth measures, resisting the urge to “pause” these reforms entirely as states adopt the Common Core. The bill also rightly emphasizes the improvement and professional growth components within evaluation systems over more punitive elements. No district or state will be able to improve the quality of its education workforce solely by hiring new teachers – they must also figure out how to improve the teachers they have.

Funding Formula and Equity

With a $2.5 billion appropriation in FY 2012, Title II’s formula grants to states represent the largest federal programs for PreK-12 teachers. These grants aim to increase the number of highly qualified teachers and school leaders, as well as improve their effectiveness. However, the Title II grant formula has been stuck in time for over a decade – an issue that arose during the 2011 Senate NCLB reauthorization markup. First, states receive allocations equal to their 2001 funding levels under an older, expired grant program. Then additional Title II dollars flow to states by the NCLB formula. Harkin’s bill would remove that “hold harmless” provision so that all of Title II’s formula funding would be allocated with the updated formula.

Unlike Title II funding under NCLB, states and districts in SASA must address inequality in the distribution of highly effective teachers and principals. Although there is little accountability to ensure states and districts follow through, this is a move in the right direction for educational equity, since states have little incentive to even report this information currently. SASA would require this information be made public to parents in an Equity Report Card. Districts can’t fix a “teacher effectiveness gap” without knowing how bad the problem is, and the new data could jumpstart these efforts.  

Class-Size Reduction vs. Professional Development

Under NCLB, districts can use their state funds for professional development, class-size reduction, and teacher quality activities, like retention and recruitment efforts, but the vast majority is spent on the first two activities. In 2011, districts surveyed by the Department reported using 42 percent of Title II grant funds for professional development and 38 percent on class-size reduction. SASA would make further changes, eliminating class-size reduction as an option in all but PreK-3rd grade classrooms and requiring that at least 20 percent of funds go toward professional development in priority schools. This would be a big lift for some districts, but reflects overall trends in Title II spending away from class-size reduction, which accounted for 57 percent of spending in 2003.

Preparation and Training

SASA also includes a version of the GREAT Act, a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). States could reserve up to 1 percent of their Title II allocation to develop new teacher and principal preparation academies that would be authorized directly by the state – instead of by traditional accreditors. Modeled after programs like the Relay Graduate School of Education, these academies must have high admissions standards and a rigorous selection process and include a strong mentoring component and instruction linked to candidates’ experiences in schools. Prior to graduating from the academy, all candidates would have to demonstrate their ability to increase student achievement and growth. In exchange, these academies would not have to meet certain regulations for preparation programs, including faculty degrees and research output, the number of credits hours or undergraduate coursework required, physical infrastructure, and accreditation. While the academies could be authorized by a state education agency or nonprofit, academies that do not produce effective teachers and leaders could not be reauthorized.

In addition, SASA authorizes a new competitive grant aimed at recruiting and training effective principals to work in low-income schools, particularly priority and focus schools, middle schools that feed into high schools with low graduation rates, and high-poverty rural schools. Modeled on legislation from Senators Bennet and Al Franken (D-MN), districts, states, and/or nonprofits and institutions of higher education could apply, but would need to provide at least a 20 percent match. Unlike the GREAT Act, this proposal would operate more closely with traditional preparation programs. Funds would be used to recruit highly qualified and diverse school leaders, provide principals and aspiring principals training tailored to the skills they need to lead high-needs schools, develop a year-long residency program and provide ongoing coaching, and train principal mentors. Programs would be evaluated on whether participants are placed and remain as principals in high-needs schools and whether student outcomes improve in those schools.

Both are promising approaches to improving principal leadership and effectiveness – an area that has often been overshadowed by teacher quality. And while not explicitly included in the formula-funded academies, states would have to describe how they would coordinate Title II with early education to strengthen the knowledge and skills of educators working with children PreK-3rd. Even better, states, districts, and other groups winning competitive grants must include training for elementary school principals on the benefits of high-quality early education and transitioning children from these settings to elementary schools – we’d like to see this expanded to in-service principal training as well. 

Similar to the principal quality proposal, another competitive grant program – Pathways to Teaching – would support recruitment, selection, preparation, placement, and retention of teachers in high-needs subjects at high-needs schools. Grantees must focus on classroom management, instructional planning, literacy and cognitive development, developing and using assessments, and a clinical experience at a high-needs school, with ongoing mentoring. Sound familiar? Both the Obama administration’s reauthorization blueprint and Harkin’s last reauthorization attempt included a similar provision. The Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) would also receive permanent authorization in SASA and award grants to offer merit pay or bonuses for highly effective teachers in high-needs school and to improve teacher evaluations, compensation plans, and human capital systems.

While there is a lot to like in the new Title II plan, the prospects for SASA moving beyond a partisan Committee vote are slim. Stay tuned to both Ed Money Watch and Early Ed Watch for continuing coverage of both Senate proposals as we edge toward Tuesday’s markup.

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