WASHINGTON, D.C.—As the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee prepares to mark up the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA), Chairman Tom Harkin’s bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), advocates and experts have expressed support for the bill’s provisions:
“We are writing to thank you for pursuing the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and for the significant improvements made in the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA) compared with the Committee’s ESEA legislation last Congress. The addition of performance goals and targets for all groups of students, supports and interventions for schools consistently falling short of those targets, evaluation of principals and teachers, and an overall greater focus on equity make SASA a much improved bill. We look forward to continuing to work with the Committee through passage and Floor consideration to further strengthen and improve key provisions of the legislation.”
Katie Haycock, President, Education Trust
“Notably, your proposal would hold districts and schools accountable for improving student achievement for all students. We are pleased that the proposal builds on the progress made under the No Child Left Behind Act and requires states to set measurable, quantifiable goals for improving student outcomes in reading, math, English language proficiency for English language learners, and high school graduation rates. Importantly, the SAS Act would require states and districts to take action on schools that fall short of meeting state performance targets.”
Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President for Education Policy, Center for American Progress Action Fund
“Chairman Harkin’s bill is a serious attempt to achieve what many of us in the civil and human rights community have long held to be true—that access to a quality education for every single child in America is not only a moral imperative and basic human right, but also a fundamental obligation of the federal government and a critical foundation of an engaged citizenry and a competitive workforce. The bill seeks to make the American dream a reality for all children by focusing on closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, and improving school climate.”
Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
“The SASA recognizes that, at its core, the ESEA is a civil rights law. Forged at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and during the War on Poverty, the ESEA was designed to complement other educational equity efforts, including those in many school districts under court-ordered school desegregation plans…
“As the ESEA approaches 50 years since its enactment, its foundational goal – protecting the education of disadvantaged children – cannot change. We applaud Chairman Harkin and the bill’s sponsors for working to address both new and ongoing barriers to children’s education and wish to work with you to secure improvement and passage of the SASA.”
Damon Todd Hewitt, Director of the Education Practice, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
“We are pleased with the inclusion of a number of provisions in SASA that help build a continuous pre-K to grade three system of education with a focus on the growth and development of young children. By including early learning guidelines and early grade standards in state plans, improving coordination among school districts and preschool programs, including the improvement of preschool programs in school improvement strategies, as well as a number of additional provisions, the bill makes progress toward a creating a continuum of learning from birth to grade 3 where each year builds on the growth, development, and academics of the previous year. We look forward to working with the committee to strengthen these provisions to ensure that pre-K and the early grades put students on a path of lifelong learning and academic success, including limiting the use of assessments from pre-K through grade 2.”
Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus
“But the most important – and welcome – change between SASA and states' waivers is that these targets actually matter beyond school report cards. As research shows, serious interventions – or the threat of them – could be the difference between schools improving or stagnating. Harkin’s bill would require state accountability systems to identify and intervene in focus and priority schools, along with schools failing to meet the same performance goals for two consecutive years. The Harkin bill is also more explicit about what happens to focus and priority schools if they do not improve than most state waivers: focus schools become priority schools after six years, while priority schools are subject to state takeover, restart, or closure if they are re-identified as a priority school after three years.”
Anne Hyslop, New America Foundation
“On behalf of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the nation’s leading voice in early childhood education for children from birth through age 8, I want to thank you for elevating the importance of early childhood education in your bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Creating a research-based continuum of teaching and learning, based on what we know about child development in the first eight years, will lead to better school and life outcomes for children.”
Jerlean Daniel, Ph.D., Executive Director, National Association for the Education of Young Children
“On behalf of the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), we are writing to commend you for inclusion of early learning provisions in the "Strengthening America's Schools Act of 2013." The draft legislation builds upon current law, making essential progress toward ensuring that children begin school fully prepared. Educators, administrators and state superintendents have prioritized high-quality early learning opportunities in different settings as an essential part of their long-term strategies for improving student outcomes and boosting the prospects of their local communities. The proposed updates to ESEA can provide support for these efforts by reinforcing the connections between early childhood and K-12 education.”
Kris Perry, Executive Director, First Five Years Fund
"On behalf of the National Center for Family Literacy, we write to offer our support of S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, put forth under your leadership. Specifically, S. 1094, includes family literacy as a cornerstone of the agenda to improve the state of the nation’s education system and ensures that all students, especially disadvantaged students, have access to critical family literacy services. This bill harnesses the power of family literacy and ensures that such services and activities will be an integral part of state and local plans and activities. Given that research consistently demonstrates that low literacy levels of parents negatively impact the achievement of their children, S. 1094’s strong inclusion of family literacy activities and services provides a direct resolution to closing the achievement gap in this nation. The National Center of Family Literacy strongly supports this piece of legislation, and looks forward to working with you as S. 1094 moves to enactment."
Sharon Darling, President & Founder, National Center for Family Literacy
“Evidence shows that promoting positive health outcomes is imperative for achieving academic success. We are delighted that you have included legislative language underscoring the need to provide access to school nurses to promote students’ physical health, mental health and well-being. This bill also expands counseling and mental health services for students and encourages innovative approaches for early identification and intervention techniques. Further, the bill highlights the need to consider student-to-school nurse ratios, which is integral to measure the correlation between positive health outcomes and academic success.”
Donna Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, Executive Director, National Association of School Nurses
“We are pleased with language early in the bill that emphasizes the importance of preparing students for post-secondary education and careers, and that emphasizes the alignment of academic standards to career preparation. Connecting college- and career-ready academic content standards to the career and technical education standards in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and the actual academic skills needed in careers will help our schools develop graduates who are truly prepared for a career and college.”
Kimberly A. Green, Stephen DeWitt, Association for Career and Technical Education
“Given the strong evidence of the importance of physical education and the current risks to our children’s well-being caused by physical inactivity and a lack of quality physical education programs, the provisions in your bill are needed now more than ever. We are pleased that the Strengthening America’s Schools Act not only includes the provisions found in the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Act (FIT Kids), but also includes policy recommendations from the new Institute of Medicine report, Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. In addition to providing policy recommendations, this report reinforces the evidence and need for quality physical education courses and increased physical activity throughout the school day.”
Nancy A. Brown, Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association | American Stroke Association
“The Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA) will strengthen the law and help ensure a high quality education for America’s 6 million students with disabilities, including those with autism.
“SASA will ensure accountability for performance targets for all students and all schools, and require all subgroups, including students with disabilities to make progress. It will ensure that most students with disabilities are assessed with the same assessments as their peers, ensuring that they will receive grade-level educations and the opportunity for a regular diploma; eliminate the alternate assessment to modified achievement standards and appropriately restrict the alternate assessment to alternate achievement standards only to those students who can never take the regular assessment even with appropriate accommodations. It will require a robust data collection, improve school climate, and promote universal design for learning, early education, and multi-tiered interventions.”
Jessica Butler, Congressional Affairs Coordinator, Autism National Committee
“The Strengthening America’s Schools (SAS) Act is a comprehensive proposal that takes important steps forward in a number of areas, including accountability for student outcomes, educator evaluations, and funding equity.
“CEC is pleased SASA prohibits modified assessments, also known as the two percent assessment, those which are based on modified academic achievement standards. Although the U.S. Department of Education promulgated regulations around those assessments, states had a difficult time implementing them, and failed to determine exactly which students should take them. With the advent of new assessments which are being designed to address the needs of nearly all students, CEC supports prohibiting this category altogether.
“Similarly, while we understand the need to include an alternate assessment for the 1% of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, we also recognize that having any separation from the general assessment system means there is a danger that students who take the alternate assessment could be segregated in other ways. Therefore, we must ensure that they continue to receive the access to the general curriculum that IDEA requires. Due to these issues, we strongly support SASA’s approach, which includes a 1% cap on participation in these assessments and emphasizes the need to speak clearly and accurately with parents about the potential consequences of student participation in these assessments for graduation. CEC supports the many protections SASA outlines relevant to this issue.”
Deborah A. Ziegler, Ed. D., Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy Services, Council for Exceptional Children
“ALA … strongly supports Title IV, Part A, Subpart 1 (Improving Literacy Instruction) that would authorize public library programs as eligible entities for grants to provide children from birth through kindergarten with literacy instruction. In addition, Subpart 1 would allow a librarian to serve as a member of the State Literacy Leadership Team and ensure that a State that receives a grant works to strengthen partnerships among schools, libraries, and other programs to improve literacy for all children.”
Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director, American Library Association
“CHSE commends Chairman Harkin for this important step toward the reauthorization of the ESEA. We are pleased that the legislation includes an approach to accountability that focuses on high schools with graduation rates below 60% and targets future investments to help low-income high school students.
“The legislation also includes new language on an equity report card, requiring data from states on the specific challenges students must overcome to graduate ready for college, career, and life. The data would also yield insights on the investment per schoolhouse of federal, state, and local dollars.
“Education is a right and should not be a privilege of the few. CHSE looks forward to our continuing work with Congress to sharpen its focus on providing Native students, English Language Learners, low-income, and students of color the equitable education they desperately need and deserve.”
Rufina Hernández, Executive Director, Campaign for High School Equity
“We appreciate your commitment to allowing local communities the flexibility to choose what kind of academic and enrichment opportunities to offer children when the traditional school day ends by including expanded learning time as an allowable use of these funds.
“The bill would provide flexibility for local communities to decide how best to meet the needs of their students through voluntary afterschool or summer programs, and/or through a comprehensive redesign and expansion of the school day or year, and would provide more services and more time to more children in need. The bill would allow communities to invest in high-quality afterschool, summer, and expanded learning opportunities that have proven track records of success and that meet the needs of children and families across our nation.”
Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO, Citizen Schools
“Knowledge Alliance appreciates the focus on using evidence-based research to improve practice through inclusion of language in Title I that incentivizes state education agencies to provide technical assistance and support services through external providers that are experts in the use of strategies based on scientifically valid research to improve teaching, learning and schools. The bill also makes use of the expertise of external providers to conduct needs analyses for local education agencies. These provisions will ensure that the latest evidence-based research is used to address pressing problems of practice in schools, and we hope that this focus on using expert external providers will be extended to apply to Title I state plan requirements, and Title II local plans.
“Allowing the use of the whole-school reform model under the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program will allow districts and schools the flexibility they need to implement evidence-based school reforms in partnership with external providers, and Knowledge Alliance applauds the inclusion of this model as a SIG option. “
Michele McLaughlin, President, Knowledge Alliance
“In both large and subtle ways your bill attempts to balance federal, state, and local roles and responsibilities to promote a high quality education for all students, a goal we have long shared with you. The bill also provides for added flexibility, for example, by including an evidence-based option to the School Improvement Grant program. It also tips the scale on educator evaluation in a good direction, by emphasizing staff development and professional learning.
“We want you to know how much we appreciate your inclusion of language […] that addresses universal design, interoperability, and accessibility in digital assessments and digital assessment content. Implementing this language should significantly help in affordably eliminating what we call “the assessment gap”—the inability of many students, not just those covered by IDEA and Section 504, to access academic assessments. The language reflects the significant development and implementation progress that has been achieved through ED-funded, multi-state collaboration, capitalizing on research-based best practices and technological advances. It lays the groundwork for the day when all digital assessments and assessment content, regardless of the use, will be accessible to all students, providing many—for the first time—a true opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do and to receive the instructional support they need to succeed.”
Stuart R. Kahl, Ph.D., Peter D. Hofman, Measured Progress
“The Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013 is a major step in the right direction to ensure that all students have access to high quality instruction toward rigorous college and career standards, along with critical academic, behavioral, social, emotional, physical, and mental health supports that promote increased academic success.”
Susan Gorin, CAE Executive Director, National Association of School Psychologists
“NCLD believes the introduction of SASA is a major first step in the right direction to ensuring that ESEA maintains a critical balance between student learning and achieving state standards while providing some flexibility so states, districts and schools may determine the best evidence-based approaches to making this happen.”
James H. Wendorf, Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities
“We very much appreciate your continued leadership and commitment to assuring that students with disabilities are taught and held to the same high expectations as their peers, and fully included in academic accountability systems. DREDF believes the introduction of SASA is a move in the right direction toward ensuring that ESEA maintains a balance between student learning and achieving state standards while providing some flexibility so that states, districts, and schools have an opportunity to determine the effective evidence-based approaches to making this happen.”
Susan Henderson, Executive Director, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
“We thank you for taking this opportunity to address what has become a pervasive national problem,1 and we hope that the anti-bullying language will remain strong as the legislative process moves forward…You have included provisions from the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which supports the creation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that enumerate specific categories of victims, including incidents based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as data collection, public education, and grievance procedures.
“S. 1094 also contains Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) provisions, which protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. SNDA recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.
“Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.”
Jen Herrick, Senior Policy Analyst, People for the American Way