How the ESSA Affects Teacher Training, Professional Development and Evaluation

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that will look  at the changes made by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind, and what they might mean for Wisconsin schools.

One big change under the ESSA, is the elimination of the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) requirements from NCLB.

Additionally, under ESSA, there are no mandated teacher evaluation requirements that would tie student test results to those evaluations, a big switch from the waivers under which Wisconsin has been operating. (Under the ESSA, those waivers become void on August 1, 2016, as was noted in a previous post.)

Note: The absence of federal provisions mandating  teacher evaluation through student test scores will likely have little impact on Wisconsin as we have adopted state statutory language (see section 115.415 , Wis. Statutes–Educator Effectiveness) under which “fifty percent of the total evaluation score assigned to a teacher or principal shall be based upon measures of student performance, including performance on state assessments, district-wide assessments, student learning objectives, school-wide reading at the elementary and middle-school levels, and graduation rates at the high school level.”

Although the ESSA contains no federal provisions mandating teacher evaluation requirements, states and districts may use Title II funds to design and implement teacher and principal evaluation systems. States may also use funds for training and capacity-building for local education agencies, as well as a broad range of other activities, including differential pay systems for high-need subjects, induction, and mentoring programs.

The ESSA also funds a matching grant program to:

“(1) assist states, local educational agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop, implement, improve, or expand comprehensive performance-based compensation systems or human capital management systems for teachers, principals, or other school leaders (especially for teachers, principals, or other school leaders in high-need schools) who raise student academic achievement and close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students; and  (2) to study and review performance-based compensation systems or human capital management systems for teachers, principals, or other school leaders to evaluate the effectiveness, fairness, quality, consistency, and reliability of the systems.”

Under the ESSA, states would now be authorized to set up teacher-preparation “academies,” both inside or outside of higher education, which could operate apart from states’ usual rules and regulations for teacher prep. They would, however, only be able to graduate teachers found to be effective at boosting student achievement.

As far as funding is concerned, Title II of the ESSA authorizes $2.5 billion to prepare, train, and recruit high-quality teachers, principals, or other school leaders. Under current law, about $2.3 billion is actually appropriated for state teacher-quality grants under Title II.

A noteworthy change is that the hold harmless provision for Title II funds is being phased out by 2020 and the formula is changed to weight  states’ poverty counts more and their overall population less.  Over the next seven years, the formula for distribution of funds – currently based 65 percent on students in poverty and 35 percent on student population overall – will eventually be based 80 percent on students in poverty and 20 percent on the overall student population.  A preliminary analysis of these changes by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggests that Wisconsin’s allocation of teacher quality grant funds could drop from around $37.7 million per year in federal fiscal year 2016 to just under $32 million by federal fiscal year 2023. That analysis assumes the amount appropriated remains at $2.3 billion in each year over that period and looks are how the formula change affects each state’s allocation.

Next…  How the ESSA affects states’ academic standards.