Senators in the HELP committee moved the ESEA bill out of the committee, just before 9 p.m. with a 15-7 vote. Sens. Mike Enzi, Mark Kirk, and Lamar Alexander voted with the Democrats.
The HELP committee will reconvene next on Nov. 8 for a hearing, as agreed to earlier in the day to appease Sen. Paul.
We gave you a rundown of the approved amendments from the morning session earlier. Here’s highlights of approved amendments from the afternoon, in the order they were considered (with some fun tidbits, when applicable):
1. The pending amendment from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that establishes computer-adaptive tests to replace current written assessments, which he previously called “autopsies” of students’ learning.
Computer tests, he said, gives teachers and students immediate feedback and direction for student learning.
2. The pending amendment from Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., which adds a seventh reform model for the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The amendment allows states to decide on their own turnaround strategy, subject to the Department of Education approval. The other strategies outlined in the bill include: transformation, strategic staffing, turnaround, whole school reform, restart, and closure.
3. An amendment from Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., that ensures access to early college high schools under the Pathways to College program for low-income students.
“I want to be sure that they are not priced out of something that would be available to other students in their school system,” Hagan said.
Debate around this bill was particularly entertaining, as senators across the committee debated exactly what early college high schools were – and weren’t. At one point, Pell grants, which have no relevance to Pathways to College, were thrown in to the discussion.
4. An amendment from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that allows rural schools to fulfill highly qualified requirements through distance learning and team teaching. Highly qualified teachers would work together with teachers who do not fulfill the requirement and could do so via the web.
“We’re not lowering the bar here, but we are allowing for a level of flexibility using our technology,” she said.
5. Another amendment from Franken that permits foster care children — who are transferred to other families and thus, other schools — to remain in their original school if that suits them better. The measure, he said, provides more stability for children who often live very unstable lives. Concerns were expressed regarding transportation and costs, but Franken said welfare agencies would coordinate with school districts.
6. An amendment from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., that requires schools to report students who are two years in age older or younger than their grade level.
“It’s the best predictor of dropouts,” Blumenthal said. The measure requires no new data collection or costs, he added.
7. An amendment from Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., that reauthorizes an educational technology grant program, including language that “ensures students have access to technology in schools, but are protected from any … obscene content.” It also makes it a competitive program if funding appropriations fall short.
“Schools need to be helped in their effort to catch up with the rest of society,” he said.
8. Another amendment from Franken that establishes a principal training and development program, designed to attract and support effective leaders. He said it creates “a pipeline of effective principals.” It replaces the school leadership program, which was cut from the initial Harkin-Enzi bill.
Sen. Mike Bennet, R-Colo., chimed in with support: “You can’t have a great school without a great principal.” But Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said he was against the competitive nature of the bill because some states don’t have the resources, like grant writers, and won’t participate.
Perhaps the best statement during this discussion came from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, when he likened Title II, which includes Franken’s proposed program, to Holiday Inn – the money only being used for conferences and lunches, rather than effective programs.
9. An amendment from Alexander that gives students in the identified bottom five percent of low-performing schools the ability to transfer to another school. Alexander estimated that it would affect 5,000 schools nationwide.
10. An amendment from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., that changes the formula of Title II funding so it is “distributed equitably.”
Harkin wanted to debate it on the Senate floor, but after pushing from Burr – “I believe it is the responsibility of the committee to send a bill that is equitable to the floor” – senators passed it.
11. Another amendment from Blumenthal that establishes a National Research Center for gifted and talented students, which will identify and support best practices for teaching these children.
“This population has unique needs,” Blumenthal said. “The bill should be amended, so grants and research activities benefit gifted and talented students,” as well as low-performers.
12. An amendment from Bennet, D-Colo., earned support for his GREAT Act, which was introduced earlier this year. It’s a voluntary program that supports the Obama’s administration’s program, which was announced last month. It calls for more accountability of teacher preparation programs through the collection of data of their graduates.
The amendment passed with little discussion.
13. An amendment from Sen. Robert Casey, D-Penn., called the “Well-Rounded Education Amendment.” It encourages and supports arts, foreign language, music, environmental and other classes in grades 6 to 12. He said students are “disadvantaged” if they are not exposed to courses like these.
Research shows that “if they have exposure, test scores are better,” he said.
The amendment takes five programs that were eliminated in the original Harkin-Enzi bill and combines them into one program.
14. Another amendment from Murkowski that clarifies bill language that addresses unique needs of Alaskan schools.
15. Another amendment from Hagan that clarifies language in the bill pertaining to the global schools network and foreign teachers visiting the United States.
16. An amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that changes bill language to ensure that community after-school programs are fairly considered for funding, along with extended-day programs.
17. Another amendment from Bennet that establishes a program similar to the federal program, DARPA, that will look at innovative research in education.
18. A final amendment from Bennet to establish a commission on effective regulation and assessment of public schools. “It ensures that teachers spend more time teaching and less time testing,” he said.
Enzi worried about establishing another commission, behind a long line of others, and what the cost would be.
Bennet said similar commissions have cost $500,000 and added, “If it doesn’t save 10 times that, I’ll eat that 1,000-page bill. I will.”
Stay tuned here for further insight from our analysts in the coming days. Follow us, too, @EducationSector for continued coverage.