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ESEA BRIEFING BOOK: New Fordham Report Identifies Ten “Big Issues” in ESEA Reauthorization

“To be clear, our vision for the federal role in education is a significant departure from No Child Left Behind.”


A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute identifies ten big issues that it says must be resolved in order for Congress to finish a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind.

The report, dubbed the ESEA Briefing Book, notes that most observers “remain skeptical” that reauthorization will occur in 2011, but says it is “likely” that at least one chamber will produce a bill this year. The report divides the ten issues—shown in the box to the right—into four categories: standards and assessments, accountability, teacher quality, and flexibility and innovation.

The ESEA Briefing Book offers recommendations for each of the ten issues it identifies in an attempt to move federal education policy in the direction of “Reform Realism,” which the report defines as “a pro–school reform orientation leavened with realism about what the federal government can and cannot do well in K–12 education.”

Toward this end, the report recommends a new federal role in education that is “much more limited” and tailored to the federal government’s expertise and capacity.

Specifically, it calls on the federal government to

•    expect states to adopt rigorous standards and assessments and to maintain sophisticated data systems so that student achievement results and school-level finances are transparent to the public;
•    eliminate Adequate Yearly Progress and allow states much greater leeway in how they rate their schools;
•    allow states complete flexibility in deciding when and how to intervene in failing schools, determining the qualifications that teachers must meet, deciding whether to adopt teacher-evaluation systems, etc.; and
•    turn reform-oriented formula grant programs into competitive ones whenever possible—with the exception of the main Title I program.

“To be clear, our vision for the federal role in education is a significant departure from No Child Left Behind,” the report notes. “It would mean a greater federal role in prescribing standards, tests, cut scores, and data systems, and much less federal say-so about sanctions, teacher quality, and everything else. It would mean greater transparency for student achievement and school spending and less accountability for raising test scores. It would mean more competitive programs and less formula funding. Still, it’s not so out of step with the Obama administration’s ‘Blueprint,’ and it’s certainly the direction that Republicans on Capitol Hill are heading.”

The complete report is available at

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