Teacher Empowerment Act (12-20-99)

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the main legislation for K-12 education programs in the Department of Education, is a hot topic in the 106th Congress.  Partially in response to strong constituent demand for change, members of Congress see education reform as a major election-year issue.  As the reauthorization process moves ahead, Congress is discussing the appropriate role and scope of federal control over education, a highly partisan debate.  Differences of opinion in the federal government's role in education have produced several versions of reauthorization legislation, but these different bills will have to be incorporated into a single bill later in the legislative process.  Meanwhile, the House and Senate will continue to hold hearings and debate the various bills.

Three things are complicating the reauthorization process for ESEA.  First, the House and Senate decided to approach it in very different ways.  The House of Representatives is reauthorizing each titles of the act as a separate bill.  Second, the full House Education and the Workforce Committee is working on the reauthorization, instead of the standard system in which the subcommittee holds hearings and mark-up before passing it to the full committee for consideration.  And third, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has decided to reauthorize ESEA as a single bill.  These different styles and different versions of the bill will affect the timetable for reauthorization.

One of the many catch-phrases for the debate on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is teacher, student, and parent empowerment.  Current legislation working its way through Congress is intended to provide States and localities with the support and flexibility they need to provide quality training for teachers and reduce class size.  Representatives "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and William Goodling (R-PA) introduced H.R. 1995, the Teacher Empowerment Act (TEA) in May.  The bill would amend ESEA "to empower teachers, improve student achievement through high-quality professional development for teachers, [and] reauthorize the Reading Excellence Act."

H.R. 1995 would rename Title II of ESEA Teacher Quality -- presently Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program -- and incorporate the Eisenhower Professional Development, Goals 2000, and class-size reduction programs.  Historically, the Eisenhower programs have been designed to provide professional development for science and math educators.  The Teacher Empowerment Act maintains this focus and provides more state and local flexibility.  According to an update from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA): "The language stipulates that the amount of the set-aside under the current ESEA Eisenhower program (now at $250 million) for science and math professional development must continue to be set for math and science professional development upon enactment of this bill. However, a local education agency can submit a waiver to the state and use these funds for other academic subjects. The (local educational agencies) LEA must first demonstrate:

  1. The professional development needs of math and science teachers, including elementary teachers responsible for teaching math and science, have been adequately met;
  2. State assessments in math or science demonstrate that each school in the LEA has made progress toward meeting state or local content standards and student performance standards; and
  3. State assessments in other academic subjects demonstrate a need to focus on subjects other than math and science."

The legislation focuses primarily on innovative ways to improve and change the current teacher training, recruitment, and retention, "such as programs to promote tenure reform, teacher testing, merit-based teacher performance systems, alternative routes to teacher certification, differential and bonus pay for teachers in 'high need' subject areas, mentoring, and in-service teacher academies."  Also, the proposed bill would require professional development programs to demonstrate not only that teachers gain from the program, but also that student achievement increases from a teacher's participation in that program.  The bill prohibits any type of federal teacher certification, instead offers states incentives to strengthen state certification criteria and improve certificate portability between states.

Title II, currently the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, provides teachers with support and continuing development programs for science and math teachers in all levels of elementary and secondary education.  H.R. 1995 would continue the science and math focus, but would allow local educational agencies (LEA) to apply for a waiver if local schools are meeting the professional developments needs of their science and math teachers.  Authorization for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education would continue under TEA.  Also, included in the sections on science and math educators is a section authorizing the Secretary of Education to setup a "program to recruit qualified math and science teachers for high-need school systems, following the model of the Troops-to-Teachers teacher placement program."  The Troops-to-Teachers program is designed to move retired military into the teaching profession -- a bill has been introduced called the Transition to Teaching Act (H.R. 2344) that expands the current Troops-to-Teachers program.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee quickly marked-up the legislation and favorably passed it out of committee.  During floor debate, several amendments were offered to the legislation before the body passed it in a 239-185 vote.  The bill is now given to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee for consideration.

A companion bill to the House bill, S. 1479, was introduced in August by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH).  The Senate bill contains much of the same language as its House counterpart, but it does not contain the assessments called for in the House version.

Sources:  American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, National Science Teachers Association website, Department of Education website, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, hearing testimony, and

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs

Posted December 20, 1999

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