ESSA: Teacher evaluations and Pay for Success.

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President Obama signs ESSA last December.

-From a report by Springfield NPR education reporter Dusty Rhodes. The entire report from Illinois Issues can be found here

Another reason Illinois teachers may not feel much difference under ESSA is that —barring a transformation in the General Assembly — the new law’s teacher evaluation guidelines won’t apply here. Unlike the NCLB waiver system, ESSA does not require state teacher evaluation systems to hinge on students’ standardized test scores. But when Illinois applied for a federal Race To The Top grant in 2010, it had to prove that it was ready to implement exactly that kind of evaluation. It did so by enacting the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, which was rolled into a broader Education Reform Act in 2011.

Fred Klonsky, a retired Park Ridge art teacher and education blogger, can’t envision state lawmakers undoing that measure.

“Now that they’ve passed ESSA, that law doesn’t go away,” he says. “Teachers are still going to be evaluated exactly in the way that they were being evaluated before the bill was passed.”

There’s a reason NCLB was passed in the first place: States weren’t doing a great job of educating all children. But after 13 years of NCLB, the federal government hasn’t proven to be much better at it, as it failed to close the achievement gap. And while ESSA basically throws the ball back into the states’ court, it bring in one other player: the private sector.

For example, ESSA contains a provision allowing “pay for success,” also known as “social impact bonds.”

One example of the bonds in action comes from Utah. Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker committed $7 million to fund preschool for some 600 4-year-olds. Tests showed that 110 of those children could be headed for special education, but the investors bet that preschool would cure their deficiencies. When the children reached first grade, only one of those 110 demonstrated a need for special education, according to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune, thereby saving the school district $281,000. The investment bankers received a check for $267,000, which is 95 percent of the savings, and will continue to receive that payout until their $7 million is repaid with interest.

Chicago Public Schools have entered into a $16.9 million social impact bond deal with Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker involving more than 2,600 children.

U.S. Sen. Orin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, took credit for including “pay for success” in ESSA. The provision has been criticized by education experts like Diane Ravitch, Beverly Holden Johns and Mercedes Schneider for injecting a private profit motive into crucial decisions about the education of young children. Johns points out that they are complex contracts where the investors possess the financial expertise. Schneider says these bonds are an “open door for the exploitation” of children who do not score well on tests.

ESSA also includes a provision to help private and religious schools access federal funds, including a block grant program funded at $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017. States will be required to create an ombudsman position to monitor and enforce distribution of Title 1 and other federal funds to private and religious schools for “equitable services.”

Educators are watching another component of the new law which allows for non-university “teacher preparation academies” run by venture philanthropists to churn out teachers deemed “masters” with little classroom experience.

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