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ESEA Reauthorization

The Latest ESEA Proposal: A Deeper Look (Part 2)

November 14, 2011

If you’ve been following Early Ed Watch recently, you know that a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators has proposed a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A few weeks ago, we wrote about Title I, Part A, providing details on how early childhood education, birth through third grade, is included.

Today, we will do the same for Title II. This part of the law is important because it governs the way the U.S. Department of Education provides funding to states for teacher training, among other programs.

Kindergartners, Put Down Your Pencils

  • By
  • Dana Goldstein,
  • New America Foundation
November 4, 2011 |

Last month, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed that all public school kindergartners sit for "entry assessments" starting in the 2014-15 school year, the education blogosphere erupted.

Department of Education Waivers May Bring an End to NCLB Tutoring Program

November 1, 2011

With Congress still a long way from reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Department of Education plans in the meantime to waive some of the law’s provisions in exchange for getting states to undertake reforms. The Department might issue such a waiver for one No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act program that is unpopular among states and school districts: supplemental educational services (SES).

Failing schools under NCLB must provide students with supplemental educational services, primarily implemented as tutoring outside of school time. Those schools are required to set aside up to twenty percent of their federal funds under Title I, Part A and use them to fund transportation for school choice students, tutoring, or a combination of both. Whatever portion of the set-aside is not used to cover eligible students can be reverted for use in other Title I activities. A tutoring industry official placed the estimate of federal dollars spent on tutoring in 2010 at about $650 million for 600,000 students, well below the total available amount ($2.55 billion in 2005, up from $1.75 billion in 2001 thanks to a jump in schools characterized by NCLB as “in need of improvement”).

Low participation rates, questions regarding the effectiveness of the program, and costs have all made the tutoring services controversial. Students have been slow to sign up for tutoring. A GAO report published in 2006 suggested that 20 percent of school districts that were required to provide in the 2005 school year had zero students participating. And despite multiple attempts by the school district to notify parents of the service, about half of districts still failed to notify them prior to the start of the school year.

Participation has been a persistent problem throughout the program’s existence, too.  A 2008 report from the Department of Education showed that in 2007, 2.4 million children were eligible to participate in SES, and only 446,000 did so. Today, over half a million students participate annually, but most still only receive 20 to 40 hours of tutoring in an entire school year, hardly enough time to make a significant impact on students’ achievement.

Studies have shown the limited effectiveness of the program. Relative to other Title I activities, one study found that the positive impact tutoring has on students’ achievement is very small. The same report also found that school districts’ programs tended to be more successful than outside providers were; yet as of 2007, only 40 percent of programs were administered by schools or school districts.

States’ abilities to monitor program effectiveness are also highly limited. States are required by the Department of Education to monitor SES programs, measure their impact, and remove from the list of authorized providers any who fail to demonstrate student achievement. But no federal funding is provided for any studies of the programs. Assessment of SES varies from state to state. In early 2006, the Government Accountability Office found that only two states – New Mexico and Tennessee – had managed to provide SES evaluation reports to the public, and only a few others were on their way to doing so.

Students have underutilized the tutoring program, but supplemental educational services have not demonstrated much impact on low-income students in low-performing schools. Tutoring services have set aside significant sums of money from the Title I allocations for each school, necessitating cuts to other activities than have been proven to be effective. The NCLB waivers offered by the Department of Education could end that cycle, allowing schools to pursue more effective routes to improving student achievement.

Proposed ESEA Amendments & Early Learning

October 26, 2011

Sometime in the coming days the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee will release yet another version of the Harkin Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) bill. This newest version of the law most-recently known as No Child Left Behind is the result of a two-day session to “markup” the bill, which took place late last week.

Harkin/Enzi ESEA Bill Would Formalize Rewards for High-Performing Schools

October 25, 2011

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, often is characterized as enforcing a punitive and inflexible accountability system. Few education stakeholders ever discuss the provisions in the bill meant to provide rewards to schools that succeed in improving student achievement, particularly among low-income students. And there is good reason for this – the sections of the law that provide for such rewards are mostly buried in the bill and ignored by states because they are not mandatory.

But Senators Harkin and Enzi recently proposed an ESEA reauthorization bill that would take an existing program – Blue Ribbon Schools – and use it to further codify and formalize a rewards system for successful schools.

The existing Blue Ribbon Schools program is authorized under the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE), a program in NCLB that typically supports pet projects and some specific national programs. The program recognizes either high-performing public and private elementary, middle, and high schools or schools where student achievement has improved dramatically, especially among disadvantaged students. In 2011, 314 schools were named Blue Ribbon Schools and Congress appropriated the program $1 million. While these schools can take pride in knowing that they are considered some of the best schools in the country, they receive no specific benefits from the program.

The Harkin/Enzi proposal would move the Blue Ribbon Schools program out of FIE and make it part of Title I, the section of the law that outlines accountability provisions in the bill. States are not required to participate in the program – they can opt into the rewards system. However, those that choose to do so would participate in a much more rigorous system of rewards than the Blue Ribbon Schools program provides today.

To become a Blue Ribbon School, a school must be in the top 5 percent of schools in a state in terms of the percent of students on track to college- and career-readiness in language arts and math, graduation rate (where appropriate), performance of students by sub-group, student growth in achievement (if a state is using a growth model), and school gains. The current Blue Ribbon Schools program allows schools to either be “high-performing” or “improving” as defined by each state’s chief state school officer. The new program would place a higher bar, as it more clearly defines high-performance as in the top 5 percent.

But more importantly, the proposed Blue Ribbon School program specifies actual benefits for the recipient schools. Participating states could have to give their Blue Ribbon Schools autonomy over budget, staffing, and time; give the schools flexibility in how they use their Title I funds; and distribute competitive reward grants to school districts for their Blue Ribbon Schools.

The prescribed uses of these reward grants are perhaps the most interesting aspect of the proposal: Blue Ribbon Schools that receive rewards would be required to use them to (1) improve student achievement; and (2) provide technical assistance to low-achieving schools with similar characteristics.

If a Blue Ribbon School is already in the top 5 percent of schools in terms of student achievement in a state, it is somewhat counterintuitive to require that school to use the funds to further improve achievement. This is not to say that Blue Ribbon schools should not be expected to improve further. In fact, it is commendable that the Harkin/Enzi bill seems to prioritize pushing these successful schools harder. But it is somewhat confusing to see that language in a program meant to reward schools.

More intriguing is the second usage: to provide technical assistance to low-performing schools. This is one of the few places where we see Congress attempting to create what are known as “communities of practice” – opportunities for schools to come together to share best practices and work together to improve student achievement. But this is often more easily said than done. Highly successful school leaders may have neither the time nor inclination to help similar schools while they are still working to support and strengthen their own campuses.

In many ways, Harkin and Enzi should be applauded for writing a more concrete rewards system into their ESEA reauthorization bill. If it’s enacted, however, it’s difficult to know how many states will choose to participate and which of those states will actually use the program to provide their successful schools with well-earned benefits. Further, the reward grant provision seems poorly thought out at the moment, and it needs further explanation. Check back with Ed Money Watch as we continue to follow developments in this program and others in the Harkin/Enzi reauthorization bill.

The Good and Bad for State and District Report Cards in the Harkin/Enzi ESEA Bill

October 20, 2011

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, is almost universally unpopular with lawmakers, state officials, and principals and teachers for a variety of reasons. But it does retain some favor with civil rights groups, particularly because it requires states, school districts, and schools to ensure that minority students and students enrolled in special programs like free and reduced price lunch, special education, and English language learners are reaching performance targets. Further, it requires states and districts to publish information on this disaggregated student achievement through annual report cards that are publicly available to parents and other stakeholders.

Though the report card requirements in the current 2001 law have made great strides in improving parent access to data, Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Enzi (R-WY) recently introduced a bill to reauthorize ESEA (which expired back in 2007) that would take the annual report card even further to provide parents with even more valuable data on school performance. That said, it would also allow states and districts to obscure information on teacher qualifications.

In addition to data on student achievement both overall and for sub-groups of students and graduation rates, the Harkin-Enzi bill would require states and districts to publish three more key pieces of data. These include data on the percentage of graduated students that matriculated to college the following fall, the percentage of graduated students needing remedial education in college, and student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 4th and 8th graders.

All three of these changes would significantly improve the usability of the report cards. Including College matriculation data in the state and district report cards would show which high schools have the greatest success sending students to higher education institutions and college remediation data would reveal which schools are not properly preparing their students for college-level learning. Both of these measures would put direct pressure on high schools to improve their focus on college-going and increase the rigor of their courses where necessary. However, it is unclear how many states and districts are able to make these data available. While some states are already able to track student matriculation and coursetaking in college, many are not. States would have until the 2012-13 school year to produce matriculation data and the 2013-14 school year for remediation data.

Including NAEP performance in the report cards, on the other hand, would provide a point of comparison for each state’s standards and student performance on those standards. For example, if 75 percent of a school’s students score proficient in 8th grade math on the state assessment, but only 30 percent of students in that state score proficient on NAEP, parents could conclude that the state’s standards are not nearly as rigorous as the NAEP standards. This direct comparison could push states to improve their standards.

The Harkin-Enzi bill also includes some optional information states and schools can include on their report card. These include passing rates on AP/IB tests, class size, incidence of school violence, school climate indicators, attendance rates, and school readiness for kindergarten students. While some of these indicators are relatively difficult to track systematically across districts, others, like class size and attendance, are low-hanging fruit. Hopefully most states and districts will take advantage of the data already available and include these two indicators on their report cards.

Strangely missing from the Harkin-Enzi bill is any mention of teacher quality or qualifications in the proposed new report card. NCLB currently requires states and districts to publish in their report cards information on professional qualifications of all public elementary and secondary school teachers, the percentage of all public elementary and secondary school teachers teaching with emergency or provisional credentials, and the percentage of classes not taught by highly qualified teachers, in the aggregate and disaggregated by high-poverty compared to low-poverty schools. The reauthorization bill includes no such requirements; in fact, the report card section doesn’t mention teachers at all.

However, under the “parents’ right-to-know” section, the proposal requires school districts to release information on teacher qualification to parents if they request it. This information would include whether a student’s teacher has met state qualification and licensing requirements, whether the teacher is emergency certified, what the teacher majored in in college, and the qualification of any paraprofessionals in the classroom. At the same time, the bill requires states to submit data to the Secretary of Education on the percentage and distribution of teachers that are not highly qualified, teachers that are inexperienced, teachers that have not completed a teacher preparation program, and teachers that are teaching out of their subject area.

If states and districts are already required to provide this information to the Secretary or to parents that request it, why do they not also have to include it on state and school districts report cards? Teachers are one of the most important components of a student’s learning experience and any information regarding the qualifications or experience of those teachers should be readily available to parents and other stakeholders. Requiring parents to request this information creates an unnecessary roadblock that many parents are unlikely to want to navigate.

The state and school report card is one of the primary sources of school quality information for parents. The Harkin-Enzi bill would make some strides in improving the report cards by strengthening data on high school outcomes and providing a good point of comparison for state standards. But at the same time, it would allow states and districts to conceal valuable information about teacher qualifications.

The Latest ESEA Proposal: A Deeper Look (Part 1)

October 18, 2011

Last week, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) released a proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) formerly known as No Child Left Behind. Yesterday, Harkin and his counterpart on the Senate’s education panel, Mike Enzi (R-WY), released a revised version of the proposal, reportedly to include more of what Senate Republicans want. Much like the first one, this newer version includes some key elements related to early childhood education, birth through third grade. In this post and more to come, we will give some thumbs up and talk through specifics of the legislation.

NCLB Out, ESEA Flexibility In

September 23, 2011

Today President Obama announced his administration’s plan for reforming No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). “Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will,” he said, noting that the reauthorization of ESEA is four years overdue.

The GOP Proposal for Extreme School-Funding Flexibility

August 18, 2011

States and local school districts have long called for more flexibility in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), whose latest rendition is No Child Left Behind. Last month the House Education and the Workforce Committee proposed a solution by advancing the “State and Local Funding Flexibility Act.”

Congress Gearing Up for a Title I Formula Fight

August 9, 2011

Last week, the Title I-derland blog wrote that Congress is gearing up for a Title I formula fight as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA – currently known as No Child Left Behind) reauthorization process. Given the complicated legacy of the current Title I funding formulas, this is likely to further delay the introduction of a complete ESEA reauthorization bill.

A formula fight is exactly what it sounds like – congressional staff members gather around a table and work out a funding formula (or in this case formulas) that distributes Title I funds among states and school districts in accordance with the program’s stated goal – to provide support for the education of disadvantaged students. Of course, staff members will also aim to ensure that the formula(s) benefits each of their states as much as possible – no member of Congress will vote for a program that shortchanges his or her state or district.

It should be no surprise that the resulting formulas often obscure the relationship between funding and poverty. Currently, Title I funding is distributed through four complicated funding formulas that each assess poverty slightly differently. The Basic grant formula distributes funds based on the number of poor students. The Concentration grant formula provides funds to districts with 15 percent or more students living in poverty. The Targeted grant formula gives more funding per pupil to districts with higher concentrations of poor students. Finally, the Education Finance Incentive Grant formula distributes rewards districts in states with more equitable funding formulas.

Not only do these formulas take into account the number or concentration of poor students in a given district or state, but they also take into account state size, per pupil expenditure, and even the degree to which a state equitably funds low- and high-income schools. While these considerations were intended to guarantee states a certain level of funding, account for the cost of providing an education in a given state, or reward states with more equitable funding formulas, they often undermine the intent of the law.

Ed Money Watch has previously written on this issue, showing that annual Title I allocations per poor pupil do not always benefit school districts with the highest percentages of poor students. In fact, districts in different states with similar poverty rates often receive dramatically different Title I allocations per poor pupil. Read more about this issue here, here, and here.

While it may be tempting to scrap the existing formulas and start over, the legislative process is unlikely to be so simple. Luckily, several organizations have already proposed solutions to the formula problem. The Rural Schools and Community Trust would like to ensure that rural and small school districts get their fair share of funds by eliminating provisions that give more funding to larger districts (called number weighting) and changing the way the formulas take state per pupil spending into account.

The Center for America Progress proposes to replace the existing four formulas with a single formula that would distribute funds based on a weighted count of the number of students in poverty, a cost factor based on the Comparable Wage Index, and a measure of fiscal effort for each state.

In reality, it is more likely that Congress will tinker at the margins of the existing formulas to help ensure a greater degree of equity across states and school districts. Two of the funding formulas – Basic and Concentration – have been part of ESEA for decades and are likely to remain. The Targeted and Education Finance Incentive Grant (EFIG) Formulas, on the other hand, were first written into law in 1994 and are more likely to be the subject of revision. For example, Representative Glenn Thompson (D-PA) recently introduced a bill, called the All Children Are Equal Act, which would alter the Targeted and EFIG formulas to benefit smaller school districts.

Though it’s clear that ESEA reauthorization is still far off, especially given the recent hoopla over Secretary Arne Duncan’s NCLB accountability waiver plan, a formula fight will surely make an already complicated process even more so. However, because the current Title I formulas are flawed to the point of undermining the program, it will be a battle worth fighting for Congress. Better formulas will go a long way in ensuring that Title I funds are supporting the states, districts, and students that need them the most.

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