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Published in Print: February 17, 1999, as Riley: ESEA Plan Will Push Teacher Quality

Riley: ESEA Plan Will Push Teacher Quality

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The Department of Education will not seek a major overhaul of Title I in this year's reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley told members of Congress last week.

The Clinton administration's goals for revising the ESEA turn on holding students to high standards and promoting high-quality teaching, while maintaining a cordial relationship with congressional Republicans interested in a more radical overhaul, Mr. Riley said in separate appearances before the House and Senate education committees.

"The days of dumbing-down are over," Mr. Riley declared to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Feb. 9 in a preview of the administration's plans for the main federal K-12 law.

House Republicans countered late last week with their own legislative initiatives in a measure called the Dollars to the Classroom Act, a name they revived from last year.

The legislation, HR 2, would change the federal tax code to lower districts' costs related to school construction bonds and increase their flexibility in using such bonds--the first time the GOP has promoted what has been a Democratic priority. It would also expand "Ed-Flex" legislation, which frees states from some federal education rules, to allow all 50 states to participate in the program instead of just the 12 states piloting it now. The bill also includes language encouraging Congress to write legislation guaranteeing that 95 percent of federal funding be passed down to the classroom level.

"While this administration thinks federal control and Washington-based initiatives are the answer, we have faith that the folks back home, those closest to the problem, will come up with common-sense solutions that work," Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in announcing the plan at a press conference last Thursday.

Title I Concerns

During the House and Senate hearings, Secretary Riley assured lawmakers that the department's ESEA language--with specific details of President Clinton's proposed new initiatives--would be presented in mid-March.

Both House and Senate lawmakers admonished Mr. Riley for the president's budget request for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which would increase funding for state special education grants by only 1 percent.

On a related issue, Mr. Riley said that long-awaited regulations for the IDEA, which Congress revised in 1997, would be out by March 5.

Title I was also on the minds of several lawmakers.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said he was concerned that Title I--the flagship federal program in K-12 education--was not meeting its goal of reducing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their better-off peers.

"We've spent almost $112 billion on Title I since its inception [in 1965], and recent reports show the gap is widening,"' Mr. Gregg said. "Obviously, we're not getting much for the money we're spending," aside from administrative staff and bureaucracy, he added.

But Mr. Riley said he was confident that the changes to the ESEA in its 1994 reauthorization were beginning to foster progress among needy students. "We believe the schoolwide approach [to spending Title I dollars]--when well-implemented--is one of the most effective strategies," he said.

The Education Department will not propose changing the current Title I funding formula--which is based on a complex count of children in poverty in the schools--but it will look at ways to expand Title I's family-literacy component, Mr. Riley told the House panel.

He said the upcoming ESEA proposal would include a plan to consolidate Goals 2000, Title VI block grants, and Eisenhower professional-development grants into a new program that would emphasize accountability. The program would provide money to help states continue to write academic standards, help districts align their curricula to the standards, and increase teacher professional development, with an emphasis on mathematics and science instruction. (See related story, Page 32.)

The secretary also proposed encouraging states to create tests for beginning teachers and to require that teachers receive annual contracts instead of a license for their first two or three years in the field. To receive a permanent license, a teacher would have to undergo a significant peer-review process and evaluation, he said.

The National Education Association, the 2.4 million-member teachers' union, will wait for more details before it decides whether to support the plan, said Michael Pons, an nea policy analyst.

The union is skeptical, though, that such steps are needed. "Right now, every state affiliate of NEA is in the process of looking at all aspects of teacher quality," including teacher tests and licensure systems, Mr. Pons said.

Separately, the Education Department announced last week that Judith Johnson would head the office of elementary and secondary education as acting assistant secretary when her boss, Gerald N. Tirozzi, leaves March 1 to become executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Ms. Johnson is now the office's deputy assistant secretary.

Vol. 18, Issue 23, Pages 32,41

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