ACORN Faults Implementation Of New ESEA

By Catherine Gewertz — November 27, 2002 2 min read

States, districts, and the federal government deserve a grade of D for poorly implementing two key provisions of the federal “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001, a community-organizing group contends in a report released last week.

Those failures have already cost disadvantaged students some of the help promised by the law, says the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. The Washington-based organization of families works on various civic issues, including better schools.

In a survey of 23 states and 50 school districts, conducted by ACORN and released on Nov. 21, the group found that too few parents were being properly notified of the qualifications of their children’s teachers, or of tutoring services to which their children are entitled under the measure signed by President Bush last January.

“The president said no child will be left behind, but many are being left behind,” said Maude Hurd, the president of ACORN. "[The law] gave hope to low- and moderate-income parents, but they don’t see anything happening, and they are wondering if this is just another thing the government is saying, and isn’t going to follow through on.”

The survey examined only two of the many provisions of the new law, a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the flagship federal law in precollegiate education. One provision requires districts to notify parents if children are being taught for four consecutive weeks by teachers who do not meet the law’s definition of “highly qualified.”

Another section requires states to approve a list of providers of tutoring services for students in struggling schools, and for districts to notify families about those providers. (“States Suffer Halting Start on Tutoring,” Sept. 25, 2002.)

On both issues, the ACORN report says, the federal government is not offering states enough guidance, or holding their feet to the fire to make sure required steps are taken. States, the report says, in turn have given too little guidance to districts, while both states and districts are implementing the provisions inconsistently or ineffectively.

Work to Do

More than half the states surveyed had not yet defined “highly qualified” teachers, leaving districts in a tough position in notifying parents, the report says. Few of the districts surveyed had sent such notices home to parents, and many of the notices that did go out were confusing, it says.

Some districts contended they were not obligated to send any notices because all their teachers were “highly qualified.”

Most of the states surveyed were not providing supplemental services or had not yet approved lists of providers, ACORN says, while a few had not yet determined which schools met the criteria for students to be eligible for such services. Several states reported that no schools were obligated to offer such services because none had been struggling academically long enough.

Scott Young, a policy associate for the education program at the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, said the findings reflect what some analysts are seeing.

“It boils down to whether districts have the capacity to implement these changes, and many do not,” he said. “They really require a lot of assistance from the states. And the states are awaiting guidance from the [U.S.] Department of Education, which hasn’t quite got the information out as it’s needed to.”

Education Department officials were not immediately available for comment.

A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as ACORN Faults Implementation Of New ESEA