An ESEA Primer

January 09, 2002 10 min read
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Here are highlights of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, the legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which President Bush was expected to sign into law this week.

Annual Testing: By the 2005-06 school year, states must begin administering annual, statewide assessments in reading and mathematics for grades 3-8. States may select and design their own assessments, but the tests must be aligned with state academic standards. By 2007-08, states must implement science assessments to be administered once during each of the three levels of K-12 education: elementary, middle, and high school. A sample of 4th and 8th graders in each state must participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math every other year to provide a point of comparison for the state’s results on its own tests.

Test results must include individual student scores and be reported by race, income, and other categories to measure not just overall trends, but also gaps between, and progress of, various subgroups.

The federal government will pay all costs of the required NAEP testing and help with the costs of developing and implementing annual assessments. A state may defer the start or suspend the administration of the annual tests by one year for each year that Congress fails to appropriate the amount it is directed to provide for such testing under the ESEA.

Academic Improvement: States must attain academic proficiency—as defined by each state—for all students within 12 years. States must set a minimum performance threshold based on the lowest-achieving demographic subgroup, or the lowest-achieving schools in the state, whichever is higher. Each state must raise the level of proficiency gradually, but in equal increments over time, leading to 100 percent proficiency. The threshold must be raised at least once every three years. A “safe harbor” will be provided for schools that demonstrate that students in a particular subgroup are making significant progress toward proficiency, but have not technically made “adequate yearly progress.” In addition to reading and math assessments, the state must use one other academic indicator; for high schools, that must be graduation rates.

If a school fails to make adequate progress for two consecutive years, the school will receive technical assistance from the district and must provide public school choice. The district must provide transportation for students who choose other district schools and must use up to 5 percent of its Title I money to pay for that option.

After a third year of failure to make adequate progress, a school will also be required to offer supplemental educational services chosen by students’ parents, including private tutoring. The district must use up to 5 percent of its Title I money to pay for that option. The district may use an additional 10 percent of its Title I aid to pay for public school transportation costs or supplemental services.

If a school fails to make adequate progress for four consecutive years, the district must implement corrective actions, such as replacing certain staff members or adopting a new curriculum. After five years of inadequate progress, a school would be identified for reconstitution and be required to set up an alternative governance structure, such as re-opening as a charter school or turning operation of the school over to the state.

The consequences are to kick in as soon as next fall for schools already identified for school improvement or corrective action. Also, much like the process involved with districts’ oversight of schools identified for improvement, states are responsible for overseeing districts as a whole, identifying those needing improvement, and taking corrective actions when necessary.

Report Cards: Beginning with the 2002-03 school year, states must provide annual report cards with a range of information, including statewide student-achievement data broken down by subgroup and information on the performance of school districts in making adequate yearly progress. Districts must also also provide similar report cards, including districtwide and school-by-school data.

Teacher and Paraprofessional Qualifications: All teachers hired under Title I, beginning this fall, must be “highly qualified.” In general, under the law, “highly qualified” means that a teacher has been certified (including alternative routes to certification) or licensed by a state and has demonstrated a high level of competence in the subjects that he or she teaches. By the end of the 2005-06 school year, every public school teacher must be “highly qualified.” Within three years, all paraprofessionals hired with Title I money must have completed at least two years of college, obtained an associate’s or higher degree, or met a rigorous quality standard established at the local level.

Title I Formulas: The law authorizes funding for Title I, Part A, at $13.5 billion in fiscal 2002 (though Congress has appropriated about $3 billion less) and makes minor changes to the basic, concentration, and targeted grant formulas. For example, the law provides more financial parity for Puerto Rico, and provides an increase in the minimum amount that states with small populations may receive. The fourth formula, education finance incentive grants, also reflects such changes, but is more fundamentally rewritten to better target aid to poor children. Overall, perhaps the most noteworthy changes appear in the fiscal 2002 appropriations legislation, which for the first time allocates a portion of Title I aid for the targeted grants ($1 billion) and education finance incentive grants ($793 million).

Reading First: This new program, authorized at $900 million in 2002, provides help to states and districts in setting up “scientific, research-based” reading programs for children in grades K-3. States may use up to 20 percent of the money to provide professional development for teachers of grades K-3, among other options. States must distribute at least 80 percent of the money to districts through a competitive-grant process, giving priority to high-poverty areas.

Early Reading First: This new competitive-grant program, authorized at $75 million this year, seeks to enhance reading readiness for children in high-poverty areas and areas where a high number of students are not reading at grade level. It is aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds to help them prepare to learn to read.

Teacher and Principal Quality: The law consolidates the class-size-reduction and Eisenhower professional-development programs into a single, flexible program, authorized at $3.2 billion for 2002, for improving teacher and principal quality. The money can be used for a variety of purposes, such as hiring teachers to limit class sizes, providing professional development, and funding initiatives to retain highly qualified teachers.

Mathematics and Science Partnerships: This new program, authorized at $450 million this year, seeks to encourage states, institutions of higher education, districts, and schools to form partnerships to improve student performance in math and science.

Liability Protection for Educators: The new ESEA contains language designed to protect educators from legal liability for undertaking “reasonable actions” to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. The liability protection does not apply under certain circumstances, such as when the conduct constitutes a crime of violence.

Technology: The new law consolidates several existing educational technology programs into a flexible technology-grant program, authorized at $1 billion this year. The money can be used for a range of purposes, such as improving access to technology and expanding professional development. Districts must use at least 25 percent of the money for professional development, unless they can show that they already provide such services.

Bilingual Education: The revised ESEA consolidates several bilingual education programs into one flexible initiative, authorized at $750 million in 2002. It requires that students with limited proficiency in English be tested in reading and language arts in English after they have attended school in the United States for three consecutive years, though it allows a two-year waiver on a case-by-case basis. It ends the requirement that a minimum of 75 percent of federal bilingual education aid be spent on programs that use a child’s native language for instruction.

Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities: The program, authorized at $650 million this year, provides aid to states and districts to improve safety and reduce drug use in schools. Any activity financed under the program must meet a set of “principles of effectiveness,” such as being based on scientifically conducted research.

Hate Crimes: The new ESEA retains current law, which allows the Department of Education to issue grants for programs designed to prevent hate crimes.

21st Century Community Learning Centers: The program, authorized at $1.25 billion this year, provides money for before- and after-school initiatives that seek to advance student achievement. It will for the first time allow grants not only to school districts, but also directly to community-based organizations and other public or private entities, including faith-based groups. Any activity financed under the program must meet “principles of effectiveness” similar to those outlined for the safe-schools program.

Innovative Education Program Strategies: This program, authorized at $450 million for 2002, is essentially a block grant for states to use on innovative approaches to improve student achievement. The states must send at least 85 percent of the money to districts, however. The law retains the current list of allowable uses, but adds others, such as school repair.

Transferability: Districts may transfer up to 50 percent of the money from several major ESEA programs; funds may be transferred into, but not out of, Title I. States may transfer up to 50 percent of state-activity funds between several major ESEA programs.

Flexibility Demonstration Projects: Up to 150 districts may enter into performance agreements with the federal Department of Education under which they could consolidate all aid under several major ESEA programs, excluding Title I. The department would annually review their performance. Up to seven states may consolidate all state-administration and state-activity funding under several major ESEA programs, including Title I.

Public Charter Schools: Authorized at $300 million in 2002, the program provides aid to help states and localities support charter schools, including money to help with the planning and design of charter schools, the evaluation of their effectiveness, and facilities costs.

Fund for the Improvement of Education: The law authorizes $550 million in 2002 for the secretary of education to support nationally significant programs and projects to improve education. The secretary may carry out such programs directly or through grants to states, districts, or others.

Rural Education: The ESEA authorizes $300 million this year for two programs. The first provides flexible grants to small, rural districts and allows them added freedom in spending money under a few major ESEA programs. If a district did not qualify, it would be eligible for a second initiative, which provides flexible grants to rural districts with at least 20 percent of the students living in poverty.

Impact Aid: The new law makes several minor adjustments to how funds are distributed under this program, which provides money to school districts whose tax bases are limited by the presence of federal facilities, such as military installations. It does not set an overall spending level for the program, which was separately reauthorized in 2000, but authorizes $150 million for impact-aid construction this year.

School Prayer: The Education Department must provide guidance to states, districts, and the public to be revised every two years on constitutionally protected prayer in public schools. Also, as a condition of receiving federal aid, all districts must certify to their state education agencies that no policy “prevents or otherwise denies participation in constitutionally protected prayer in public schools.”

Military Recruitment: Schools that receive ESEA funding must provide military recruiters access to students similar to that provided to college and job recruiters. That includes access to basic student-contact information upon request.

Boy Scouts: No school or district can deny the Boy Scouts, or any other group listed as a “patriotic society” under the U.S. Code, access to schools for after-school meetings if other outside groups are allowed to use the facilities.

—Erik W. Robelen

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2002 edition of Education Week as An ESEA Primer


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