Federal

ECS Gives Mixed Marks on ‘No Child’ Efforts

By Alan Richard — September 21, 2004 4 min read
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Few states are on track to meet the teacher-quality requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, but many states are moving quickly to improve student achievement, according to a report by the Education Commission of the States.

The report arrived as the ECS, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that helps state leaders with education policy, faces a transition in leadership. Just days before the group’s annual national conference began here July 13, ECS President Ted Sanders announced that he would resign at year’s end. (“Ted Sanders Announces Resignation as ECS President,” July 14, 2004.)

His departure means that one of the nation’s top education policy and research groups must search for a new leader as states begin to face some of the most challenging parts of the No Child Left Behind law.

The new report on state implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act concludes that no state is on track to meet the law’s requirements for beefing up the qualifications of teachers at the elementary through high school levels by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

In addition, no state has made great strides in improving teacher training, and only 11 are building ways for teachers to prove strong subject-matter competence as mandated by the law, the federally financed report says.

“I hope this report will make some of you mad,” said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who as ECS chairman presided over the report’s release July 14.

Last year, the ECS angered some of its members by releasing an early, critical report on state implementation of the federal law. But many of the roughly 550 state leaders here struck a more accepting tone in response to this year’s report.

“This report helps us see where we are,” said Indiana’s state superintendent of education, Suellen Reed, who was a critic of the earlier report. “That helps everybody.” (“Lean State Finances Put Squeeze on Policy Groups,” April 30, 2004.)

Keeping Track

Some of the report’s highlights:

  • More states than last year are on track to comply with major portions of the law, such as requirements for establishing academic standards and tests. All 50 states are on track to meet at least half the law’s requirements. But just five states are on track to meet all of the law’s requirements: Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
  • States are urged to find ways to use data better to boost yearly academic progress for all students—including those now at low and high levels of achievement.
  • States are also urged to strengthen methods for evaluating the knowledge and skills of current teachers, beyond simply updating their credentials. Mr. Sanders called the low teacher-quality standards in many states “the most problematic piece” for states in complying with the law.
  • Other advice for states is that they analyze and reshape how they work to improve low-performing schools, revise their education agencies’ budgets to increase spending on improvement efforts, and form new collaborations to help struggling schools make sizable improvements.

“Our progress to date has not realized the full intent and the dream of equality in our states” that was envisioned by the authors of the law, said Mr. Sanders. He presented the report to an audience of governors, state schools chiefs, legislators, state school board members, and other policymakers. The full report, including state-by-state listings, is available on the Web at www.ecs.org.

Looking Ahead

Mr. Sanders, who has been the ECS president since 1999 after stints as state education chief in Illinois, Nevada, and Ohio and as a deputy U.S. secretary of education in the first Bush administration, said his impending departure had nothing to do with concerns about the ECS’ financial health or last year’s report on state implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Rather, he wants to spend more time with his family and fewer hours on a demanding job that requires frequent travel. “I’m as enthusiastic and idealistic as I was when I came to ECS,” he said.

Other ECS leaders also tried to allay any concerns about the leadership change.

The incoming ECS chairman, Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, said Mr. Sanders had told top ECS leaders months ago that he intended to leave. The Republican added that he wants a new leader to help the organization raise its public profile.

“The group’s next leader has a chance to raise its profile … beyond the education insiders,” Gov. Huckabee said.

Gov. Warner, a Democrat, said the ECS also could expand its role in bringing together other groups of policymakers, such as state superintendents, legislators, and others.

“The deeper I get into education policy, the more I feel like there needs to be some coordinating entity for all these education groups, and ECS might be able to play that role,” said Mr. Warner, who has completed his ECS term, is the new chairman of the National Governors Association. (“Improving High Schools is No. 1 Priority for NGA’s New Chairman,” this issue.)

A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as ECS Gives Mixed Marks on ‘No Child’ Efforts

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