Congress should provide incentives for states to ratchet up their education standards and should focus federal resources on disadvantaged students in underperforming schools when it renews the 5-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, the Education Trust said last week.
Those principles set the recommendations of the Washington-based research and advocacy group, which seeks to improve the education of low-income and minority students, apart from other reauthorization proposals put forth in recent weeks that would soften the federal school law, the Education Trust contends. Such proposals include a bill sponsored by a group of Republicans in Congress that would allow states to opt out of the NCLB law’s accountability system.
“Most of [the recommendations submitted for the reauthorization] say they are about fixing problems, but are essentially about weakening the law, arguing that it asks too much from schools. Our response to that is that’s exactly wrong,” said Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust. “Instead of asking less from schools, Congress needs to ask for more, but this time it’s very important that Congress provide more and better supports, especially for struggling schools.”
The recommendations, released April 11, outline a set of resources that lawmakers should make available to schools to bolster teacher professional development, improve curricula, and establish data systems to track student achievement and improve teacher effectiveness.
President Bush, meanwhile, also said last week that the reauthorization of the NCLB law should continue to hold states accountable for student learning.
“[The No Child Left Behind Act] is a piece of legislation which believes in setting high standards and using accountability to make sure that every single child gets a good education,” the president said at the White House on April 12, after meeting with a group of business leaders, educators, and others about the law.
The Education Trust played a major role in advising lawmakers on the version of the law that Congress passed with large, bipartisan majorities in late 2001, and its recommendations are likely to wield significant influence in the debate over renewal of the measure. The reauthorization is due to occur this year, but could fall behind schedule.
“I could see the Democratic Congress embracing much of what’s in here,” Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, who was a Department of Education official during President Bush’s first term, said of the Education Trust’s plan. “More so than any of the other proposals that have come out, … this is likely to be the closest to what the reauthorized law will look like.”
Under the trust’s recommendations, states would choose from a menu of three possible accountability systems. One option would permit states to essentially keep the current model for measuring adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the law. The NCLB law requires schools to test all students in grades 3-8 annually in reading and math and to meet annual targets for the percentage of students scoring at least “proficient” on state tests, both for the student population as a whole and for designated subgroups, such as racial and ethnic minorities. The law sets a goal of bringing all students to proficiency by the end of 2013-14 school year.
The Education Trust says it is concerned that the current system encourages states to set their standards too low, resulting in a gap between students’ scores on state tests and results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. States could stick with the current system under the Education Trust’s proposal, but if their NAEP scores varied greatly from state-test results, they would have to set goals for increasing by 50 percent the number of students who achieved at the “advanced” level on state tests.
Another of the Education Trust’s options would allow states to use what are called growth models to measure individual students’ progress. Students could be counted as proficient under the law if they were on a path to reach that level within three years.
The third choice under the group’s plan would allow states to extend their timelines for bringing students to proficiency and adjust achievement goals if they were willing to raise their standards to ensure that students graduating at the “proficient” level were ready to take credit-bearing courses at public colleges. Schools would have to get 80 percent of their students to that level within 12 years of the reauthorization of the law.
“I think that makes sense, and I think it’s something that people could work with. … It’s something that the public could understand,” said Carl Roberts, the superintendent of the 16,000-student Cecil County, Md., district.
Instead of simply labeling all schools that do not meet achievement targets as failing to make AYP, as the current law provides, the Education Trust recommends placing schools in need of improvement into two separate categories. Schools in each of the categories would be subject to a separate timeline, set of interventions, and consequences.
Under the group’s proposal, a school would be identified as “in need of comprehensive improvement” if it did not make AYP in the overall student category, or for subgroups representing 50 percent or more of its student population. States would be required to spend at least 70 percent of federal school improvement funds to bolster student learning at such schools.
A school that missed AYP for subgroups that made up less than 50 percent of its enrollment would be labeled as needing “focused improvement.”
To improve instruction, the Education Trust calls for a $750 million curriculum fund to help states develop rigorous curriculum materials linked to their standards and assessments. Fifty percent of the fund would be reserved for high schools. The group also proposes $400 million a year to help states improve assessments, particularly for English-language learners and students in special education.
Still, Mr. Roberts of Maryland’s Cecil County district said he was worried that federal lawmakers would balk at the hefty cost of those extra resources.
“The thing that concerns me is the recommendations rely on a significant infusion of federal dollars for education. It’s never going to happen,” Mr. Roberts said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Education Trust Offers NCLB Renewal Plan