School administrators and policy analysts are calling attention to the needs of students in rural districts, as well as English-language learners and students with disabilities, as Congress begins the process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Daniel D. Curry, the superintendent of the 4,000-student Kent County, Del., school district, told lawmakers at a March 18 House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education hearing that shifting from formula funding to more competitive funding, as the Obama administration proposes in an ESEA plan released March 13, would harm rural schools. With central-office staffs often composed of only a handful of people, rural districts lack the capacity to compete, he said, as well as the money in the current economy to hire grant consultants.
He also noted that the small size of rural schools could have a major impact on teacher evaluations based in part on student-achievement data, as favored by the administration. “The results of just one or two students can throw off the results,” he said.
Another sticking point may be how to measure college and career readiness, the new standard by which the administration has proposed schools be held accountable, said Jack D. Dale, the superintendent of the 173,000-student Fairfax County, Va., district.
“We don’t have a universal definition of what college readiness means,” he said. “We have a train wreck coming in that definition.”
Mr. Dale encouraged lawmakers at the hearing to keep the boost in funding provided for special education under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He said that districts have seen a rise in the number of students requiring extra services.
Arelis E. Diaz, an assistant superintendent of the 2,200-student Godwin Heights schools in Wyoming, Mich., called for boosting resources to the Title III program, which focuses on English-language learners. She also said states need permission in the ESEA reauthorization to use growth models in their accountability systems, as the administration has proposed, as a way to measure progress, especially for groups such as ELL students.
In a statement last week, the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute, a free-market oriented think tank, questioned a provision in the administration’s reauthorization plan that would have the federal government evaluating instructional programs for English-learners.
“Throughout the past 20 years, the more federal education officials have gotten directly involved in how schools teach English-learners, the worse the results,” Don Soifer, the group’s executive vice president, maintained.
During a question-and-answer session U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held in Washington with urban superintendents and school board members last week, Yolie Flores Aguilar, a member of the Los Angeles school board, criticized the blueprint’s lack of details on parent engagement. The need to inform and involve parents is critical to eliminating achievement gaps, she said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 2010 edition of Education Week as Special Populations Spec. Ed., Rural Ed., ELLs Pose Challenge