U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced plans last week to lift a ban on allowing underperforming school districts to serve as tutoring providers under the No Child Left Behind Act, and to grant reprieves from a school-choice-notification requirement issued last fall.
The proposed changes, outlined in an April 1 letter to state schools chiefs, also would relieve states of a requirement to update their “accountability workbooks,” the blueprints each state must submit to the Education Department when they propose or revise the ways they intend to carry out NCLB mandates.
Two of the provisions Mr. Duncan wants to change were in regulations issued last October by his predecessor, Margaret Spellings.
One is a requirement that districts notify parents at least 14 days before the school year begins if their children are eligible to transfer to another school under NCLB. Under the law, students receiving Title I services in schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row are eligible to transfer to another public school.
The other is the mandate that states update their workbooks to explain how their approaches to such matters as testing-group size include as many student subgroups as possible, yet still are statistically sound. (“Rules Mandate Uniform Graduation Rates,” Nov. 5, 2008.)
Mr. Duncan said in his letter that he would consider waiving—only for the 2009-10 school year—the 14-day-notification requirement on public school choice because some states’ testing schedules make it impossible to give that amount of notice. He noted, however, that he supports the notification provision and expects states to comply with it in the future, even extending it to 30 days before the start of school if possible.
The education secretary said he intends to revise the regulatory provisions on workbook updates and on districts’ serving as tutoring providers by issuing proposed new regulations and allowing time for public comment before publishing final regulations.
Relief from the 14-day-notice requirement would be secured differently: States would seek waivers from the Education Department.
In proposing to excuse states from the workbook update, Mr. Duncan said he didn’t think it made sense to impose that burden on states when they are scrambling to disburse federal stimulus funding, especially because a reauthorization of the NCLB law later this year would likely require them to update the workbooks again.
The third provision Secretary Duncan wants to change is a 2002 regulation that prohibits states from approving school districts as providers of tutoring, or “supplemental educational services,” under NCLB if they have been deemed “in need of improvement” because they failed repeatedly to meet their states’ academic-improvement targets. He proposed lifting that ban, which would allow states to approve providers, whether they are private tutoring entities, nonprofit groups, or school districts, regardless of their NCLB status.
Under Mr. Duncan’s leadership as chief executive officer, the Chicago district fought hard and successfully in 2005 to be allowed to use some of its federal Title I money to serve as a tutor under NCLB, something it had been barred from doing since it had been deemed in need of improvement under the federal law. The Education Department later granted that same right to a handful of other districts as part of a pilot program. (“Department Expands NCLB Tutoring Pilot Programs,” Aug. 9, 2006.)
Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, Washington-based a research and advocacy organization that tracks implementation of the No Child Left Behind law, said the proposed changes were “a clear signal to educators that there is somebody in the department who understands how schools operate.”
Mary Kusler, the assistant director of advocacy and policy for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators, welcomed the proposed changes, but said her group still hopes that the waiver of the 14-day transfer-notification requirement will be extended for more than one year.
“States don’t always have the data [to allow districts to give 14 days’ notice of transfer eligibility],” she said. “Some of this is out of districts’ hands.”
Steven Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, a Rockville, Md.-based group that represents many private tutoring companies, said districts that serve as tutoring providers should have to agree to certain rules to ensure “fair and even-handed competition” between them and outside providers.
Such measures include guaranteeing equal access in recruiting and enrolling students, he said. Outside tutoring providers have complained that districts make it hard for them to sign up students, or to use school buildings, because they compete for the federal Title I dollars set aside for the tutoring program.
Mr. Duncan proposed no changes to the graduation-rate requirements that were a much-discussed part of Ms. Spellings’ October regulations package. They include a requirement that all states be judged for federal accountability purposes on the proportion of each entering freshman class that receives regular diplomas four years later. The rules also give states the option of applying for permission to get some credit for students who take more than four years to graduate. (“Rules Allowing Extended Time on Graduation,” April 1, 2009.)
A version of this article appeared in the April 08, 2009 edition of Education Week