Reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act with More Funding, Better Enforcement, and Additional Supports for Struggling Schools
Recipient: Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions and House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Dear Chairman Kennedy and Chairman Miller:
On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, with nearly 200 member organizations, we are writing to express our priorities for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). While it has been a controversial law, NCLB’s goal of educating all children, regardless of race, gender, disability, language or economic status, is laudable. LCCR is committed to strengthening implementation and enforcement of NCLB, as well as working toward improvements in the statute and significantly overdue increases in funding.
LCCR believes that access to a high quality education is a fundamental civil right for all children and that several core principles must be adhered to in federal education policy. First, federal policy must be designed to raise academic standards. Second, those high standards must apply equally to all students, of all backgrounds. Third, schools should be held accountable for meeting academic standards. Fourth, there should be good quality assessments that are linked to academic standards. Finally, federal and state governments must ensure that schools, particularly those in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, have the resources they need to give all children the chance to meet those standards.
When NCLB was passed, its ambitious goals were accompanied by ambitious funding authorization levels and extensive promises from the administration and Congress to fund the law’s programs. Of great importance, the most targeted part of the Title I formula was funded for the first time following the passage of NCLB, resulting in significant increases in federal funds for districts with the highest concentrations of students from low income families. While there was also a substantial overall first-year increase over pre-NCLB federal education funding levels, funding has fallen far short of the law’s authorized levels. The cumulative funding shortfall is already over $56 billion and one conservative estimate of President Bush’s FY 08 budget request places it $14.8 billion below a projected figure based on the current NCLB’s authorization levels. If this Congress is serious about education reform, it must prioritize education spending.
NCLB Can Do More to Raise State Standards and Align Standards with Curricula
At its core, NCLB depends on state standards and state definitions of student proficiency at meeting those standards, and ultimately takes on faith that schools and school districts will adequately align their curricula with the state standards and provide all children the opportunity to meet the standards. Experience has now shown that in too many places, standards are not high enough, some states are setting the bar for proficiency too low, and curricula, standards, and assessments are not adequately aligned to give all students – and their teachers – a fair chance to meet the standards. In some schools, particularly those with extreme poverty concentration, where many minority students are enrolled, children are not provided with a rich challenging curriculum that is aligned to the standards. As a consequence, they may be tested on material that they have had no actual opportunity to learn. LCCR believes there are many areas where NCLB can be strengthened to require more front end planning by state and local education agencies, including:
- Section 1111(b) should adopt a mechanism to ensure that state academic and proficiency standards are subject to review to ensure that both are sufficiently rigorous to keep students on track for on-time graduation from high school and entry into postsecondary education or the workforce.
- There should be dedicated funding for voluntary state consortia designed to pool expertise and resources to raise state standards. Access to this additional pool of grant funding should come with additional oversight from the Department of Education.
- Recipients of Title I funding should be required to ensure that curriculum in Title I schools is aligned with stat standards. Specifically, sections 1111 and 1112 should be amended to require that state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs), respectively, describe in their Title I plans the concrete steps they will take to ensure this alignment occurs and is carried out in each Title I school.. These new provisions should be accompanied by guidance from the Department on what constitutes proper alignment and by dedicated funding for professional development to train staff throughout the educational system on how to do it.
NCLB Can Do More to Improve Assessments
Assessments play a crucial role in NCLB and their results have high stakes consequences for schools, educators, students, and parents. NCLB depends on reliable assessment data for its accountability system. States bear the primary responsibility for assessments and more should be done to ensure that states do not cut corners and that assessments are truly aligned with standards. Unfortunately, the federal government has done the bare minimum required under the law to fund assessments, appropriating only $2.34 billion during the first six years of NCLB. According to a study by the GAO, it would have cost an additional $3 billion to fund the type of blended multiple choice and constructed response system many experts believe is necessary for an accurate in-depth measure of student learning. LCCR believes NCLB can improve assessments and build greater public understanding and support for the accountability system by:
- Substantially increasing funding for the development of better assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics and of new assessments required under the law in science, including subsidizing the development of constructed response testing.
- Dedicating funding for professional development targeted toward assessment literacy for parents and educators to ensure that they understand the process and development of assessments and how they relate to the standards and curricula.
- Requiring that information explaining the assessments and how the data will be used, as well as the local education agency report cards, be distributed to parents in multiple media, formats accessible to the lay person, and in alternative languages.
- Promoting parental involvement through inclusion in sections 2113 and 2123 of funding for professional development for educators and principals, respectively, on effective parental and family communications and engagement strategies.
Building Public Support for School Interventions that Will Help Struggling Schools
LCCR is committed to NCLB’s goal of supporting students in struggling schools. We hope that with a renewed emphasis on accountability and funding, some additional supports, and refinements to improve implementation, schools in need of improvement can be turned around. LCCR believes NCLB should be amended to:
- Permit LEAs to continue to provide interventions and support to a school for one additional year after that school has exited In Need of Improvement status while the LEA reviews the effectiveness of the measures and plans for how to maintain the gains. The interventions that can be continued should include the full remedies allowed by the statute, including school choice and supplemental education services (SES), and all in-school interventions such as professional development.
- Require states to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of their SES providers and ensure that providers are serving the full range of students, including English language learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities.
- Allow the Secretary to grant waivers, on a case-by-case basis, enabling districts in need of improvement to become certified as SES providers if they can demonstrate their capacity to provide effective services.
- Require that teachers in schools in need of improvement have data reports on their incoming students prior to the start of the academic year so that they have a reasonable opportunity to tailor instruction to the academic strengths and weaknesses of their students.
- Ensure that teachers and parents are fully included in all stages of the development and implementation of the school improvement plan, which should include access to professional development for improving knowledge and skills on data use, selecting effective programs and curricula, and developing school-based leadership for school reform.
- Reverse the Department’s assertion that SES providers are not recipients of federal funds, and therefore not directly subject to several federal civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.
Updating the Calculation of Adequate Yearly Progress through the Inclusion of Growth Models
The fundamental task of all schools and teachers is ensuring the academic success of their students. When students begin the year at grade-level, or proficient in NCLB terms, the relevant growth is just one academic year to stay at grade-level and proficient for the next year. But, NCLB data has given us bracing and undeniable evidence of how far behind so many of our students are. To bring 100 percent of those children up to grade-level proficiency, NCLB now seeks to hold schools accountable for much more than just regular annual growth. In that context, giving schools credit toward meeting their adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements for an accelerated growth trajectory makes sense and LCCR supports it, however does so with the following qualifications:
- No growth model should be implemented without a robust data system in place capable of reliably tracking individual students from year to year.
- For English language learners, evidence suggests rapid initial growth that corresponds to the initial period of language acquisition, but that initial growth cannot be used for the basis of a projection for sustained subject matter content growth. At this time, there does not appear to be any viable growth model available for ELL students. The statute should require that the Department carefully scrutinize any state proposal for how it plans to account for ELL students within a growth model.
Educational Services and Assessments Must be Improved for English Language Learners
Students who are still learning English have been poorly served by the educational system for far too long. NCLB’s disaggregated data is helping to highlight the gross contours of the problem, but is still not giving a very clear picture of it or doing enough to solve the disparities. Better communication and outreach to parents in accessible languages, higher quality alternative language assessments, and equal access to supplemental services for ELLs are all necessary. LCCR does not support additional exemptions of ELLs from Title I assessments beyond the current one-year exemption in reading/language arts for newly-arrived ELLs. LCCR believes that NCLB should be amended to:
- Establish a separate funding stream to ensure the development of appropriate academic assessments for ELLs. Priority should be given to states with the highest numbers of ELLs.
- Require that states with significant ELL populations from a single language group develop valid and reliable content assessments designed specifically for that language group.
- Require SEAs to certify that there are SES providers on their providers list with demonstrable capacity in meeting the educational needs, including language acquisition needs, of ELLs. SEAs must also ensure that appropriate SES providers operate in locations with high ELL populations.
- Require SEAs and LEAs to undertake linguistically and culturally sensitive outreach (including partnering with community-based organizations) to notify students and parents of student eligibility for SES and/or school choice.
- Require that schools, in calculating AYP, include in the limited-English-proficient (LEP) category: 1) current ELLs; and 2) former ELLs who have exited the LEP category within the last two years.
- Require, for the purpose of public reporting of student academic performance, that the LEP category be disaggregated into the following:
- LEP students who enter the U.S. school system at 9th grade or above;
- students who have exited the LEP category within the last two years; and
- recent arrivals who are ELLs who have been in the U.S. school system for less than 12 months.
Federal Education Law Should Create Meaningful Graduation Rate Reporting and Help Schools Reduce Dropout Rates
High school graduation is a minimal qualification for economic opportunity, yet it is an opportunity that is rapidly slipping away from as many as half of African-American, Latino, and Native American children, and a quarter of white children. Students with disabilities, low-income students, language minority students, and students from some groups within the Asian Pacific Islander community are also graduating at alarmingly low rates. Inconsistent – and often deliberately misleading – school reporting of official dropout rates has hidden the extent of the problem for too long and there are reasons to be concerned that increased accountability for test scores may create additional pressure to “push out” more students. LCCR believes that NCLB should be amended to:
- Require graduation rate reporting that is disaggregated by subgroup and in a format that can be fully cross-tabulated.
- Require graduation data based on the year-to-year promotion rate method of accounting for all students as they progress each year beginning in ninth grade.
- Use graduation rates that have clear and consistent national definitions, and are reported as 4-year and 5-year (and possibly others) completion rates.
- Prohibit schools from exempting students who have been incarcerated from their graduation rate calculation, out of concern for the growing problem of the school-to-prison pipeline.
- Fund data system upgrades and the training and support required to manage the longitudinal data systems necessary to track multi-year graduation rates.
In addition to improving reporting, there are many programs the federal government can promote to improve graduation rates for vulnerable students and schools. LCCR supports amending the law to:
- Fund research and technical assistance on indicators of dropping out in early grades and effective early intervention strategies.
- Add individual graduation plans for parenting teens and students facing other graduation challenges, such as chronic absenteeism.
- Target professional development to dropout prevention.
- Fund more intervention programs and services to reach students at risk of dropping out.
- Add requirements in the SEA and LEA plans on rigorous coursework and on-grade course-taking.
- Make career and technical education (CTE) programs more widely available for students for whom CTE programs can serve as an incentive to graduate.
- Support Early College High Schools to address one area of lack of proficiency, e.g. reading, language proficiency, math, or science.
- Fund extended learning time in high school.
- Strengthen parental involvement provisions.
LCCR believes that access to a high quality public education is a civil right for all children and that in the tradition of the Civil Rights Act 1964 and the Voting Rights Acts of both 1965 and 2006, the No Child Left Behind Act can play an important role in making that right a reality. We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the law and its implementation. For additional information, please contact Nancy Zirkin at (202) 263-2880 or [email protected], or David Goldberg, Program Manager and Special Counsel, at (202) 466-0087 or [email protected].
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