Even as Congress debates reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the national federal funding law, the Education Dept department posts a refreshingly frank assessment of the current unworkable version of the law and how it needs updating.
ESEA provides resources for vulnerable students via grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, special education centers, and scholarships for low-income college students. The law also authorizes federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.
In 2001, with strong bipartisan support, Congress passed an ESEA reauthorization, renaming the law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Authored by Republican and Democrat congressional leaders, President George W. Bush signed it January 2002. NCLB put in place important new measures to expose achievement gaps, and started an important national dialogue on how to close them. By promoting accountability for the achievement of all students, the law has played an important role in protecting the civil rights of at-risk students.
However, while NCLB has played an important role in closing achievement gaps and requiring transparency, it also has significant flaws, according to the blog posting. Although NCLB’s shortcomings are discussed daily in the rarified circles of education policy, the department normally does not detail the issues in a public blog.
ED noted that NCLB created incentives for states to lower their standards; emphasized punishing failure over rewarding success; focused on absolute scores, rather than recognizing growth and progress; and prescribed a pass-fail, one-size-fits-all series of interventions for schools that miss their state-established goals. And, it promotes unrealistic standards, like those that called for 100% proficiency in reading in math — a goal that policymakers have since conceded was a mistake.
Teachers, parents, school district leaders, and state and federal elected officials from both parties have pushed for a NCLB fix. Congress was due to reauthorize the law in 2007, but has yet to do so.
In 2012, after six years without reauthorization, the Obama administration began offering flexibility to states from some of the law’s most onerous provisions. To receive flexibility, states demonstrated that they had adopted and had plans to implement college and career-ready standards and assessments, put in place school accountability systems that focused on the lowest-performing schools and schools with the largest achievement gaps, and ensured that districts were implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.
The flexibility required states to continue to be transparent about their achievement gaps, but provided schools and districts greater flexibility in the actions they take to address those gaps. Today, 43 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico have flexibility from NCLB.
A GOP rewrite would replace NCLB and roll back the accountability requirements for states, districts and schools, and allow states to shift funds from lower-income to higher-income districts. With graduation rates at an all-time high and improving for all groups of students, such changes would turn back the clock on the progress our country has made in closing achievement gaps, ED officials say.
ED Secy. Arne Duncan proposes a different path. He wants an ESEA that expands access to high-quality preschool; ensures that parents and teachers have information about how their children are doing every year; gives teachers and principals the resources and support they need; encourages schools and districts to create innovative new solutions to problems; provides for strong and equitable investment in high-poverty schools and districts; and ensures that action will be taken where students need more support to achieve, including in the lowest-performing schools.