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No Child Left Behind Picks Up Steam

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A year has passed since the federal No Child Left Behind Act was signed, and implementation is picking up speed. Regulations issued in November mandate that schools file plans explaining how they will implement key aspects of the law, make supplemental services available in the same year tests are administered, find a way to accommodate students transferring from failing schools, and more. Learn what Under Secretary of Education Dr. Eugene W. Hickok had to say about the new regulations in a recent press conference. Included: Information about the new regulations and deadlines for meeting them.

On November 26, 2002, -- after almost a year of discussion and debate -- final regulations regarding the Title I: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged section of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act were released. Among the issues qualified in those regulations were adequate yearly progress (AYP), school choice, supplemental services, and teacher quality.

We think [issuing the regulations] represents a milestone in the implementation of No Child Left Behind, said Under Secretary of Education Dr. Eugene W. Hickok in a recent telephone press conference. Since the law was signed January 8, 2002, we have had countless conversations at virtually every level of education decision-making in this country -- from state to local to classroom, with state officials, local officials, parents, teachers, and students. Weve also had lots of conversations with leaders in organizations in the public and private sector, because we believe that education is everyones responsibility.

Highlights of NCLB Regulations

Some major points in the U.S. Department of Educations latest regulations regarding the Title I: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged section of the No Child Left Behind Act include:
  • By January 31, 2003, states must submit to the Department of Education plans that explain how their "adequate yearly progress (AYP) and accountability systems comply with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. In what is called a "peer review process," local and national educational consultants, together with state school officials, will analyze those plans, which then must be approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
  • Lack of space is not an acceptable reason for noncompliance with the No Child Left Behinds school choice provision. Students in failing schools must be given the option to transfer to more successful schools in their district -- or out of district, if necessary. The regulations say that capacity is not an excuse, says Under Secretary of Education Dr. Eugene W. Hickok.
  • As part of their demonstration of AYP, states must include both high school graduation rates and one other indicator for elementary and middle school students.
  • States no longer can administer assessment tests in one school year and then wait until the following school year to act on the results. (Some school districts that administer tests in the spring do not get the results until the following fall.) If test results show that students are not making AYP in a school, and if eligibility criteria are met, supplemental services and/or public school choice must be made available that same school year.
  • When it comes to paying for supplemental services and school choice, local education agencies must spend an amount equal to 20 percent of their Title I part A allocation on choice-related transportation and supplemental educational services, unless a lesser amount is needed to meet parental demand.

I also think its fair to say that every side has made some concessions, Hickok continued. That is the nature of American politics; this package of regulations, much as the law itself, represents in the best sense an attempt to find common ground -- where common ground can be found -- to help all of our children.

Considering the number of participants in the discussions about the law, the regulations were developed relatively quickly, according to Hickok. To our knowledge, the publication of these regulations represents the first time in the history of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that regulations were published in final form in a year of the reauthorization. Thats not a small accomplishment, given the transformative nature of this new law.

During the telephone press conference, Hickock responded to questions about the new regulations -- and regulations still to come -- from reporters across the United States.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:Do the regulations specify exactly how to determine whether a school is making adequate yearly progress?

Hickok: The whole purpose of the peer review process is to talk to, listen to, and work with states as they make whatever changes need to be made to align their accountability systems with AYP under the new law. In most cases, we think that will be a process of integration. Nothing in the process has to do with dismantling an existing system; but rather with integrating AYP into it. How that might look in any particular state will be the unique product of conversations with that state.

Atlanta Journal:So, might a school that is not making adequately yearly progress in Georgia, be making adequately yearly progress if you transplanted it, say, to Mississippi?

Hickok:The answer to your question is in a sense, yes -- in that AYP is a state definition, and under state accountability systems, it is implemented through local schools. So how AYP looks in Georgia, may be different from how it looks in Pennsylvania. Because of the reporting requirements on report cards, however, because of the use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Test as a benchmark, a parent leaving Georgia to go to Pennsylvania has more opportunities to understand where the next school their child will be attending fits within the broad framework of No Child Left Behind.

Education World:Who is going to determine if a state is properly integrating adequate yearly progress into its accountability systems?

Hickok:Its a two-step process. I mentioned the peer review process, which involves accountability experts visiting with their counterparts on the state level. Those experts are not necessarily Department of Education experts, they are national experts. They will be engaged in conversations to understand and work with states as they try to make the change from where they have been to where they need to be under No Child Left Behind.

Education World: One of the concerns we have been hearing from educators is how adequate yearly progress in one state can or will be compared with that in another state. What is your response to that?

Hickok:: I think, in all likelihood, you will indeed see different approaches to full implementation of accountability under No Child Left Behind.

Now that we have final regulations, the peer review process for working with the states on defining AYP can start. We would anticipate that there are states that might want to move expeditiously to get the peer review process in place. After the January 31, 2003, deadline for states to submit their plans, the peer review process will kick in full-speed. We hope we will have changes in line or prepared to be made, sometime in the spring of this year. It really depends on the nature of the process and the nature of the challenges at the state level.

The Times-Picayune:Are the peer reviewers from the U.S. Department of Education?

Hickok:While well have some Department folks in the process for sure, were going for folks who are either researchers in accountability or actively engaged at the local level in instilling accountability. We want the peer reviewers to bring a mix of expertise and practical experience.

Times-Picayune:I am in New Orleans, Louisiana. Do you have any more information about what states need to do to meet the binding adequate yearly progress requirement for subgroups? Could you also talk a little about why it is necessary to look at students in this format? What information does this arm parents with?

Hickok The reason we think subgroups are important is because of the achievement gap. If you look at NCLB, its primary thrust in regards to accountability is to make sure that student performance is not hidden in the averages. Im sure you can go to school districts in Louisiana where the average test scores are very high. But when you disaggregate by groups, youll find out that although the average is high, there might be many or a few groups that are very much below that average. If you dont disaggregate, those students get lost in the averages. You never find out the nature of the achievement gap youve got before you. The purpose behind these subgroups is to make it impossible to hide inadequate student performances. That forces school officials, parents, and school districts to start a conversation they havent had to have in the past.

The New London Day: Several states, including Connecticut, have set proficiency levels for students. Im wondering if you are satisfied with state proficiency levels, and if there will be any federal review of these levels?

Hickok: The answer is yes and no. This partly will involve the peer review process; we will get more data and get more specifics through that. But the actual establishment of academic standards, the establishment of proficiency cut scores, how states define those things, and the matching of standards with assessments, thats all state business. My concern is that we are hearing of places where they are changing cut scores, so a student who was below proficient yesterday is proficient today. If that is going on, Im a little concerned. But theres no way to know about that yet.

Advocate Newspapers: Is it possible that the Department of Education will come upon some states and say, What youre doing is very good; it doesnt meet the specifications, but were going to let you do it because it is good. Is that conceivable?

Hickok: I learned a long time ago not to close the door on anything, but it is not very conceivable. The fact is, as I look at the law and learn about where states are and think about the peer review process, there are probably more ways to understand how changes can be made at the state level to reflect No Child Left Behind than people realize. There is more maneuverability in the law and in the regulations than people realize. But we wont know that until these individual conversations take place. In the few conversations Ive had with a number of states, Ive been very pleased to see the kind of movement that can take place on both sides to get this done. But I dont think theres any expectation, or that we have the authority, nor does the statute have the intent, to say, If you dont comply with the law, but youre doing good things, go ahead and do good things. I dont think we can be that cavalier.

Gannett Newspapers: Do you have any concerns that making the NAEP test mandatory and tying it to the accountability process will make states teach to the test, and that will skew the results?

Hickok: The issue of teaching to the test is an issue beyond NAEP. A lot of people have been arguing that accountability systems in general, not just No Child Left Behind, lead people to teach to the test. I dont think so. Public agenda research has told us that most teachers dont think so. Most teachers dont think their professional colleagues will do nothing but teach to the test; they have more confidence both in their colleagues and in accountability systems.

NAEP results always have been a random sample. The members of the governing board of NAEP have been very active ever since NCLB was passed to make whatever changes are needed to accommodate the new law and to make sure they do it in a way that the NAEP test really is the kind of benchmark we want it to be.

The Boston Globe: Could you qualify when the provisions of choice and supplemental services kick in?

Hickok: After not making AYP for two years, schools fall into a category called schools in need of improvement. Schools in the first year of that status are supposed to offer public school choice. After that year, if the school continues to not make adequate yearly progress, it has to offer both supplemental services and public school choice. So it is a real possibility that in Massachusetts there are some schools that have to offer both, some that just have to offer public school choice, and others that are early enough in the timeline that neither one of those is a policy requirement now.

The law also says districts need to get assessments back to schools before the first day of the next school year. That will take some time. We are saying once a school gets assessments back, if that school fails to make adequate yearly progress and satisfies the criteria of the law in regard to supplemental services and educational choice, then they have to provide those services during that same school year.

Some folks wanted to wait to provide those services until the next school year. We did not feel that delaying those opportunities is in the best interests of students. That is not a temporary provision. We think that this regulation will do a couple of things. One, it will get the services to kids quicker. Two, it will increase the pressure on states to get the window between test-taking and supplying test results closed -- which will put the pressure on vendors and test-developers to do the same thing. Our goal is really to limit the amount of time between taking a test and getting the results back. The longer that time, the less beneficial it is for using the data to make important decisions.

The Sacramento Bee: In California, the issue of what is a highly qualified teacher has been very controversial. Could you explain what defines a highly qualified teacher?

Hickok:There are three components in the statute: an undergraduate degree; content mastery as demonstrated through some competency threshold by the state; and full certification under state certification policy. [The statute says] Title I teachers need to be certified immediately; everyone else needs to be certified by the 2005-2006 school year.

There are differences between elementary, middle, and high school teachers, but overall those are the three criteria. In addition, there is an attempt to work with alternative certification policies currently in place, or being developed at the state level. The regulations talk about alternative certification as satisfying the qualified teacher provisions if certain things are done: quality pre-service; ongoing work with existing teachers, mentors, or master teachers while in the classroom; and earning certification no more than three years after entering a classroom.

The Sacramento Bee: So, in all the core classes that are hinged to Title I, there has to be a certified teacher in the classroom now? Is that what youre saying?

Hickok:Thats what Im saying. In addition, in the regulations and the statute, there are provisions about notifying parents whether or not their childrens teachers are qualified under the statute. There are provisions about making sure that a disproportionate number of African-American or at-risk kids do not have unqualified teachers. This gets very much into making sure parents understand the qualifications of the teachers.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:You mentioned parental notification and, as far as we can tell, very few school districts have taken the step of notifying parents about the qualifications of their teachers. I was wondering how this requirement is going to be enforced.

Hickok:In the first year of implementation, we have tried very hard to maintain a balance between the intent and the letter of the law, and the real understandable challenges of managing this entire issue immediately. We have been willing to sort of wait and assume, and to work with districts and states as they try to deal with this issue and with many others.

Having said that, that should not provide a rationale to not do what the law says. Youll probably see a stepped up effort on the departments part to work with states and -- when we can -- with local districts to make sure the notification provisions on teacher quality, school choice, and supplemental services are more fully implemented.

One of the reasons that that language is in there is to force educators to at least consider the quality of the staff in their buildings and to go on record with regard to the quality of staff members, in such a way that parents know whats going on. Someone said a long time ago that knowledge is the first step to wisdom. Right now, parents dont have the knowledge; they cant make the right choices.

Pittsburgh Post: How does No Child Left Behind affect the qualifications of substitutes?

Hickok: I know there is language that limits how long a substitute teacher can be in a classroom before the actual qualified teacher provisions kick in. The same is true for emergency certificates. For example, in many places, they use emergency certificates and people stay in the classroom for years. That is no longer a real possibility under No Child Left Behind.

New York Daily News:My question relates to the school capacity issue for the school choice provision. You recognize the challenge it presents in certain urban districts and the Department of Education has been ready to assist states in dealing with that. Can you offer some broad examples of help the department might offer in this area? Hickok: We feel that public school choice and supplemental educational services should become part of the culture of American public education. Early on in the implementation of this new law, many people at the local and state levels have said that public school choice and supplemental services are sanctions. But they really should be viewed as opportunities. The idea that public school choice -- and supplemental services serving public school choice -- should be limited by a lack of capacity runs counter to the whole intent of changing the culture.

Now, how we can help? Well be working with your state departments of education to develop timelines, so that districts that currently have capacity challenges can create opportunities to meet those challenges. In New York City, for example, the possibility of charter schools looms large. The possibility of cyber schools, and using technology to provide educational opportunities, looms large. The idea of creating opportunities within existing schools, so that you have schools within schools, looms large. I think we tend to be a little limited in our thinking because we are not used to thinking this way about public school choice.

Over time -- and not by taking forever -- school officials have to find alternative ways to build capacity. One of the things Ive learned about many major urban districts is that they have a few really good schools that everyone wants to send their children to. So you use all kinds of connections and networks to get your kid into a good school, as opposed to what should be the case in public education; you go to the school in your neighborhood and its a good school. Right now, to get into the best school in Philadelphia that I'm familiar with, you have to pull all kinds of strings. That is not, in my opinion, how public education should work.

[In regard to cost], the law is pretty straightforward. Federal taxpayer dollars help underwrite the cost of transportation for public school choice and supplemental educational services.

Advocate Newspapers: We have a huge problem in Louisiana -- enrollment in several school districts is controlled by desegregation orders. How do school districts reconcile those orders with No Child Left Behind?

Hickok: If an existing desegregation order limits public school choice, then the district has the obligation to go back to the office that issued the order to change it, so the district can offer public school choice.

New York Daily News:What do you make of the response parents have had [to choice] in the first few months of implementation?

Hickok: I have a couple of responses: Ive read t in your paper, in fact, that a growing numbers of parents are aware that they should have more options, and that they are not getting them. I think that number will increase, and the level of frustration will increase, and the frustration will lead to opportunities being created. Our job is to be full partners with those parents. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has said many times that nothing leads to change quicker than frustration. So, I think our goal is to work with districts, educators, and primarily parents, to create the kinds of opportunities that are the promise of this new law.

Advocate Newspapers: State officials here in Louisiana say that No Child Left Behind is more concerned with all students meeting goals than with all students in schools making progress. Can you address how that fits in, and how Louisiana might not have to change as much as it fears?

Hickok: No Child Left Behind focuses on achieving proficiency over a period of years, which is different from the relative growth and improvement model used in Louisiana. Based on my conversations with Louisiana and other states that have approaches similar to Louisianas, I do not see a dichotomy. I think our goal is to find a mutual set of circumstances, so Louisiana can continue to do what it has been doing -- and doing with some success, I should point out -- but also craft into that the provisions of No Child Left Behind. My conversations with states have been very, very promising in that regard.

The Newark Star-Ledger: Can you add any details to the requirements for paraprofessionals?

Hickok:Weve recently published guidance on paraprofessionals. (See Title I Paraprofessionals: Draft Non-Regulatory Guidance.) That should help state and local officials determine how best to align what they have been doing with what they must do with No Child Left Behind.

The Newark Star-Ledger: What happens to paraprofessionals if they dont meet the new requirements in three years?

Hickok: The requirement for paraprofessionals to complete two years of study at an institution of higher education is immediate for paraprofessionals in Title I schools. What happens if the requirements are not met? I guess well cross that bridge when we come to it. The overall sense is that we have various ways to sanction or to wag a finger in shame at districts that dont do what they should be doing. Thats not our goal. Our goal is to help them

The Newark Star-Ledger: Is there anything in the regulations that speak to specific sanctions?

Hickok: No.

The Newark Star-Ledger: Can you discuss what may be new in the regulations regarding unsafe schools?

Hickok:That issue is not in the regulations that were made final November 26, 2002. We contacted states after they submitted their consolidated plans and asked them to certify to us that they will be compliant with the policy on persistently dangerous school choice in the 2003-2004 school year. The overwhelming response has been that they will be able to get that done. I think New Jersey is included among those states, so policy should be implemented there this coming school year.

The Columbus Dispatch:We are concerned here about our magnet school system. The way it works is that students apply through a lottery to go to an alternative school. What are some suggestions to prevent kids who are not from failing schools, but who want to change schools, from being pushed to the bottom of the list?
Hickok:We have been pretty explicit about making sure that existing magnet schools, charter schools, and eligibility programs should not be overridden by the public school choice provision, although well have more explicit guidance on that soon. The short answer is that nothing in this law -- either in its letter or its intent -- is designed to undermine or interrupt such a program as you have in Columbus.

The Albuquerque Journal: My question has to do with the requirement that non-English speaking students take tests in English after three years. We have situations in which schools have dual language programs, and teachers say three years is not enough time to develop English proficiency. Could you address how that requirement will conflict with those schools curriculum? Or with the fact that some educators say it is just not enough time for them to bring those kids up to the standards?

Hickok:Overall, I think, the statute reflects a growing sense in Congress and in the administration that in far too many places, we are not being as aggressive as we need to be to make sure students acquire English-language proficiency as early as possible.

As a matter of fact, under the new law, we changed the title of the offices that deal with this issue within the Department of Education to the Office of English Language Acquisition; that should be our goal and purpose. I certainly respect the views of local educators, and Im not qualified to talk about the specifics of this particular pedagogical challenge, but the fact is, we think the acquisition of English language should be a very high priority and the policies reflect that.

Education World: The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) released a report critical of some states for being slow to implement aspects of No Child Left Behind, and critical of the U.S. Department of Education for not more vigorously monitoring state and district progress. What is your response to that?

Hickok: As the school year continues, I think we have to balance the concern of getting this law fully implemented with the pragmatic challenges of managing change at the local level. But as time goes on, I think the balance ought to be in favor of implementation and not in favor of delaying implementation. So I guess a part of me is sympathetic to what ACORN says, in terms of wanting to be more aggressive. And I would suggest that you watch us -- were going to get pretty aggressive.

This e-interview with Under Secretary of education Dr. Eugene W. Hickok is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

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