President Bush's education plan, No Child Left Behind, sets new federal guidelines for teacher and school accountability and low-performing schools. It also pumps money into reading programs. How will those plans play out in classrooms? Education World talks with the heads of some education organizations to find out. Included: Explanations of key points of No Child Left Behind.
With President Bush's 1,200-plus-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 starting to take effect, questions about how it will affect teachers and administrators loom large.
"Immediately, we will begin to see testing and accountability and teacher quality measures implemented," says Becky Fleischauer, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association (NEA), the country's largest teachers' union.
States that already have established standards and testing programs may seek waivers for some of the law's accountability requirements, minimizing adjustments.
For other states, it could mean scrambling for money and resources to implement testing programs and meet teacher certification requirements in time for the federal deadlines.
"If a state meticulously implements the federal statute, there will be a period of great change in school systems for four to five years," says Bruce Hunter, director of public policy for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). "If a number of governors seek waivers, that could mitigate the disruptive effect. ...
"Now it is up to commissioners of education to see how this will affect them and what they need to do about it," adds Hunter.
According to the U. S Department of Education, highlights of the new law include the following measures:
The U.S. Department of Education's position is that annual testing allows teachers to quickly respond to problems students might be experiencing. "If you don't get a physical every year, it [a problem] can be worse if you catch something the second year," says Kathleen Mynster, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education. "Accountability is key. We want to make sure the money is targeted and helps reduce the achievement gap."
If students fail to consistently meet standards, schools risk losing federal dollars. Those that meet and exceed standards will be eligible for additional funds. Students in consistently low-performing schools must be given the chance to transfer to higher-performing schools, at district expense.
Schools are required to use practices and methods that are "scientifically based." Although the Department of Education has made its preference clear for teaching reading -- phonics -- there is no template for teaching mathematics and other subjects, according to a speech by Thomas M. Corwin, the Department of Education's acting deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. He advised administrators to work with local universities and regional laboratories to find pertinent research.
School systems also are required to ensure they have highly qualified teachers by 2005. States will have more flexibility in deciding how to use their teacher professional development money.
"Overall, we are supportive of it -- probably more so than most organizations," says Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which represents 1.2 million education professionals nationwide. "We like the professional development component, the emphasis on reading, Title I, and that it did not include a voucher program. We think it will have a positive affect."
The AASA supports the goals of No Child Left Behind but could not endorse it because of the extent to which it expands the role of the federal government in education, says AASA spokesman Bruce Hunter.
"We didn't oppose it, but we said very loudly what we did not like about it," Hunter tells Education World. "Our position largely had to do with federalism; education is a state and local matter. This enlarged the federal government's role to one that is unneeded and unnecessary. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says if something is not in the Constitution, then it is the states' responsibility. We say they overstepped their bounds. At some point, you give up something precious if you let the federal government tell the states and local government how to assess schools.
"It is full of good stuff," Hunter adds. "We are very supportive of other efforts. For example, they finally noticed that one-quarter of school systems are small and rural and need special help. They also improved local flexibility."
Some critics say they fear financial constraints could make executing the requirements in the bill difficult in many states. The bill does authorize $400 million to help states design and administer tests aligned to state standards for third through eighth graders. However, a National Association of State Boards of Education study estimates the cost of developing and implementing testing programs in all the states at $7 billion over seven years, which was the original life of the act. It was changed to six years.
"We lauded the goals, but we are disappointed with the means," Fleischauer, the NEA spokeswoman, tells Education World. "This failed to deliver the support needed for children to achieve. It is hard to see how this will be made real at a time when states are facing deficits, a recession, and budget cuts."
Rachel Tompkins, president of the Rural School and Community Trust, which works with 700 rural schools in 35 states, agrees. "We view it as having lofty goals and not enough resources to accomplish them, particularly for the poorest, most rural school districts," says Tompkins. "I don't know how schools will be able to cope with the expense of these programs. There is some money to cover the cost of testing. But it's crunch time. There are increases in resources that are beneficial; it's just not enough."
According to the Department of Education, though, in addition to the $400 million for test development approved for 2002, Bush is seeking almost that much for 2003. "This is sufficient support for a process that states have several years to complete," according to the department. A provision of the bill also calls for Congress to suspend the required development of assessments if sufficient funds are not appropriated.
The bill does include numerous benefits for rural schools, such as allowing districts to pool resources for certain programs, Tompkins adds. But she remains concerned. "Highly qualified teachers in all classes by 2005 is a good goal -- but will the government be willing to subsidize the changes and costs needed to make that happen? States are under stress and revenues are down; they are trying to find the resources to maintain, let alone improve, education."
In terms of urban school districts, Michael Casserly, president of the Council of the Great City Schools, (CGCS) said in a statement that his organization, which represents some of the nation's largest urban districts, also cites funding levels in the bill. The council noted its support for the increased Title I funding targeted to schools based on poverty rates, additional flexibility for local school districts, and the initiative to boost reading performance.
The CGCS endorses "greater accountability for academic achievement," according to Casserly but has concerns about how "adequate yearly progress" by schools will be measured.
According to information from the Department of Education, states are required to have assessments that align with their standards. The department will be seeking input from educators and other stakeholders to develop rules about standards and assessments. "Following that, there is expected to be more clarity on exactly which assessments meet the requirements," according to the department. "States that are in compliance with the 1994 ESEA are already well on their way to compliance with the new law."
Will those states be able to keep those systems in place, Hunter wonders. "Fifteen to 20 states already have really advanced assessment systems in place. It's unlikely they would want to start over. Will they have to change what they do, when they have something that works?"
Connecticut may have the most-advanced assessment system in the country and could seek a waiver from federal requirements, Hunter says. "Connecticut put money into [teacher] salaries, professional development, and curriculum development and saw improvement. Why not follow that model?"
Many standardized tests are flawed and may not adequately reflect a student's abilities, Hunter adds. "Should kids in schools be held accountable? Yes," he says. "The fastest, easiest, and cheapest way is to do it with tests. But the current tests are flawed. They are still in development stages. They are being treated like they are precision instruments when they are not."
Tying federal allocations to test scores also concerns Tompkins of the Rural Trust because of the small populations and socio-economic factors in rural parts of the country. "I think tests measure a very limited array of what kids ought to know," Tompkins tells Education World. "In small districts, one or two kids can affect the scores. Test scores are sensitive to demographics and poverty."