This conference will provide an in-depth look at two key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act two years after its creation. Increased public school choice-meant to encourage the improvement of traditional public schools and the availability of supplemental services (essentially free tutoring services)-are intended to provide positive education options and support better achievements for children in failing schools. This event will consider new research on what has transpired thus far at the state, local, and school levels and what lessons that experience holds for practitioners, policymakers, and parents.
The entire set of revised papers will be included in Leaving No Child Behind: Options for Kids in Failing Schools (forthcoming August 2004) published by Palgrave Macmillan.
|Thursday, January 15, 2004|
|Welcome:||Frederick M. Hess, AEI|
|12:30||Developments on the Federal Level|
|Richard Lee Colvin, Columbia University|
Siobhan Gorman, National Journal
Michael Cohen, Achieve
Lisa Graham Keegan, CEO, Education Leaders Council
Nina Rees, Office of Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education
|2:15||The State of State Implementation|
|Jane Hannaway, Urban Institute|
Robert Maranto, Villanova University
|Alex Medler, University of Colorado|
|David Plank, Michigan State University|
Mitchell Chester, Ohio assistant superintendent for policy development
|Jeff Cohen, Sylvan Education Solutions|
|Rep. Jane Cunningham, Missouri House of Representatives|
Tom Houlihan, executive director, Council of Chief State School Officers
|John Stevens, Texas Business and Education Coalition|
|Friday, January 16, 2004|
|Presenters:||Julian Betts, University of California, San Diego|
|Michael Casserly, Council of the Great City Schools|
|William Howell, Harvard University|
|Douglas Reed, Georgetown University|
|10:15||Discussants:||Keisha Hegamin, Black Alliance for Educational Options|
John Liechty, associate superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District
|Gail Littlejohn, president, Dayton Public School Board|
|Joe Williams, New York Daily News|
|Conclusion:||Frederick M. Hess, AEI|
|Chester E. Finn Jr., Thomas B. Fordham Institute|
Leaving No Child Behind?
Two key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act have received little attention. Increased public school choice and the availability of supplemental services (essentially free tutoring services) are intended to provide positive education options and support better achievements for children in failing schools. At a January 15-16 conference at AEI, leading education scholars examined these provisions and their implications in depth. The conference featured new empirical research on what has transpired thus far at the state, local, and school levels and what lessons that experience holds for practitioners, policymakers, and parents.
Frederick M. Hess
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in December 2001 and signed into law by President Bush in January 2002, is the Bush administration's signature domestic policy initiative. The Act rests on three pillars: accountability provisions, particularly testing students in grades three through eight with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy; a call for "highly qualified teachers" in every classroom by 2006; and remedies for children in those schools deemed to be making inadequate yearly progress.
In the 2002-2003 school year, twenty-three thousand schools failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) as mandated by NCLB. Another fifty-two hundred schools failed to make AYP for the second consecutive year, which placed them under "improvement status." According to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the federal government alone spent roughly $24 billion for the array of NCLB programs.
Since the law was passed, popular education publications like Education Week have run headlines like "Administrators Vexed by Mandate" and "No Child Noose Tightens-but Some States are Slipping It." Needless to say, NCLB has been drawing a lot of attention of late, particularly in the academic field and on the campaign trail. John Edwards says supporting No Child Left Behind is the vote he most regrets from his tenure in the Senate. Howard Dean has attacked it routinely. It is likely that the various elements of NCLB will be central to the fall debate over domestic policy.
While immense attention has been paid to the accountability and testing provisions, as well as their implementation and cost, and while some has been paid to the qualified teacher challenge, little or no attention has been paid to the issue of remedies. For instance, while groups like ECS, Education Week, and Education Trust have tracked implementation and testing, they have not yet made similar efforts to track the implementation of remedies for schools that fail to show adequate yearly progress.
The implementation of the most notable of these remedies, public choice and supplemental services, has received very little scholarly or popular attention. These provisions allow students in identified schools the opportunity to move to a better-performing public school and provide tutoring services funded by federal aid. These remedies aim to compel schools and districts to improve and insure that children are able to escape demonstrably ineffective schools. Given that charge, we need to know how children are being served, how these programs are being implemented, and what steps will help render them more effective.
Schools that fail to make AYP for two consecutive years must offer students "public choice" options, or access to higher performing schools within the district. Schools that continue to fail for a third year must offer their students "supplemental educational services," or free tutoring after school. Those that fail for four consecutive years will be subject to "corrective actions" like replacement of staff or curriculum, and schools that do not make AYP for the fifth year in a row will be subject to "restructuring," which may entail state takeover or conversion into a charter school.
Two years after the passage of No Child Left Behind, it is still too early to gauge how the options that NCLB mandates for troubled schools affect student learning. However, it is not too early to see whether supplemental services and public school choice are being implemented in sensible ways and whether the machinery is working as intended.
This conference focuses on the pragmatic questions of making the NCLB remedies work rather than on the more sweeping debates over school choice. How is implementation proceeding? What are sticking points? What are promising innovations? What changes would help?
Leading up to the passage of NCLB, the school choice aspects of the bill got a lot of attention. A report by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that was released in December 2001 triumphantly declared that 6,552 public schools would immediately have to "free" their students through public school choice upon passage of the law. The report also said that NCLB would pave the way for a larger effort by the federal government to incorporate more choice programs throughout the country. What the report did not mention, however, were the multitude of choice programs that already exist across the country. For instance, seventeen states already require districts to offer intradistrict public school choice, and the policy is voluntary in nine other states. It is not easy to get a handle on how many children take advantage of these programs, but it is certainly in the millions.
In New York City alone, sixty-six thousand kids are taking advantage of intradistrict choice options. By contrast, although two hundred and twenty thousand students were eligible to switch schools in the first year of No Child Left Behind, only fifteen hundred did so. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that from 1993-1999, the number of children exercising public school choice increased by 46 percent. In other words, in 1993, 11 percent of students were going to their chosen school; in 1999, that percentage had climbed to 14.5 percent. Interestingly, this trend is playing out more rapidly for poor and minority students than it is for white, middle-class kids. It is not just intradistrict choice, but also charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, and dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college classes.
There is also evidence that there is far more demand for choice that what already exists. There are waiting lists for charter schools and magnet schools. Some locales are actually responding; the City of New York is attempting to create two hundred new schools. This will undoubtedly help the situation, but there is also a supply problem-there are too few good schools within districts that are willing to take on new students. In light of NCLB, the federal and state governments must invest in school supply in order to make public school choice a workable option. We should also think more about adopting a system that is similar to the college admissions advising process to make sure that students are equipped to make wise choices about their public schools.
Supplemental Educational Services (SES) is a fancy name for federally funded tutoring. Schools that serve economically disadvantaged children receive money that is earmarked to help serve these children, and these schools must divert some of these funds from other programs to SES if they fail to make AYP for three consecutive years. More abstractly, they are essentially a politically palatable form of school vouchers. With its largely free market approach, this provision is probably the most aggressive school choice experiment we have seen yet, at least at the federal level. It is also the product of political compromise, a fact which seems to be hindering its successful implementation at this point.
The actual incarnation of supplemental services under NCLB is very different from the rhetorical promises of the presidential campaign. Education reform figured prominently in candidate Bush's campaign platform because it was a way to appeal to the middle with compassionate conservative themes while also including details that would appeal to conservatives like school choice. President Bush's education program was largely based on his campaign promise of accountability and choice remedies, but he made it clear early on that he was not going to sacrifice bipartisanship for the sake of vouchers. In early meetings with Senator Ted Kennedy, administration officials were shocked when Kennedy said that, while he would not support money going to private schools via vouchers, he could be convinced to accept federally funded after-school tutoring through private companies. Because this was ideologically contested ground, the end solution was to put many layers of government between the federal money and the parents, culminating in a system where parents would exercise choice but they would not actually touch the money.
The NCLB system was modeled after the Reading Excellence Act, and it calls for states to set up a list of approved providers that districts could contract for tutoring services. Parents would then be given a list of the providers to choose a tutoring option for their children while the district paid the provider directly. There are a lot of political actors in this equation, and, thereby, a lot of complications. Because districts can act as providers, there was a great potential for conflict of interest. Second, the funding is incredibly confusing because districts can set aside a wide range of funding for the programs. Third, incentives for the districts are misaligned because they are allowed to keep any of the money that is set aside for SES but not spent, and since they see this as a punishment, there really is no incentive to bolster up these programs at the district level. The final difficulty relates to participation: very few parents have signed up for these programs because it is not always encouraged at the district level.
On paper, the SES market is very attractive for tutoring providers. It is estimated to encompass about 1.5 million children and $2.4 billion. Jeff Cohen of Sylvan has estimated that the pre-NCLB market for supplemental tutoring was also $2 billion, so in effect the market could actually be double that size. There are roughly eleven thousand providers operating in the country, 70 percent of whom are private and 25 percent of whom are public. Within that, about 60 percent are straight local or national private providers, 24 percent are public school districts, about 4 percent are online, 3 percent are religious, and 2 percent are university-run.
The major finding, however, is how much we do not know about SES. We do not know how many children are actually eligible for SES, how much the federal government is going to pay for this program, or how many new providers are entering the marketplace. We know that parents are not participating at high rates, that implementation has been uneven because districts are dragging their feet, that there is a conflict of interest when districts wear two hats, and that quality control of tutoring is still an afterthought at this point. The federal government must decide who is in charge of this program and hold the districts to the rules of the game.
Lisa Graham Keegan
Education Leaders Council
NCLB has changed our context, and how you meet those new demands in a system that is geared toward old results is very challenging. It has taken the focus off of process and put it on results. Public education is no longer a question of simply getting students in the building and counting them, but of how much children are learning.
Choice is a new way to achieve the ends of public education under NCLB, namely that every child succeeds at a high standard. Choice alone does not produce results in and of itself because it is simply a change of venue. If choice is based on a model where the money follows the child, then there is an incentive structure to encourage schools to succeed and attract students. That is why the figures on who transfers schools are poignantly true; open enrollment in public school settings is quite marginal because there is very little incentive for other public schools to accept more kids. The incentive would be huge if educators were paid per-child, but as it stands, adding one hundred more kids is just going to make an administrator's life more difficult while his salary and status stay the same. Choice also only works if the public has adequate information on the performance of local schools. Without that knowledge there is no assurance that their public choice options are any better than their current situation.
Absent accountability, the supplemental services market could turn out to be similar to the charter school movement before the accountability systems were developed where you had directors of shoddy public schools moving across town to direct shoddy charter schools.
The funding situation, particularly the fact that leftover money rolls back into the district's general overhead, is a problem that needs to be dealt with. If the pain of a lack of achievement is greater than the pain of not having the money, then the services will be provided. The money should be regulated and prevented from returning into the general pool of funds. These districts are not necessarily acting inappropriately; rather, they are reacting to market forces to boost their per-capita per-pupil allowance by hanging on to the Title I money.
At the Education Leaders Council, we have set up a program that pairs SES providers with grassroots groups in order to reach out to parents and let them know that free tutoring is out there. One of the biggest issues that we discuss is what kind of accountability measures are we going to put on providers to ensure quality control. One practice that is especially promising is when SES providers reach out to parents directly to both enroll kids and keep tabs on them.
The idea to expand choices, options for students in failing schools, and providers is a good thing. However, the rhetoric about getting kids out of failing schools in which they are trapped and about combining sanctions for schools with helping kids is awfully appealing politically but may not provide the right design principle to ensure that choice and SES work as effectively as we need them to.
The linking of access to school choice and SES to school's AYP is problematic; it helps create disincentives for districts to use outside providers because it is very clearly tied to the Title I money that they otherwise would have for in-district services. The caps on the amount of Title I spending are a problem because if the program is successful, the limited funding might mean that not all children can be served or that there will be incentives for providers to provide low-cost (and perhaps low-quality) services. The other issue is, if a tutoring service is very successful, that school may in turn make AYP, therefore disqualifying those students from receiving further tutoring and eliminating a market for that provider. We need to get the incentive structure right.
The slow uptake on the choice side is due to a number of things, one of which is the delay in getting test results and declaring AYP. Unless parents know that they are eligible before the school year begins and that there are better options in the area, the system is most likely not going to work.
In short, there are some contradictions and inconsistencies that have resulted from the very compromises that were reached to pass this legislation. If congress revisits this law, however, there are some small changes that may make it more effective. Perhaps the districts should be given additional money to provide the tutoring services and eligibility should not be so strictly tied to how well the school does from one year to the next. There are many incentives for districts to render this legislation ineffective, so the federal government should think about creating robust and well-funded demonstration programs and incentive programs to help local districts do this right.
U.S. Department of Education
These provisions were put in place as an incentive for districts to do a better job of reaching out to parents. Therefore, every time you evaluate the success of public school choice or SES, it is important to also look at some of the programs that the districts have put in place to counter these provisions. For example, some districts do not have much public school choice going on because they may already do a good job of communicating with parents. The way districts react to these provisions is a very important element in any evaluation of the program.
More generally, change takes time. It is a good idea to look at this program after one year of implementation, but it is also a mistake to embark on active regulation of public choice and SES at the federal level after such a short time. It may be better to offer more technical assistance rather than over regulating the law. A lot of what needs to happen initially is dissemination of good information to parents so that they can make informed decisions about their child's education. The report card provisions of the law make it clear that schools must provide parents with comprehensive school quality information, but we also need individuals and organizations to take the initiative to make sure that this data is available and accessible to parents.
Richard Colvin believes that we need to offer more funding for these provisions because they require transportation. We are providing federal funds, and there is nothing to stop the district from adding more resources from their own reserve to meet the demand for choice options. They can transfer money from different pots to this area if there is demand for public school choice, so pleading "lack of resources" is not exactly accurate.
With regard to SES, there is some incentive for districts to not actively implement the provision, but there are also some districts that have genuine questions about how this innovation is supposed to be incorporated in their schools. It is a new type of service, and many superintendents are unsure about how to fund SES, how to set up contracts with providers, and how to actually administer the tutoring to their students. These types of schools, those that are actually making a good faith effort, are not the ones profiled in the media, but they are important proof that these disincentives to implementation are not as pervasive as they may seem. One area that we have been active in is promoting partnerships between SES providers and existing after-school programs so that programs will stay in place even after the need for SES expires. We also need the providers to be more active in working with districts to solve implementation problems at the local level rather than appealing to the federal government for solutions.
With respect to the lack of data out there, the department is currently compiling the consolidated reports that the states were obligated to provide, and the Title I longitudinal study is also in the works. There is, however, a lag time in such efforts, so we encourage outside sources to track these numbers as well. I believe the outlook is very promising, particularly for SES, because teachers often see tutoring as a great opportunity to help their students rather than a type of competition.
Implementation in a federal system is always incredibly difficult. The problem is that as the number of organizational actors involved in implementation increases arithmetically, the number of agreements and compromises that must be reached with those actors increases exponentially. That is especially true in education because we have one federal department of education, fifty-one state departments of education, fourteen thousand local school districts, and ninety thousand schools. On school standards and accountability, NCLB is proceeding faster than most federal education legislation, but the opposite is true of the choice provisions.
The complicated school choice provisions of NCLB require states to take the following complicated steps: First, states must set up an accountability system. Second, the state must approve a list of SES providers that is sufficient to fulfill statewide demand. Third, the state must disseminate a list of schools needing improvement to Title I parents in time to utilize choice options. Fourth, the district must inform Title I parents in an unambiguous manner about the status of their school and also provide a list of possible alternative schools in a timely fashion. Fifth, the district must inform parents about SES providers and explain how they should pick them. And finally, the parents themselves must decide whether or not to use the public choice and SES options.
In order to get an accurate picture of what the states are doing, I did an email survey of state education authorities, big-city education journalists, and education analysts/agitators. I got a response from forty-one states, and the only large state I missed was New York. The mean state has classified about 135 schools as needing improvement, and there are indications that they are taking this first step in the process seriously. Ninety percent of state officials that I interviewed thought NCLB was more difficult to implement than previous legislation, but 70 percent believed that it would actually improve education on the whole.
The school-choice provisions are not being taken as seriously. While most have done a good job of approving SES providers, the data for steps three and four are not as positive. Only 20 percent of the states released the data on the schools in need of improvement before August, and another 36 percent in August. In other words, only about half of the states are putting that information out before school starts, and that presents a problem for parents trying to exercise school choice. Nineteen state informants tell me that they check the letters that districts send out to Title I parents and had to make changes to some, but nineteen do not even monitor these communications. Twenty-two out of thirty-seven states report that they disseminate or list sample letters that districts can use to inform Title I parents.
In short, on a scale of one to eight, the average state gets a 3.5 for implementation of the choice provisions. The measure is an aggregate of how well states are doing calculating schools in need of improvement, how well they are informing parents, and if they are informing parents in enough time to make an educated choice. While states seem to be doing well on the accountability portions of the program, they are lagging behind on the school choice and SES implementation.
Florida has a long history of state accountability, and since 1999, it has had a system that grades each individual school and attaches rewards and consequences to these measurements. It is a system where all students are tested grades three through ten, and it also has a history of choice programs. It is, however, a year behind the other states in implementation of the choice provisions simply because in the first year they were asked to grade schools, no schools fell short of making AYP. This current year is the first year in which there were schools that did not make AYP for two years.
If you look at the state A Plus program results, you have to conclude that Florida is doing something right. In 1999, 8 percent of the schools received an A, and in 2003 47 percent received an A. To some degree, these results are corroborated by Florida's NAEP gains. In terms of school-choice programs, under A Plus, if a school receives an F, its students must be given a voucher worth the full per-pupil allowance, and there are currently over six hundred students using such vouchers. In short, Florida is a state that has aggressively pursued accountability and choice provisions, so you would expect the NCLB requirements to slide right in to existing procedures and take right off.
NCLB and A Plus are very similar: both test reading and math, both use the same test, proficiency thresholds are the same in both systems, both systems target needy students, both systems have a participation requirement, and both involve a choice consequence after two years of low performance. There are also some critical differences. Florida gives points not only for achievement, but also for student gains, unlike NCLB. Florida targets low-performing students but excludes special education students, and the choice provisions under A Plus are both public and private school choice.
Despite the similarities, however, there are some dramatic discrepancies between A Plus results and NCLB ones. Seventy-five percent of A schools failed to make AYP under NCLB. On the whole, 87 percent of the schools in the state did not make AYP. The biggest reason that schools did not make AYP was the failure to reach proficiency in the students with disabilities subgroup. Limited English Proficiency students are also not doing well on AYP, most likely because under A Plus, LEP students are evaluated with multiple instruments. People at the state level believe that the two systems are complimentary because NCLB is highlighting pockets of students that Florida is not educating well enough.
It may not be as bad as it looks, however, because the number of criteria that schools are failing is relatively low. For instance, the average A school that did not make AYP only failed in one to five criteria. Sometimes it is participation rate or students with disabilities, but whatever the reason, they will be able to target their efforts to one or two areas in order to make it next year.
This year there were forty-five schools that were required to offer choice options. Next year, even if the 935 A schools that did not make AYP in 2003 make it in 2004, then about half of the twelve hundred remaining schools will be required to offer choice, so there will still be a lot of opportunities for choice. We looked at two case studies, Miami-Dade, a large urban district, and Jefferson county, a small rural district, to see how choice was playing out. An assistant superintendent in Miami-Dade said that given all the existing choice, NCLB's effect on the number of students exercising their right to choose was negligible. In the rural district, due to its small size, there was no choice, and they were forced to use supplemental services.
University of Colorado
There are multiple systems of accountability in Colorado that appear to map very well onto NCLB, but the identification patterns that are coming out are different, there are more schools making AYP, and they do not always match up well with the state's other systems. There is uneven district-level implementation, and the state may not have the capacity to correct it.
NCLB did not replace any of Colorado's existing accountability programs; instead, the state aimed to better coordinate their accountability systems. Colorado divides schools into unsatisfactory, low, average, high, and excellent, and the results for this measure do generally reflect the AYP results. Of the excellent schools, there are eleven that they believe will not make AYP, and out of the unsatisfactory schools there are about ten that will make AYP. This is slightly confusing for the community.
Colorado has a lead in school improvement status declarations because they were already using the system set up by an earlier version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In 2000-2001 they had 154 schools in need of improvement; last year they had eighty-seven schools that remained in school improvement status that should have provided choice last year and supplemental services this year. This year an estimated eight hundred schools will not make AYP-roughly half of the state's schools. Of the eighty schools that did not make AYP two years running, they are not evenly distributed. Denver has thirty-four of them, and most other districts have only one or two failing schools, so the public choice they have to provide will be very limited.
Implementation of these provisions is affected by an urban/rural split, existing accountability systems, and the level of local support for these provisions. These problems will create opportunities for resistance, primarily dealing with the notification requirements. With respect to SES, the challenges include which providers are effective, recruiting providers that will serve the entire state, not just the Denver metro area, and an excessive level of lobbying by providers. The Denver metro area has twenty-one providers, while rural Colorado must make do with four, most of whom are Internet-based.
There are interesting conflicts developing on the public choice side. The timelines are very difficult to deal with: students take state tests in March, AYP designations are not straightened out until the following year, and students eventually get to enroll in a choice school seventeen months after the students took the test. The Department has put pressure on Colorado to revise it, but there are issues with assessment companies, district appeals, and student inclusion that slow the system down. Second, combining this program with existing ones causes further difficulties due to differences in notification and identification policies. Perhaps the largest issues, however, are creating choice where none existed, like in rural Colorado, and creating opportunities where there is no community support.
There are many different ways to resist these mandates. Districts that have schools in improvement status may not communicate well with parents or give them misinformation, may ignore the mandate and therefore create no opportunity for choice, or may delay and blame problems on the state's ineffective timeline. For instance, one school sent a letter home describing school improvement status as an honor akin to a Blue Ribbon School to pacify parents. Districts with high performing schools do their best to avoid outsiders from another district and parent protests may preclude children from testing, placing that school in school improvement status and therefore removing it from the list of possible choice options. This nascent anti-testing bias does not bode well for participation rates, which, if they fall below 95 percent, can qualify the school for improvement status.
Michigan State University
The success of NCLB depends on two assumptions. The first is that schools receive clear messages about their performance, and the second is that the sanctions that they are subjected to are predictable and effective. In Michigan neither of these conditions has been met. These may be start-up problems, or they might reveal larger problems with the incentive and sanction structure that is included in NCLB. I believe it is the latter for three reasons. The first is that the message that NCLB is sending to schools is weak and uncertain, the second is that the sanctions are not very effective, and the third is that incentives for compliance are weak and state oversight in Michigan is ineffective.
Michigan has a flourishing market for school choice, and all of the money follows the child. We have one hundred and twenty charter schools, and there is a lot of latitude in intradistrict school choice. For example, twenty thousand students in the Detroit district have utilized intradistrict choice, and the same thing is going on in smaller districts like Flint, Pontiac, and Grand Rapids, among others. It is not clear that the NCLB public school choice provisions have any impact on whether or not students switch schools, though we do know that not one student has switched schools under NCLB and no money has been extended to transport such students.
The SES provision is more promising; in Michigan there are forty-four providers that have been approved, fifteen of which are in the public sector and twenty-nine in the private sector. There is quite a bit of skepticism amongst educators as to whether or not they work and some wariness on the part of potential providers that are reluctant to get into the market because they are uncertain of the economics. In Flint, about one thousand children will receive SES, in Detroit, there are three thousand children taking advantage of SES out of seventy-five thousand who are eligible.
In the first round of NCLB identifications, Michigan had the honor of naming fifteen hundred schools in need of improvement, a number that has since been recalculated to 740. The underlying fact behind these numbers is that some schools have been on and off the list more than once for reasons that they perceive as arbitrary, and the message is therefore not a clear one to schools and districts. On top of this, the state has been identifying failing schools under its existing accountability plan since 1994, meaning that most of the truly failing schools are in their sixth year of sanctions. These schools, therefore, are being threatened with reconstitution and could not actually care less about offering public choice or SES. The escalating sanctions are not effective in Michigan. Of the three case study districts, Detroit and Flint have treated compliance as optional while the third district has done nothing, and state oversight of implementation in Michigan is virtually nonexistent.
School choice, or school transfer, and SES are fundamentally different things that entail a very different commitment and role from the state and local education agencies. In school choice, the role of the state is more of a policy implementer, and a number of structural issues hinder the state in this role. In the case of SES, the role of the state is less as an implementer and more as a market regulator because SES establishes a marketplace. SES is a new marketplace worth over $2 billion, and the state can do some fine-tuning to make great strides in the implementation of supplemental services.
There are three assertions that the papers touch one that should be dealt with. First, there is a concern that there is inadequate funding. Second, there is the notion that geography matters. And third, there is an idea that supplemental services suffer from the same difficulties as public school choice. With respect to the inadequate funding claim, there seems to be enormous confusion on the part of providers and the states. People seem to believe that the more children that enroll in tutoring the lower the per-pupil allocation, so that providers will end up offering only $250 per child. Our reading of the law is that the per-pupil allocation in an individual district stays the same regardless of demand, and that the average per-pupil allocation is adequate to support gains. In its regulator role, the states should ensure adequate funding in order to foster the marketplace.
While there is clearly an urban/rural divide in the choice provision, when it comes to SES, I do not think that there necessarily has to be any difference in quality between urban providers and rural, on-line providers. The market for rural students is huge, and it is the most exciting segment for most providers. Many on-line tutoring programs are indeed live and in real-time, involve a certified teacher, and allow any student with electricity and a phone line to take part in SES. The third notion, that SES suffers the same challenges as public school choice, is incorrect. For one thing, the public choice provision is not subject to the pressures of the marketplace like the SES provision is. In theory, market pressure should break down many of the barriers and challenges that face SES providers today. As a regulator, the state should take an active role in opening up the marketplace, particularly the rural segment, to eager providers while ensuring adequate funding and good communication.
Missouri House of Representatives
In discussing the procedural and structural barriers to the implementation of these provisions, one cannot overlook the importance of attitude. It is the attitude of state and local officials toward No Child Left Behind and its principles that can make or break this law. We have expected public schools to be everything to everybody, but one size does not fit all, and we must let schools figure out what it is that they do well, let them narrow that niche market, and let parents respond by choosing their child's school. NCLB requires proactive attitudes on the part of officials, educators, and parents to succeed.
If leaders in school districts allow their schools to send home a letter that makes the claim that the school is achieving when it is indeed failing, the parents are probably going to reflect that negative attitude toward the principles of NCLB. For instance, I believe that the impetus behind the parents who are threatening to boycott the tests started not with the parents themselves, but with the district's negative attitude. The positive attitudes toward NCLB are focused on children, while the negative ones are primarily concerned with self-preservation.
The reality is, as one paper pointed out, when you ask education leaders whether or not NCLB will work, 70 percent say yes. Many leaders like the top-down principle behind the law because, when it comes time to make tough choices, they can claim that their hands are tied. Despite the fact that many educators are looking for such guidance, we still need an attitude adjustment. Communication with parents must be clear, the states must stop dragging their heels, and general confusion about the tenets and thrust of the law must be actively cleared up. Even in light of political pressures, politicians and state board of education officials must not retreat from the high standards that the law has set for our children.
Texas Business and Education Coalition
If NCLB is going to benefit the vast majority of American kids, it must improve the public schools. Whatever remedies the legislation lays out, whether it is public choice or SES, they will work through the public schools and often in a public school setting. One idea that is worth focusing on is district-wide improvement versus school-wide improvement. It is very difficult to institutionalize and sustain individual school-level excellence. It is much easier for districts to institutionalize and sustain district-wide excellence; transitions within individual schools can be made, personnel can be moved around, but as long as the district has institutionalized the practices that breed excellence, the schools will continue to succeed.
The administration in Texas is very serious about getting these provisions implemented, and the districts can sense this seriousness and have taken the initiative to move ahead with testing, data analysis, and information management. The importance of information systems should not be underestimated. There are real questions about the quality of data management at the district level, and they must be addressed in order to speedup testing timelines.
Some people are alarmed that we have not had that many schools that have failed to make AYP. I have looked at the benchmarks of many states and have noticed a trend to load the more difficult goals in the back end; in other words, states will have to make small gains in the early going in order to make AYP, but the expected results will increase dramatically as time goes on. In Texas, for instance, the slope of expected gains is not very steep until 2008. As a result, I think that there will be a lot more schools that are deemed in need of improvement in the future than there have been in the first two years. Part of the problem with these remedies is that they are too often seen as sanctions that are designed to punish the public schools. We need to start looking at them as ways to better serve children in a variety of situations in new and different ways. Until officials start evaluating the beneficial effects of SES and public choice, they are going to continue to look punitive which will hamper implementation.
Council of the Great City Schools
How are the public school choice and supplemental service provisions of NCLB being implemented in America's major urban school systems? Three conclusions can be drawn from our survey of forty-six cities: NCLB has experienced growing pains, but data suggest clear patterns are emerging. Participation levels in both choice and supplemental services are low, and it is too early to tell if the choice and supplemental service provisions are having a clear effect on student achievement.
As a result of our study, it is clear that choice and supplemental service provisions are affected by the timing and the accuracy of data coming from the states. Thirty-five cities out of forty-one cities that are required to offer choice did not get their AYP data until August or after the beginning of the school year. Based on our data, we found 17,878 students transferred out of low-performing schools this past fall. This total is three times the number of students that transferred out last year but represents less than 2 percent of children eligible to transfer under the federal guidelines. More than half the forty-four thousand students who requested transfers were turned down. Four factors are influencing choice under NCLB: the methods for notifying parents, the number of choices and restrictions, the time period to choose, and the school capacity at receiving schools.
Many urban school systems are implementing the supplemental-service provisions for the first time this year. Of the thirty-two eligible districts that responded to this survey, almost 134,000 students were expected to receive supplemental services this year. The districts were more likely to use school, community, or parent forums to inform parents of their supplemental-service options. The average city has twenty-four providers. In several cases, too many providers exist for the number of eligible schools in these cities. Two-thirds of the cities allow providers to deliver their services on school grounds.
Our nation's urban schools continue to support NCLB because of the law's emphasis on student achievement, achievement gaps, and accountability for results. Even with the logistical problems implementing NCLB on the ground, we have not changed our minds about supporting this legislation.
University of California, San Diego
Our study found the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to generally be supportive of the broad goals of the choice and supplemental service provisions of NCLB. The number of students participating in NCLB choice is small but growing. In fall 2002, only seventy-two students applied to change schools under the choice provision and only twenty-four actually changed schools. By fall 2003 the district received 480 applications with 263 students changing schools. However, the 480 students that applied to another school represent only 1 percent of those eligible. Most of the action occurred at the middle school or high school level. One reason for the low participation rate might be the twenty-five-year history of school choice in San Diego, which includes the Voluntary Ethnic Enrollment Program, magnet schools, and charter schools. At the onset of NCLB, approximately one-quarter of the district's students already participated in some form of school choice. Because of San Diego's history of choice, the district has been able to piggyback NCLB choice onto existing bus routes.
Participation in the supplemental service programs is high (with the largest provider being the district itself). For the 2002-2003 school year, 86 percent of students eligible for supplemental services received them. Funding is an incentive for the district to provide these services.
One permanent problem we encountered was timing. California releases the list of PI designated schools in mid-to-late August, which gives districts only two weeks to design new bus routes, inform parents, and accept applications. We found several unintended consequences of NCLB. We potentially see choice interfering with supplemental services because many kids who are bused to school on NCLB will not take advantage of supplemental services offered if it means getting home after 7:00 p.m. We also found a great deal of public confusion between state and federal accountability systems. The overlapping provisions at the local, state, and federal level are often inconsistent with each other and tension does exist.
As of June 2003, forty-seven hundred students in Worcester, Massachusetts, were eligible for choice under NCLB and eighteen hundred students were eligible for supplemental services. Today only one student is exercising choice and one other student is receiving supplemental services. There are five reasons why NCLB has clearly not taken hold in Worcester:
1. Joseph Caradino, superintendent of public schools, is an outspoken critic of NCLB. The federal government needs to take his views seriously because he and his staff are in charge of implementation. As a result, parents have to jump through many hurdles to obtain choice and supplemental services. Many parents are discouraged by the initial letter sent home, school principals, and the parent information center--all of whom reiterate that choice options are not always in the best interest of kids.
2. Worcester serves extremely mobile families. The mobility rate for students in underperforming schools is upwards of 50-55 percent. Causes of mobility have little to do with parents seeking better schools. Principals and teachers are trying to contain this mobility because it interrupts opportunities for student learning.
3. School choice already exists with charter schools and citywide magnet schools. The district also has a voluntary desegregation plan in place. We need to think about NCLB in the context of programs already in place. Tension exists between NCLB, which offers choice with the idea of freeing students in failing schools, and the district's de-isolation plan, which intends to improve the racial balance between student bodies.
4. There is a huge informational problem in Worcester. In order to understand if their child qualifies for choice or supplemental services, parents need to have basic knowledge of their schools status. Parents with children in performing schools in Worcester got the status of their school right 60-65 percent of the time. However, only 7 percent of parents with children in underperforming schools know their school is underperforming and thus qualify for provisions under NCLB.
5. The job of placing students in supplemental services falls on districts. Given minimal state oversight, the district is the owner of the relationship between private provider and parents.
The basic challenge confronting the federal government is that districts have few incentives to faithfully activate NCLB. This problem is seen clearly in Worcester where widespread resistance against accountability and choice exist.
A series of decisions must be made on the district level regarding the process and criteria of selecting a receiving school, and attention must be paid to which students act on the available choices. Choice could be a potentially disruptive force in Montgomery County. In year one of NCLB, ten schools (representing sixty-two hundred students) were deemed in need of improvement under NCLB. These ten schools were all elementary schools concentrated in two geographic clusters.
In year one, half of the students that transferred out of underperforming schools were white even though they comprise only 13 percent of the student population at sending schools. In year two, I found a more reflective racial profile of students changing schools under NCLB choice. But arguably the target group of NCLB (Hispanic, African-American, or poor students) represents only 20 percent of students transferring schools. It is important to note the significantly low participation rates of Hispanics. Only 8 percent of Hispanic students participated in NCLB choice even though they constitute 50 percent of the student population at sending schools.
Receiving schools in Montgomery County are determined by test scores, school capacity, transportation time, and stable boundaries. I also found greater success at predicting receiving schools when race and poverty were taken into account.
In year one, high test scores in receiving schools seemed to attract students exercising choice. The percentage of African-American students was a negative indicator and distance was not significant. Year two is different. Test scores and race are not as relevant as poverty. We must acknowledge potential segregation effects in sending schools. White students are leaving and poor students remain.
Black Alliance for Educational Options
I want to focus on parents' needs and what choice under NCLB looks like for parents in Philadelphia. There are 261 schools in our district serving well over one hundred thousand students. Every school in the district is a Title I school. This year 194 schools are in need of improvement according to NCLB, but only ten schools (none of which are high schools) are accepting students and space is very limited.
NCLB provides choice that parents deserve and need. It allows parents to make informed decisions on their child's education. It is important that people are talking about failing schools on a national level; however, Philadelphia is facing similar difficulties mentioned in the papers regarding the implementation of NCLB. One of the papers used the term "reluctant compliance." The school district has been reluctant to disseminate information to parents. It is a daunting task for the school district to inform parents of their choices under NCLB. How do you deliver information to over one hundred thousand parents about their options under NCLB, especially when the information is not consistent within the district and within the schools?
The greatest underlying problem in schools is communicating with parents. Parents do want choice, and they want to get their children out of underperforming schools. There are so many reasons parents are not taking advantage of NCLB. The process is confusing and frustrating. Many of these parents are not highly educated and have difficulty processing the information they receive. The language used in the letter sent home to explain choice and supplemental services is ridiculous. The educationally oriented language is extremely confusing for parents. Nothing jumps out of the letter. The district was essentially hiding information in the middle of a lengthy letter. You do not hide something you want people to use. We must also remember that some parents decide not to exercise choice based upon distance needed to travel and the limited number of receiving schools available, among other factors.
There has been some improvement between the first year and second year of NCLB implementation. A much-improved letter was sent the second year of implementation, and the district is now offering information sessions for parents interested in exercising choice. Parents are now given a full month to make the decision. The Black Alliance for Educational Options has gone door to door with information regarding parents rights under NCLB, stood at the supermarket with a "free tutoring" sign, and placed an ad in the local paper with a list of choices available to parents in underperforming schools. Community organizations must work with the districts to help get this important information out to parents.
Associate Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District
NCLB was signed in January 2002 with an implementation date of July 2002. It is the most complex piece of education legislation in history. When I look around the nation, the reform effort is based on an attitude and belief system. Reform must start at the top. If the board of education is supportive, the reform will be more successful.
Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had 103 schools designated as program improvement schools. Approximately one hundred and eighty-six thousand students in the district were eligible for supplemental services. Trying to inform and communicate with parents and schools has proven very difficult. Changing attitudes and getting people to believe it is the right thing to do is not easy. Simply communicating with schools the requirements of federal, state, and local accountability systems sometimes creates confusion and divisiveness.
There may be disincentives to fully implement the program. If the district does not use the money allotted for choice and supplemental services, those dollars can go to other Title I schools and Title I children within the system. Also, the district has the responsibility to inform parents of supplemental service options, provide list of state providers, and work with parents to help choose a provider. Districts that provide services, like LAUSD, have an advantage over other providers. We have the facilities and the teachers, and our parents know the system.
NCLB is not only the right thing to do but also targets the right kids. It is workable. We need to integrate options like supplemental services into the whole system and not limit those services to kids in schools lacking adequate yearly progress. We are running up against parents asking to move their youngsters to program improvement schools so that they can receive the supplemental services available. We need to integrate so that any youngster has opportunity to receive help no matter what school they attend.
Dayton Public School Board
In Dayton, Ohio a little less than nineteen thousand students attend public schools. We have lost six thousand in the last five years students to charter schools. The majority of public schools and charter schools in Dayton are underperforming according to NCLB. There are not a lot of opportunities for receiving schools, and the district has not been able to find options outside the district in the surrounding suburban area.
Dayton is still unwavering on our commitment to NCLB. I worry about continuity of leadership directing this legislation. We cannot afford to scrap our efforts. Energy must be used to tweak legislation and make it work. No one anticipated the politics at play on the local level. "Reluctant compliance" is the best description of the districts' response to NCLB. Examples of this include allowing parents only one choice or allowing some schools to opt out because they don't want poor or minority students.
I am concerned about the parties charged with doing most of the communication. It is a classic example of the fox guarding the henhouse. Parents most needy of services provided under NCLB know the least about it. Choice is not present if customers are not even aware they have a choice. Do customers really understand NCLB, or do they simply distrust the system?
My other concern is the lack of protection for receiving schools. What are the incentives? Schools that accept children under the choice provision of NCLB will eventually (the following year) receive a few more dollars but few other incentives exist.
If major loopholes continue to exist, they will eventually derail the legislation. I do not see a sense of urgency. I think the implementation needs to be aggressively audited by an independent body. We need hotlines for complaints, tough penalties for noncompliance, and an expanded number of receiving schools. Have we designed a well-intentioned program that does not meet the needs of the African-American community? Is the sense of neighborhood so important to them that they do not want to exercise choice? NCLB has the ability to improve education for students, but we must recognize NCLB as a band-aid on a deeper social problem.
New York Daily News
New York City claims they have done a better job than any other city implementing this law. But in districts like San Diego, there seems to be a more genuine interest in making it work. In San Diego, 86 percent of kids qualifying for supplemental services signed up. In New York City, only 19 percent of eligible students are utilizing this program. In the first year, 331 schools out of our twelve hundred schools were on the need of improvement list. The list was announced on a Tuesday and school began on a Wednesday. Some of the problems we saw in the first year could be described as "bumps," but calling some of the ongoing implementation problems "bumps" is a disservice to parents.
One of the reasons more parents have not signed up for these services is poor communication. A letter was sent out in March notifying parents of their options under NCLB. Parents had nine days to respond, five of which fell during spring break. Other problems with the letter included the fact that a Virginia firm sent out the mass mailing and many parents did not recognize the return address when they received the letter in the mail, thus not opening the letter. This illustrates the kind of communication we have seen between the school system and the parents. I am concerned that the system does not have the children's best interests at heart.
Parents are very enthusiastic about the supplemental service provision of NCLB. This fall, the district held provider fair for interested supplemental service providers. Students were given flyers to take home in their backpacks on Friday. The fair was held that night and Saturday morning, but no one showed up. The department was so embarrassed that now we are seeing more of an effort to help providers reach out to parents.
The messages sent to parents have been disappointing. I have noticed the phrase "NCLB kids," which reminds me of the "bus kids" from the 1970s. It seems to be white-middle class parents who are against welcoming NCLB kids along with their low test scores and, in some cases, the color of their skin.
AEI research assistant Andrew Kelly and AEI staff assistant Emily Kluver prepared this summary.