June 30, 1999
Honorable William F. Goodling
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am writing to express my views on your pending substitute for H.R. 1995, the Teacher Empowerment Act, which I understand your committee will soon mark up, as you begin work on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). I am pleased that your committee shares the Administration's belief in the importance of highly qualified teachers in helping all of our children reach high standards, and seeks to ensure that teachers are provided professional development to enhance their knowledge and skills. We know that teacher quality makes a critical difference in how well students of all backgrounds learn. That is why the President's ESEA proposal, the Educational Excellence for All Children Act of 1999, as well as H.R. 1960, a nearly identical proposal introduced in the House by Representative Clay, place so much emphasis on teacher quality and on professional development for teachers.
Unfortunately, the pending substitute for H.R. 1995 is a flawed alternative to the President's proposal. If it were presented to him in its current form, I would recommend that he veto it. Problems in the bill that should be addressed include the following:
It retreats from the bipartisan commitment to reduce class size in the early grades. The most serious defect in H.R. 1995 is that it would undermine the Federal effort to help local communities reduce class size in the early grades to an average of 18, because it fails to provide a separate, dedicated funding stream, targeted to high-poverty communities, consistent with the bipartisan agreement enacted as part of the Fiscal Year 1999 appropriations act. The bill also fails to maintain a clear focus on reducing class size in the early grades, despite the research consistently demonstrating that smaller classes in these grades improve student achievement and provide lasting benefits through high school completion, especially for disadvantaged students.
It should retain, in Title II of the ESEA, explicit language relating to Federal support for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The Board establishes rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, and operates a national voluntary system to assess and certify teachers who meet these standards. The Board also identifies, for teachers throughout the nation, what accomplished teaching looks like. The Board hopes to certify 105,000 teachers by the year 2006, the equivalent of more than one teacher for every school in the country. Federal funds support the development of certification standards and assessments, as well
Our mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the Nation.
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as activities designed to enable more teachers to undertake the assessments. This is an example of an activity where a limited amount of Federal funding is essential to support larger State efforts to promote and reward excellence in teaching. For example, both Governor Thompson of Wisconsin and Lt. Governor Brogan of Florida recently testified before your committee that their States offer incentives to teachers to become nationally certified or bonuses to teachers who complete the certification process.
It does not advance the next generation of standards-based reforms. The bill would not provide support for activities such as the refinement and development of State content and student performance standards, and curricula and assessments aligned with those standards. Continuing these types of activities is essential if teachers are to make high standards a reality in every classroom. As the General Accounting Office found in a recent report, Federal support for systemic reforms has been instrumental in facilitating educational reforms in States and school districts. Supporting the next generation of Goals 2000 -- the continued development of State standards and the critical work of implementing those standards in schools and classrooms -- must be part of a reauthorized ESEA.
It would not encourage the kinds of professional development that research and teachers identify as being most effective -- activities that are ongoing, school-based, focused on academic content, and collaborative. Professional development that many teachers experience is inadequate to prepare them to help students meet high standards. Research has shown that activities such as teacher study groups, teacher networks, classroom observation, internships, and mentoring provide more relevant and useful professional development for teachers than do more traditional kinds of professional development. Professional development must also be a component of broader educational reforms under way in the school or district if it is to have a meaningful impact on teaching and learning. While the bill may intend to promote intensive, ongoing professional development, it would not ensure that school districts actually provide it.
It fails to hold States, districts, and schools accountable for improving student achievement. The accountability provisions in H.R. 1995 are vague and confusing and would be difficult to implement. The bill appears to require States to take action to improve or terminate local professional development programs that are not "research-based" or that fail to raise student achievement, but it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to make those determinations with any degree of accuracy under the current language of the bill. Moreover, the bill would provide States almost no resources for carrying out their responsibilities relating to accountability.
The bill does not provide for adequate accountability to the public. States would be required to report publicly on out-of-field teachers and on class sizes, but not on other topics of importance to parents, policymakers, and the general public, such as student achievement and school safety. The bill also fails to include provisions, such as those proposed by the President, to ensure that teachers are certified and teaching in field.
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It does not target funds equitably or effectively. H.R. 1995 fails to target funds to the school districts where they are needed and can have the greatest impact. It would allocate 80 percent of the available funds to local districts through a formula based 50 percent on the number of poor children served by the district and 50 percent on district enrollment. The remaining 20 percent of the funds would be awarded competitively, but with no priority for high-need districts. By contrast, the President's proposal would award 50 percent of the available funds to local districts through a formula based entirely on poverty. The remaining funds would be awarded competitively, primarily to school districts with the greatest need for services.
It fails to expand the Troops-to-Teachers program. While the bill addresses the President's proposal to continue the successful Troops-to-Teachers program for retired military personnel, it fails to include the President's proposal to create national efforts modeled on Troops to Teachers to help other non-military mid-career professionals become teachers. The bill would thus deny school districts a potentially larger pool of skilled candidates at a time when districts, particularly those with high concentrations of disadvantaged children, are having difficulty finding well-qualified applicants in many subjects.
It fails to adequately address other issues of national significance. The bill limits the Secretary of Education to administering two specific national activities -- the Troops-to-Teachers program and Teacher Excellence Academies, thus significantly restricting the Secretary's ability to address important issues of broad concern. In contrast, the President's proposal provides authority for the Secretary to conduct a broad range of activities of national significance. These activities would include, among others, supporting a national teacher recruitment clearinghouse and job bank, professional development programs for principals to strengthen their ability to improve teaching and learning in the schools they lead, programs to encourage pension and credential portability, and the development of performance-based systems for assessing teacher content knowledge and skills. A broad authority to carry out nationally significant activities, such as these, is essential.
It does not include direct support for professional development for early childhood educators focused on early language and literacy development. Research indicates that the quality of the language and literacy environment in early childhood programs predicts later language development, reading success, and other academic outcomes for children. Increasing the number of early childhood educators with the skills to help children develop literacy and language skills will enhance children's reading and overall school success. The bill should include the President's proposal for professional development for these educators.
It represents a piecemeal approach to the important task of reauthorizing the ESEA. Unlike the President's comprehensive proposal, H.R. 1995 addresses only one component of reauthorizing the ESEA, in isolation from the other portions of the Act. In order to ensure that the various portions of the Act work well together, it would be
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preferable for the committee to consider teacher quality as part of a single bill to reauthorize the entire ESEA.
I urge the committee to correct these deficiencies and to approve a bill that closely reflects the President's proposal to improve the quality of teaching in our nation's schools. As a first step in that direction, I urge the committee to adopt the substitute amendment that I understand will be offered by Representative Martinez. That amendment clearly provides for continuation of the commitment to class-size reduction that was begun with the fiscal year 1999 appropriations act, and it retains current language relating to support for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It also includes strong accountability measures and would foster high-quality professional development. The Martinez alternative is also preferable to the pending substitute insofar as it includes more targeted distribution of funds, provides specific resources for States to continue their work in the important areas of standards and assessments, and ensures that competitive grants will benefit districts with the greatest needs. Nevertheless, the Administration will advocate even stronger positions on these areas as the legislation moves forward.
The Office of Management and Budget advises that there is no objection to the submission of this report, and that enactment of your pending substitute for H.R. 1995 would not be in accord with the program of the President.
Richard W. Riley
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