October 5, 1999
Honorable William F. Goodling
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am writing to express my views on the "Students Results Act of 1999," your pending substitute for H.R. 2, which I understand your committee will soon mark up as you continue work on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). I am pleased that the substitute focuses on some of the same themes, such as high standards for our schools and children, accountability for results, and increased quality of teachers, that shaped the President's ESEA proposal, the Educational Excellence for All Children Act of 1999. These are the right issues on which to focus our attention as we help States and local school districts translate the promising work of standards-based reform into increased student achievement in the classroom for all our students.
While I applaud the bipartisan effort reflected in the substitute bill, I am very concerned about certain key provisions in the bill. My major concerns with the bill are as follows:
ESEA, TITLE I - HELPING DISADVANTAGED
Accountability. This Administration strongly supports public school choice and the President has consistently been a leader on this issue. However, public school choice must be coupled with, rather than be a substitute for, meaningful accountability. In its current form, this bill fails to adequately address accountability and school improvement.
The Administration has consistently urged each State to develop and implement a single statewide accountability system for ensuring that all schools help students learn to the same high standards. Although the bill contains several accountability provisions that purport to strengthen Title I accountability, their rigidity and inconsistency with current State practices will actually weaken accountability for Title I schools.
States are currently making progress toward developing accountability systems that identify and provide assistance to low-performing districts and schools. However, no State in the nation has developed an accountability system with performance
Our mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the Nation.
requirements as specific and rigid as those prescribed in the pending bill. Thus, the bill would effectively compel every State to reinvent its accountability system, thereby delaying the implementation of effective district and school accountability for several years.
Moreover, instead of encouraging States to develop single statewide accountability systems, the bill's accountability and public reporting provisions will do exactly the opposite: They will lead States to develop dual accountability systems-one for Title I schools and another for all other schools. Evaluations of Title I show that when schools and districts are subject to dual (and sometimes competing) accountability systems, expectations and goals for Title I students are lower than for other students. As a result, students in Title I schools lose out on resources and attention. For this reason, the bill should discourage dual systems while encouraging the development of workable accountability policies that build on States' current good practices and ensuring progress in helping all children achieve to high standards.
Finally, an accountability system will be effective only if sufficient resources are quickly made available to help turn around low-performing schools. We know, for example, that less than half the Title I schools identified as in need of improvement ever receive additional assistance to help them turn around. The President's bill would ensure that States and districts provide necessary leadership and guidance to failing schools by requiring each State to reserve 2.5 percent of its annual Title I allocation (increasing to 3.5 percent in fiscal year 2003) for this purpose, including a requirement to allocate at least 70 percent of these funds directly to districts and schools that need them most, with the remainder used to fund State activities to improve individual schools and districts. This provision, which should be added to the pending bill, would provide the resources for swift, intensive intervention, such as expert consultation and in-depth teacher training in schools and districts identified as in need of improvement, and for stronger corrective actions where initial interventions fail to show improvement.
Treatment of children with limited English proficiency. The bill fails, in several respects, to ensure that limited-English-proficient (LEP) children receive the full benefit of Title I services and achieve to high academic standards. Proposed section 1112(g), for example, would prohibit a school district from providing an LEP child any "English language instruction" using Title I funds until it obtains the parent's consent for that instruction. While I am a strong supporter of parental involvement and decision-making, this provision will result in delay and denial of critical services in cases where parents, for a variety of reasons, simply don't respond to requests for their consent.
The bill should include language from the President's proposal to require the use of tests written in Spanish when testing Spanish-speaking LEP children, if Spanish-language tests are more likely than English-language tests to yield accurate and reliable information on what those students know and can do in subjects other than English (such as math and science), in order to ensure that these children are actually being assessed on their knowledge of the subject matter. On the other hand, given the importance of learning English quickly, I object to the bill's provision that would provide a 1-year grace period
for the use of English-language tests to assess the reading or language-arts skills of students who have attended schools in the United States for three consecutive years. After three years, schools should be held accountable for these students' achievement in English.
For similar reasons, each school district's Title I plan should include an assurance, as proposed by the Administration, that the district will annually assess the English proficiency of all LEP children served in its Title I program, so that it can use the results to improve instruction and to provide helpful information to parents.
Finally, I am pleased that the substitute incorporates our proposal that, in describing any student assessments that it uses (other than those required by the State) in its Title I plan, a school district must describe any tests it will use to determine the literacy level of first graders, and how it will ensure that any such tests are developmentally appropriate and use multiple measures. However, the bill should also include the Administration's proposal that any such tests be administered in the language most likely to yield valid results, to ensure that the district is obtaining an accurate measure of the child's level of literacy.
Targeting. The President's proposal calls for improved targeting to concentrate Title I funds more intensively on the high-poverty districts and schools that have the farthest to go to raise student achievement and the greatest need for funds. Currently, most Title I funds are allocated as Basic Grants under section 1124 of the ESEA, which spreads funds thinly across school districts with both high and low rates of poverty. Weak targeting leaves the poorest districts with insufficient funds to serve all of their high-poverty schools, while other, lower-poverty, districts can serve schools with much smaller percentages of children from poor families.
To address this problem, the President's bill proposes to allocate substantial funding through the Targeted Grants formula under section 1125 of the ESEA, which distributes a larger share of Title I funds to higher-poverty districts than occurs with Basic Grants. In contrast, the pending substitute would undermine targeting to the poorer districts by authorizing substantial annual increases in Basic Grants.
Moreover, the House bill would prevent the needed retargeting of Title I funds to districts that, because of increases in poverty, are newly eligible for Concentration Grant funds under section 1124A of the ESEA, because it would guarantee that other districts continue to receive their Concentration Grant allocation for four years after they lose their eligibility. Title I funds should flow to where the poor children are now, not to where they were several years ago.
Finally, I am encouraged that the bill recognizes the need to improve the treatment of needy children in Puerto Rico, by modifying the formula under which the Commonwealth's Basic Grant allocation is calculated, but I urge the Committee to go a step further and adopt the President's proposal to determine that allocation on the same basis as is used for the 50 States.
Paraprofessionals. It is an unfortunate fact that our most educationally disadvantaged children are often taught by the least qualified teachers, and that paraprofessionals are extensively used in Title I programs to perform instructional duties for which they are not qualified. In light of the critical importance of good teachers, particularly for our low-performing children, the President's bill proposes that most instructional duties be carried out by qualified teachers. It accordingly proposes that Title I paraprofessionals not carry out instructional duties, except for one-on-one tutoring, classroom management, and assisting in a computer lab, and even then only if they have completed at least two years of college. The bill should incorporate these provisions.
Schoolwide programs. I am pleased that the bill would incorporate some of the Administration's proposals to strengthen schoolwide programs under Title I, which can be a highly effective way to help students in high-poverty schools meet high performance standards. I do not believe, however, that we should lower, from 50 percent to 40 percent, the proportion of a school's students who are from low-income families in order to qualify to conduct a schoolwide program, as the bill would do. Research shows that school poverty levels above 50 percent are associated with declines in student achievement for all students in the school, not just disadvantaged students. But using funds from Title I and other programs for schoolwide programs in schools with lower percentages of poor children is likely to dilute the effect of the services for those children.
I also support retaining current section 1114(b)(4)(A) of the ESEA, which permits the Secretary of Education to exempt schoolwide programs from statutory and regulatory requirements of the programs we administer. This flexible authority makes it easier to use funds from a variety of Federal programs to carry out a schoolwide program. That provision, however, expressly bars exempting requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), although the 1997 amendments to the IDEA permit a limited amount of IDEA funds to be used to support schoolwide programs in schools attended by children with disabilities. I strongly object to the bill's removal of the current language relating to the IDEA in section 1114, because it would permit waivers of IDEA requirements as they apply to those children. Children with disabilities should not risk losing vital IDEA protections, such as their statutory right to individualized education programs and due process, because they attend a Title I school with a schoolwide program.
Comparability of services between Title I and non-Title I schools. Children in Title I schools are treated unfairly when school districts put more, or better, resources into their non-Title I schools. Section 1120A(c) of the ESEA is designed to prevent that by requiring "comparability" between Title I and non-Title I schools, but that section needs to focus on the quality of these resources as well as their mere quantity. That's why we propose that, by July 1, 2002, districts ensure that there is comparability with respect to teacher qualifications, curriculum and course offerings, and the condition and safety of school buildings. These factors would capture the concept of comparability more fairly and thoroughly than current law, and are important if we are to be serious about helping
all children, including children in high-poverty schools, meet challenging State standards. The bill should include this proposal.
Private school bypass. I object to proposed section 1120(d)(2) of the ESEA, which would permit a private school to request the Department of Education to step in and replace a local school district's provision of Title I services if a child in that school fails to make satisfactory progress in subjects in which he or she is receiving those services. This approach falsely assumes that the primary responsibility for the child's educational performance rests with the school district, rather than with the private school the child attends. It should be deleted.
Proposed section 9116 of the ESEA would permit school districts that receive Indian education formula grants under Title IX-A of the ESEA to consolidate all Federal funding that they receive on a formula basis, from any Federal agency, into a single program, subject to several pages of conditions and requirements at both the local and Federal levels. While I support flexibility and the integration of services, this particular approach is unduly cumbersome and ill-conceived. Current law provides adequate authority for these districts to integrate their Title IX-A funds with other programs, in order to address the needs of their Indian students in a comprehensive fashion. Current section 9114(b), for example, which the bill would retain, already requires school districts applying for these funds to include in their applications a comprehensive program for meeting the needs of Indian children that explains how Federal, State, and local programs, especially under Title I, will meet those needs.
While I am pleased that the bill would extend the authority for the magnet schools program, I am troubled that the bill would delete current section 5106(c) of the ESEA, which requires the Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to determine, before a grant can be made to a school district, that the district will, in fact, meet the civil rights assurances included in its application. I believe that OCR review of these assurances is important for this particular program, which assists school districts that are desegregating.
I applaud the committee for recognizing the special needs of, and challenges facing, our rural communities and their schools. I do not believe, however, that we need new ESEA programs that are exclusively focused on rural areas, particularly like the overly complicated proposal for a new Part J of Title X proposed in the bill. It's unlikely that this block-grant proposal would achieve its apparent objective of reducing administrative burdens or increasing flexibility for rural districts, especially in light of past experience with block grants. Moreover, children in rural areas fully benefit from the programs already in place, such as Title I Basic Grants, the Title I program for migratory children,
and the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund. Several of these programs include specific provisions, such as those on geographic distribution of funds, designed to address the needs of rural areas. The President's proposal would also target rural areas in a variety of ways, such as by giving special consideration to rural and isolated school districts for education technical assistance centers.
I urge the Committee to work with the Administration to address the concerns I have expressed and to approve a bill that more closely reflects the President's proposal for reauthorizing the ESEA. I also look forward to reviewing other portions of the Committee's ESEA reauthorization effort, such as those relating to the Women's Educational Equity Act and the ESEA general provisions, that are not included in the pending substitute. I have significant concerns with amendments to the Bilingual Education Act that I understand were prepared for the Committee's consideration, and I expect to offer my views on that program as you get closer to marking it up.
The Office of Management and Budget advises that there is no objection to the submission of this report from the standpoint of the Administration's program.
Richard W. Riley
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