Cross-Cutting Guidance for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - September 1996

A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Theme 4. Flexibility to Stimulate Local School-Based and District Initiative, Coupled with Responsibility for Student Performance

The school improvement needs of one community or State may differ significantly from those of another, and a one-size-fits-all approach to education reform will not work. In fact, consensus is growing that the local school is often best positioned to determine the most appropriate approaches for helping individual children. Although all local schools should set challenging academic standards for all students, there may be numerous, and equally effective, paths they can take toward attaining these goals. Under ESEA, districts and schools are accountable for reaching challenging goals, but they have the flexibility to determine how to get there.

* Areas of flexibility. The revised ESEA offers States and communities greater flexibility than ever before, through such options as waiver provisions, expanded opportunities for schoolwide approaches, charter schools, and increased school-level decisionmaking. Flexibility is important not so much for its own sake, but because it can give schools and communities the freedom to design the most effective possible programs to promote high student achievement.

New Waiver Opportunities in Federal Education Programs

As of September 5, 1996, the U.S. Department of Education had approved 129 waivers. After consultation with Department staff, another 108 waiver applicants learned that they could implement their plans for school improvement without a waiver. In one sense, then, waivers have served as an important avenue for the Department to provide technical assistance to educators. Requests for waivers also help keep the Department abreast of the local impact of federal requirements and help guide State and local implementation decisions.

The majority of waivers granted have been for ESEA Title I requirements. Provisions of other programs that have been waived relate to the proportion of ESEA Title II funds devoted to professional development in mathematics and science and other core subjects, the formation of consortia under the Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, and the consolidation of administrative funds under ESEA Title XIV. The following are examples of waivers granted:

  • Kentucky, which already has a performance-based student assessment and accountability system to match its challenging State content and performance standards, was granted a waiver of certain ESEA Title I provisions in order to align Title I accountability requirements with comparable components of the State system. The State accountability system is based on biennial periods of review, in which two years' data are averaged, while Title I accountability is based on annual reviews for two consecutive years. The waiver supports the purposes of Title I by promoting high academic expectations for all children and by focusing on accountability and improvement.

  • The Fort Worth Independent School District in Texas received a waiver that allows it to target extra Title I dollars to four very high-poverty, inner-city elementary schools identified for top-to-bottom reforms based on low achievement on State assessments and other factors. Although other schools in the district ranked higher in terms of poverty, these schools demonstrated a higher degree of educational need among their students than the schools with greater poverty. The targeted schools are attempting to increase academic achievement by reorganizing staff, lengthening the school year, intensifying instruction in reading and math, providing extensive teacher training, and strengthening the schools' links to their communities.

  • Based on needs identified by member districts, the Riverview Intermediate Unit 6 Title II Consortium in Shippenville, Pennsylvania, received a waiver that permits it to use up to 50 percent of its Eisenhower Professional Development funds to provide teacher training in core subject areas other than math and science, while local funds and Goals 2000 continue to support professional development activities in math and science.

The Department provides information about waivers and how to apply for them through its Waiver Guidance: Goals 2000: Educate America Act, ESEA, School-to-Work Opportunities Act (see Appendix C); through the Waiver Assistance Line, 202-401-7801 or 1-800-USA-LEARN; and on the World Wide Web at The Department has also published several notices regarding waivers in the Federal Registers of August 25, 1995, Vol. 60 FR 44390-91; March 22, 1996, Vol. 61 FR 11816-19; and August 13, 1996, Vol. 61 FR 42134-35.

Oregon Department of Education: Coordinating Program Administration

The Oregon Department of Education is trying to put into practice the philosophy of coordination embraced in its ESEA consolidated application by structuring joint planning and professional development activities among program administrators and educators from a variety of federal and State programs. These joint activities enable program directors to exchange ideas about how to improve school performance and raise student achievement across the board. For example, State staff, including those who administer Title I, special education, migrant education, Title VI, and other programs, have jointly designed two new "certificates of mastery," credentials that augment the high school diploma by demonstrating the types of skills and knowledge that students have mastered at various points of their secondary education. In addition, State staff from various program offices have jointly developed a model district improvement plan for Goals 2000, and they regularly participate in mutual professional development. A 1996 summer institute brought together State and local directors of diverse federal programs, other educators, and parents for sessions in "cross-program sharing," consolidated district improvement planning, measurement of adequate yearly progress, effective instructional strategies, schoolwide programs, and more.

These bridge-building activities are starting to pay off, said Merced Flores, Oregon's assistant superintendent. For example, some local districts have "braided together" funding from Title I, Part A, Title I migrant education, and the McKinney Homeless program, or have jointly funded staff positions using district funds, Title I, emergency immigrant, and bilingual education monies. "People who didn't used to know who was responsible for Eisenhower or migrant education are now coming together to integrate programs," Flores noted. Since this coordination process started two years ago, the State has seen improvements in student test scores in some low-income areas.

Los Angeles, CA: A Charter for Change

The Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Los Angeles converted to a public charter school in 1993 and is demonstrating how reduced red tape, strong leadership, and hard work can transform a school of more than 1,110 students. All Vaughn students come from low-income families, and 87 percent have native languages other than English. At the start of this decade, Vaughn's achievement test scores lagged far behind the rest of the State, and faculty morale was low. The shift to charter status and arrival of a new principal stimulated a host of major reforms, including a 200-day school year, small class sizes, integrated technology, accelerated English transition programs, comprehensive on-site health and social services, and a family center. Today standardized reading and math test scores have gone up, in some cases remarkably, in nearly all grades. For example, the median percentile score on the grade 4 standardized reading test rose from the 19th percentile in 1994-95 to the 37th in 1995-96 among English-speaking students who took the CTBS, and from the 46th percentile to the 53rd among Spanish-speaking students who took the Aprenda test.

The regulatory freedom associated with being a charter school--"the waiver of all waivers," as principal Yvonne Chen notes--allowed the school to contract out payroll, food service, insurance, and other services, use personnel more flexibly without collective bargaining (and still pay teachers above union salary scale), and make numerous cost savings and improvements in efficiency. Title I and Title VII funds are part of the mix. Title I has enabled the school to offer an after-school program and to hire parent aides, while providing them with training and a career ladder.

* Accountability for results. The redesigned ESEA couples greater flexibility in decisionmaking with greater accountability for student learning. The existence of high standards and high-quality aligned assessments provides the framework for this results-oriented approach to accountability.

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