As laws mature and are fully implemented, policymakers listen carefully to the feedback from those on the ground so that they can better understand how the law translates from paper into action. In the case of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), it is clear that the law has dramatically changed education for the better in the U.S. by driving achievement up, increasing accountability, giving parents options and increasing the use of scientifically-based instructional practices. At the same time, Secretary Spellings has recognized the need to give states some alternatives in implementation provided that they are reaching their state-set goals and increasing student achievement.
The Department of Education is announcing a set of guiding principles to help states implement NCLB while taking their unique situations into consideration. The Department will take these principles into account when discussing amendments to state accountability plans or consolidated applications to allow for innovation that helps states achieve the goals of NCLB. The guidelines, called Raising Achievement: A New Path for No Child Left Behind, are as follows:
- Ensuring students are learning: Raising overall achievement and closing achievement gaps.
- Making the school system accountable: Including all students in all schools and districts in the state; ensuring all students are assessed regularly (testing students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school by the next school year 2005-06) and are part of a state's accountability system; providing data on students broken out by subgroups, and all students will reach grade level in reading and math by 2014.
- Ensuring information is accessible and parental options are available: Informing parents about the quality of their child's school and their school choice options; identifying schools and districts in need of improvement in a timely manner; developing a dynamic list of after-school tutors (supplemental educational service providers); encouraging public school choice and the creation of or continued support for charter schools; and creating easily accessible and understandable school and district report cards.
- Improving the quality of teachers: Providing parents and the public accurate information on the quality of their local teaching force, implementing a rigorous system for ensuring teachers are highly qualified, and making aggressive efforts to ensure all children, beginning in the 2006-07 school year, are taught by highly qualified teachers.
If the above principles are met, the Department may consider (when appropriate and as necessary) the following factors in approving additional flexibility under the law:
- Compliance with NCLB and its predecessor, the Improving America's Schools Act;
- Graduation and drop-out rates;
- Fiscal management;
- High school reform initiatives;
- Data infrastructure capabilities and state capacity to improve achievement;
- State academic standards;
- Availability of alternate teaching certification programs; and
- School improvement processes that integrate approaches to serve the needs of all students including those receiving special education and who are limited English proficient.