February 15, 2002
Dear Chief State School Officer:
Last month I had the distinct pleasure of hosting many chief state school officers at President George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, to begin a new partnership for reforming elementary and secondary education so that no child in this Nation is left behind. I was gratified by the strong sense of commitment that was evident among all the Chief State School Officers who attended, both to this mission and to the effective implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which President Bush signed into law on January 8. As Secretary of Education and as a former superintendent of a large urban school district, I know that the educational and administrative challenges may seem daunting. But I have seen it work. I know that this is a special opportunity for all of us to make an extraordinary contribution to the effective education of all of our children. That is what we all want. I have no doubt that this law gives us a roadmap to get there.
We need to get there by working together in partnership. Each of us - at the federal, state, local, and school levels - needs to do his or her assigned role well if we are to succeed. We at the Department are prepared to do our part - listening to your concerns and viewpoints; providing timely guidelines and regulations that are needed for you to perform your functions; answering your questions and providing any technical assistance that you need; and ensuring through close monitoring and, if necessary, enforcement that the law is being faithfully carried out by State agencies. As I said at Mt. Vernon, we will approach this challenge as a cooperative partnership that rests on close collaboration and frequent sharing of information.
In that spirit, I am sending this letter to highlight especially important provisions in the law that will soon take effect. These provisions relate to standards, assessments, and systems to measure the progress of States, school districts, and schools in educating all children to be proficient in math, reading/language arts, and science. They also relate to accountability when a school or district is failing to raise the achievement of its students and the rights of parents to redress that failure for their own children. These provisions are the heart of a national strategy to turn failing schools around and end a pernicious achievement gap among our children. Every State needs to give very early attention to these provisions.
The law says that we can no longer wait for States to develop high standards and a system for measuring and monitoring adequate yearly progress in meeting the standards, as required in the 1994 legislation. It provides that 90 days after the new law is enacted, the Secretary of Education shall not grant any additional waivers or enter into any additional agreements to extend the deadlines that were established in 1994. Those deadlines have already passed. The law also directs the Department to withhold 25 percent of State administrative funds under Title I for failure to comply with these requirements. Consistent with the spirit of these provisions and with the principle that requirements should not be waived if doing so would undermine the intent and purpose of the law, we do not intend to waive fundamental requirements on standards, assessments, adequate yearly progress, and accountability in the new law.
I am pleased that Congress has also strengthened the existing standards and assessment requirements. It has added important requirements for States to develop standards and assessments in science and to develop assessments in reading/language arts and math in the third through eighth grades. Although these requirements do not take effect immediately, it is vital that your agency begin considering how it will meet them. Congress appropriated $387,000,000 to assist states in implementing these requirements that we will award in July. There are two related assessment requirements that do take effect next school year. First, your agency must demonstrate in its State plan that its local districts will annually assess the English proficiency of limited-English-proficient students. Additionally, each State will begin to participate in the biennial State academic assessments of 4th and 8th grade reading and math under the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). We will pay the costs of administering NAEP.
Based on the standards and assessments you currently have in place, your agency must begin implementing new requirements for holding schools and districts accountable for the achievement of all students. Specifically, your State plan must demonstrate that your State has developed and will be implementing beginning in the 2002-03 school year a Statewide accountability system consistent with the Act, including the State's definition of adequate yearly progress for all public schools, local school districts, and the State itself to meet the State's student achievement standards. Using data for the 2001-02 school year, the State must also establish the starting point for measuring the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the State's proficient level of academic achievement and a timeline for adequate yearly progress.
The Act includes significant accountability provisions, many of which begin to apply in the 2002-03 school year. These include provisions for parents of students in failing schools to transfer their children to a better school in the district, including a public charter school, and for low-income parents of students in these schools to obtain supplemental educational services from public or private-sector providers selected by the parents. The law requires school districts to spend up to 20 percent of their Title I allocations to carry out these school choice and supplemental educational services provisions. For parents who opt to transfer their children to another school, the local school district must provide transportation to the new school. In order to ensure districts can implement the requirement to pay for supplemental services, your agency must adopt criteria for selecting and approving acceptable providers of these services and publish a list, by school district, of approved providers.
These provisions are designed to give failing schools a significant incentive to improve and to ensure that no child loses the opportunity for a quality education because he or she is trapped in a failing school. We expect to issue guidance on the implementation of these provisions in a short time. These are new obligations on the States and local school districts, and leadership and close oversight by the State are needed to ensure that school districts correctly implement the law.
Under the law, local school districts must identify for "school improvement" any elementary or secondary school served under Title I that fails to make adequate yearly progress in the achievement of their students for two consecutive years. Those schools must be identified in annual school district and State report cards to the public. The report cards must also address student achievement and other indicators.
To ensure that there is fiscal accountability and students receive the full benefits of the Federal grants, there are a number of new supplement, not supplant provisions that will be taking effect in various programs under the new statute. We will be issuing guidance on how to comply with those requirements, and I am hopeful that with a greater awareness of these provisions from the beginning of your implementation of the Act, you will be able to avoid problems.
A list of some key, early deadline dates for implementation follows ("SY" = School Year):
|State notifies ED if it plans to apply for State-Flex authority||May 8, 2002|
|Initial Consolidated State Plan Submitted to ED||May 15, 2002|
|Annual assessment of English proficiency of LEP students||SY 2002-03|
|Biennial NAEP State assessment||SY 2002-03|
|Public school choice for eligible students||SY 2002-03|
|State identifies providers of supplemental educational services||Beginning of SY 2002-03|
|Supplemental educational services for eligible students||SY 2002-03|
|State disseminates annual State report card||Beginning of SY 2002-03|
|Local school districts disseminate annual local report card||Beginning of SY 2002-03|
|Annual State Title I report to ED||SY 2002-03|
I look forward to working in partnership with you to address these challenges. While I know that the largest responsibilities fall on you and on educators at the local level and in schools, we at the Department are prepared to roll up our sleeves and do everything we can to carry out the purposes and the letter of the law. As President Bush has stressed, the stakes for our children and for the long-term strength of our Nation are too great to do otherwise.