June 6, 2002
This is a busy time for America's schools. I hope you have had a successful and rewarding year. You are in the midst of closing out a school year with graduations and celebrations. Hopefully, you are taking a little time to appreciate the many successes our schools have achieved. These successes are hard fought and they reflect positively upon your leadership and the effectiveness of your dedicated team.
Without question, you are also keenly aware of the complex plans that are needed to prepare for next year. Because of the enormity of the new law, No Child Left Behind, we will embark together on a school year in September like no other school year. The impact of the changes in this law will be dramatic in our schools. Together, we will begin to fundamentally change the culture of American public education. As a former superintendent, I truly understand that this is a hectic time and that you are concerned about finalizing plans for the upcoming school year.
I am also aware that you may have a high level of anxiety about how things will ultimately play out as this law is implemented. All of the answers and details are not yet known. This process will not always be tidy. But we must not forget that the principles of this new law are right for our children and together we will see to it that they are imbedded into our educational culture through an effective implementation.
Our guiding principle in implementing No Child Left Behind is to regulate only when it is required by law or absolutely necessary; when regulations are not required, yet direction is needed, we will issue guidance on specific programs because non-regulatory guidance tends to provide States and local school systems with greater flexibility. No Child Left Behind was signed into law on January 8. At that time, the clock began to tick with regard to the regulatory process. The law prescribes a process and timeline that I must uphold. This timeline will not allow the Department to issue final guidelines and regulations until late August, at best. This regulatory process is too slow for your needs in preparing for the next school year. So I have directed my staff to prepare a series of "current thinking" letters that you will receive over the next few weeks. While these can not be official in nature, they can give you some sense of how to conduct your plans on the major issues so that you do not lose the valuable time needed over the summer to begin making the changes that will be required.
You can expect these letters to arrive upon this schedule:
|Supplemental Services/Public School Choice||Mid-June|
|Adequate Yearly Progress||Mid-July|
The work on the guidance documents is proceeding rapidly and we have already provided non-regulatory guidance on the following programs or issues: Reading First, Early Reading First, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, just to name a few. Next week, the Department will add to that list as it issues guidance on teacher quality.
In some cases, however, general guidance documents are not appropriate and regulations are necessary. In particular, No Child Left Behind requires the Department to develop, through a "negotiated rulemaking" process, regulations for standards and assessments required under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as it was revised by No Child Left Behind. We carried out this negotiated rulemaking during the second and third weeks of March; we assembled a panel of State and local officials, school principals, teachers, parents, and representatives of students as well as the business community. In my opinion, this process was a great success. The negotiators reached consensus on such important issues as the requirement for inclusion of all students in State assessments, and the importance of aligning tests with the State standards. The Department published these regulations, reflecting the consensus that was reached through regulatory negotiation, in the Federal Register on May 6 in proposed form. After consideration of all the public comments, and making any revisions to the regulations that are appropriate, we will publish these regulations in the Federal Register as final regulations, at which time they will legally take effect. We anticipate that this will occur by early August.
I have committed the Department to make the adoption of guidance and regulations as inclusive as possible. In January, I had the privilege to meet with chief State school officers at historic Mount Vernon to listen to their concerns and discuss our plans to work as partners in implementing the new law. That meeting was followed these past months with meetings with superintendents and with representatives of the Governors. Throughout the spring, the Department has also met with business and community groups from around the country to obtain their input as well. The Department of Education has united to, first, listen to and consider the perspectives of State and local school systems, teachers, and parents, and second, adopt sound implementation strategies that honor State and local flexibility to the extent permitted by law. We have communicated continually with governors, school superintendents, teachers, parents, and the general public on how to ensure that we translate the vision of No Child Left Behind into coherent and supportive policies and programs. We have convened several leadership academies with State officials and the leaders of big city districts and are planning more such forums in the future. We appreciate in advance all the work you will be doing to make No Child Left Behind a reality. There is no better cause than ensuring that every single child is achieving well.
The President and the Congress have given us a powerful new law to help our nation's children fulfill their dreams and their potential. If it were easy, it would have been done. This isn't easy, but I know that we are up to the task. You have my commitment to work with you to insure the effective implementation of No Child Left Behind. The opportunity for us is historic.