ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION
Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
June 7, 2004
Archived Information


Responses to Questions about NCLB Implementation

TEACHER QUALITY

1. State Implementation of a High, Objective, Uniform, State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE)

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provides a tool for States to recognize a veteran teacher as highly qualified. While sections 1119(a) and 9101(23) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by NCLB, do not require a State to implement a high, objective, uniform, State standard of evaluation (HOUSSE), the U.S. Department of Education has urged all States to consider developing and using HOUSSE procedures so that teachers who are not new to the profession may use it as an option for demonstrating subject-matter competency in each subject they teach. The Department has done this through non-regulatory guidance, announcements of flexibility (e.g., the March 15, 2004, announcement regarding the permissible use of a single HOUSSE procedure for teachers of multiple subjects), and, most significantly, the technical assistance provided by the Teacher Assistance Corps (TAC). To help States and districts meet the highly qualified teacher provisions in NCLB, the Department has visited all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico through the TAC to find out how States are meeting the requirement and to provide technical assistance to States that request it.

Before the TAC initiative began, the Department worked with State officials through organizations such as the Council of Chief State School Officers' sponsored Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) to help them understand the teacher quality requirements and the statutory HOUSSE provisions as they began developing their State HOUSSE plans.

As HOUSSE is, by definition, a "State" standard of evaluation, each State is authorized to establish HOUSSE procedures that it deems to be appropriate and still demonstrate, consistent with the requirements of the law, that teachers have competency in each subject they are teaching. Hence, the law contemplates State-by-State variability. This being said, the Department has made significant efforts to provide guidance and direction to the States in developing and implementing a quality HOUSSE evaluation process that is consistent with section 9101(23). In fact, the Department will soon release additional guidance on HOUSSE with examples of what does, or does not, meet the law's provisions.

Through the State TAC visits, experts from the field and Department staff reviewed the HOUSSE provisions with officials in each State and provided intensive technical assistance to ensure States meet the intent of the law. This included a review of a State's HOUSSE procedures against the seven criteria contained in section 9101(23)(C)(ii) of the ESEA. Among other things, members of the TAC specifically stressed the third statutory criterion of HOUSSE, which stipulates that the standard of evaluation "provides objective, coherent information about the teacher's attainment of core content knowledge in the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches." As a result, many States have made improvements to their HOUSSE procedures to align them with the statute and add appropriate rigor.

2. Paraprofessional Assessments

Title I requires that paraprofessionals working in Title I programs meet standards of qualification to ensure that students receive instructional support from qualified paraprofessionals. As you know, all paraprofessionals hired after January 8, 2002, to work in Title I programs must have: (1) completed two years of study at an institution of higher education; (2) obtained an associate's (or higher) degree; or (3) met a rigorous standard of quality and be able to demonstrate, through a formal State or local academic assessment, knowledge of and the ability to assist in instructing reading, writing, and mathematics (or, as appropriate, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness). Paraprofessionals hired before January 8, 2002, and working in a program supported with Title I funds must meet these requirements in four years. While NCLB does not require paraprofessionals to be provided the option of taking a State or locally designed test, section 1119(c)(1)(C) of the ESEA requires that they demonstrate knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, or mathematics (or instructing readiness in these subjects, as appropriate).

As part of the State-by-State technical assistance provided by the Teacher Assistance Corps, the Department apprised States of the options available to local educational agencies under section 1119 in demonstrating the qualifications of their paraprofessionals pursuant to the requirements of NCLB. The Department also provided States with non-regulatory guidance that articulates the options of using a formal State or local academic assessment to ensure paraprofessionals have the necessary qualifications.

3. Data on Highly Qualified Teachers

When States were required to report the percentage of classes taught by highly qualified teachers (HQT) in September 2003, at that time ten States were still gathering their data from the 2002-03 school year. The Department placed conditions on these States' FY 2003 grant awards to complete their data collection processes. An additional 16 States did not yet have data collection systems in place to gather and report the percentage of classes taught by HQT. The Department placed conditions on these States' FY 2003 grant awards that required the States to develop detailed data collection plans for how they will gather and report these data for the 2003-04 school year and beyond. If a State does not comply with its conditions, the Department is prepared to delay the release of its FY 2004 funding that would otherwise become available on July 1 until the State satisfies the condition.

The Department is also developing and implementing a monitoring plan through which we will assess the continued progress of the States in attaining their annual measurable objectives for increasing the percentage of highly qualified teachers. In addition, Department staff are monitoring State use of Federal funds, including ESEA Title II, Part A funds, to provide high-quality professional development to enable teachers to become highly qualified.

SUPPLEMENTAL SERVICES

1. Provision of Supplemental Services to Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students

Our regulations and guidance make clear that the State and each LEA must ensure that students with disabilities (as defined under either the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504) receive appropriate supplemental educational services, with necessary accommodations, and that students with limited English proficiency have the opportunity to receive appropriate supplemental educational services and language assistance in the provision of those services. These services have to be provided by some providers, but not necessarily each provider. If no provider is able to make the services with necessary accommodations available to an eligible student with a disability, the LEA would need to provide these services, with necessary accommodations, either directly or through a contract. Similarly, if no provider is able to provide such services, including necessary language assistance, to an eligible LEP student, the LEA would need to provide these services, either directly or through a contract. However, it is always up to the parents to select the provider that best meets the needs of their child.

The issue of providing supplemental educational services to students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency breaks no new ground. It is well established that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not require every school to be able to serve every student with limited English proficiency. Similarly, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act do not require each public school in an LEA to be able to serve every student with a disability in the school district, and LEAs may concentrate services in particular schools to best serve special-needs students. We have taken the same approach to supplemental service providers, which are not themselves recipients of Federal financial assistance, but rather have a contractual relationship with the LEA to serve children whose parents select the provider. Our regulations and guidance do not require each provider to meet the needs of all students with disabilities or limited English proficiency. We believe it would be unrealistic to do so, and nothing in the ESEA or in civil rights laws requires this.

The Department's redesigned monitoring program for Title I, Part A, reinforces the message we have delivered to States that all eligible students receive supplemental educational services, subject, of course, to the cost limitations in the law. In particular, it requires States to provide evidence that limited English proficient students and students with disabilities who are eligible are receiving appropriate services. While NCLB does not require States to collect or report information on the specific subpopulations of students who choose to participate in supplemental educational services, the Department places a high priority on all eligible students having the opportunity to receive appropriate services and is closely monitoring States to ensure they are meeting this obligation.

2. Employment Practices for Delivery of Supplemental Services

We understand that your principal concern regarding employment discrimination relates to an exemption in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that permits religious organizations to consider religion in their employment decisions. This issue is one that we have previously discussed. It is an issue on which we respectfully disagree in interpreting Section 9534(a) of the ESEA, as amended by NCLB. We do not read this provision to undo, for supplemental service providers or other participants in ESEA programs, the exemption in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that permits religious organizations to consider religion in their employment decisions. We read the law to confirm, not to substantively alter, existing civil rights laws, including Title VII and its exemptions, which is the law of the land.

ACCOUNTABILITY and ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS

Graduation Rate

With the passage of NCLB, the expectations for schools and districts to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) and to ensure that all students are proficient in reading and mathematics have increased substantially. To ensure that schools do not make AYP simply because students have dropped out of school, section 1111(b)(2)(C)(vi) requires States to include the graduation rate in their definitions of AYP for secondary schools. The Department agrees that States should hold public secondary schools accountable for the number of students who graduate from high school and that States should use graduation rate calculations that are as accurate as possible.

To ensure that States report the most accurate graduation rates possible, the Department issued final regulations on the graduation rate in December 2002 (34 CFR Part 200). Section 200.19 of these regulations clarifies, consistent with the statute, that the graduation rate for public secondary schools means "(A) the percentage of students, measured from the beginning of high school, who graduate with a regular diploma in the standard number of years; or (B) another definition, developed by the State and approved by the Secretary…that more accurately measures the rate of students who graduate from high school with a regular diploma." The Department also reinforced the statutory requirements by clarifying in the December 2002 final regulations that a "regular diploma" is a diploma fully aligned with a State's high school academic content standards. Thus, any student receiving an alternative degree not aligned with the State's academic standards, such as a General Education Diploma (GED) or a certificate of attendance, may not be considered to have graduated for purposes of calculating the graduation rate. Additionally, the final regulations stipulate that a State's definition of the graduation rate must avoid counting dropouts as transfers.

While the statute and the regulations set specific parameters for calculating the graduation rate such as calculating a four-year graduation rate, counting only standards-based diplomas as regular diplomas, and avoiding counting dropouts as transfers, the statute does not require a uniform methodology by which States must collect and calculate graduation rate statistics. For example, the statute does not require that all States use a longitudinal rate that tracks individual students over time. In addition to an individual longitudinal rate, other commonly used graduation rate statistics include a completion rate that measures regular diploma recipients as a percent of students who drop out of school over a four-year period and a completion ratio that measures the number of regular diploma recipients in a given year divided by the number of students who entered ninth grade four years earlier. In determining which graduation rate statistic to use, States must consider their data collection capabilities. Given the variety in State data collection systems, States have the flexibility to use the graduation statistic that is most appropriate for their data systems and that will yield the most accurate information possible on the graduation rate.

It is also important to note that, prior to NCLB, many States did not collect and calculate graduation rate data taking into account either regular diplomas or the standard number of years to graduate and/or did not collect graduation rate data for all the subgroups of students required by NCLB. Because such States must have four years of data to calculate the graduation rate, I exercised my authority to allow States to use interim calculations until States have the necessary data for calculating a graduation rate for all subgroups of students as required by NCLB. These interim calculations, however, must only consider as graduates students receiving a regular diploma in the standard number of years and must still avoid counting dropouts as transfer students.

Prior to having their State accountability plans approved by the Department, any State not currently able to calculate a graduation rate that meets all the requirements of NCLB had to demonstrate how it would alter its data collection systems in order to calculate the graduation rate for all subgroups of students in the coming four years. All 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have State accountability plans approved by the Department and, as part of those approved plans, States are implementing the necessary changes (when needed) to their data collection systems to be able to calculate and report a graduation rate that complies fully with NCLB.

NCLB allows States to choose the graduation rate targets that they use in making AYP determinations for secondary schools. States can either require schools to show growth, or to meet an absolute target. However, in order for the graduation rate to be a meaningful indicator of academic achievement, the measure must be accurate. In December 2003, the Department awarded a contract to the National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS) to convene a group of experts to review the methods for reporting high school dropouts and on-time graduates. The expert review is considering the uses of graduation and related statistics, reviewing existing rates and the data that underlie them, and examining concerns that have been raised about existing measures and will be making recommendations for improving data collection and estimation procedures. The group met in January and began with an overview of reporting needs at the Federal, State, and local levels, current data collected, and concerns raised about existing statistics. An interim report from NISS is expected to be ready in the summer of 2004 to suggest future directions for improving measures of dropouts and graduates.

ASSESSMENT

1. Limited English Proficient Students

NCLB ensures that the academic progress of all students is accounted for regardless of their background or native language by requiring that all students be assessed in reading/language arts and mathematics. Clearly, the law encourages, but does not require, the development of native language assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics for limited English proficient students. The law provides for States to administer assessments in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data on what students know and can do when that is practicable. Also, States are required to provide appropriate accommodations to make their assessments accessible to limited English proficient students. The Department has clearly communicated to States that they have flexibility in selecting the appropriate accommodations, including native language assessments. Information collected by the Department indicates seven States have native language assessments for their limited English proficient students; these are Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Texas. In New York, for example, the high school Regents mathematics exams are provided in five languages in addition to English including Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Korean.

To ensure that States use quality assessments for accountability purposes, the Department is authorized to conduct a peer review of States' standards and assessments, including the manner in which those assessments are administered. The peer review relies upon nationally established norms of testing practices and is directed by statutory parameters and requirements. In the peer review process, the Department reviews each State's policies for including students with limited English proficiency in its assessment system. The peer review process examines the following information:

  • Participation rate data for students with limited English proficiency, with the expectation that all students will participate;
  • State guidelines for including all limited English proficient students in assessments;
  • The availability and use of accommodations; and
  • The quality and reliability of native language assessments, if applicable.

At all times, the goal of this review is to ensure that all students can participate in valid and reliable ways and that this participation provides meaningful data about student achievement.

The Department has helped States develop valid and reliable assessments for students with limited English proficiency through two key efforts: Enhanced Assessment Grants (Section 6112) and technical assistance. The Department awarded four Enhanced Assessment Grants for fiscal year 2002, for a total of $7,882,060. These grants, which were awarded to State collaboratives, are each intended to improve content standards, accommodations, and assessments for limited English proficient students. The States, districts, and organizations involved in these projects include: Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Austin Independent School District (Texas), American Association for the Advancement of Science, Center for Applied Linguistics, Center for Equity and Excellence in Education, Second Language Acquisition, Council of Chief State School Officers, University of Illinois, and University of Wisconsin. The Department is currently reviewing applications for FY 2003 Enhanced Assessment Grant funding.

The Department has provided technical assistance through numerous means, including non-regulatory guidance, conferences, teleconferences, and website information. The Department's Office of English Language Acquisition has provided States, DC, and Puerto Rico ongoing, in-depth technical assistance related to the development of English language proficiency standards, assessments, and appropriate accommodations. The Department continues to provide technical assistance to States on these issues as requested.

2. Students with Disabilities and the Title I Regulation on Alternate Achievement Standards

On December 9, 2003, the Department issued a regulation addressing the meaningful participation of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in States' standards, assessment and accountability systems. This regulation permits a State to develop alternate achievement standards to measure the achievement of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and to count those students' proficient scores on an assessment based on those alternate achievement standards the same as a proficient score on the regular State assessment, subject to a one percent cap. We share your concern about the need to provide information on this regulation and its effect on how States will make AYP decisions. In fact, immediately following the release of this regulation, Department staff conducted a series of conference calls with chief State school officers, State accountability directors, State assessment directors, and special educators to answer questions and explain the regulations. Further, senior staff from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and Office of Special Education Programs have spoken to educators and parents in a number of conferences about this regulation, taking the time to answer questions, provide specific information, and explain regulatory provisions. Additional written guidance on this regulation will soon be issued.

As a point of clarification, the regulation supports efforts begun in 1997 with the reauthorization of the IDEA. At that time, the law required schools and IEP teams to include students with disabilities in State assessment systems and, beginning no later than July 1, 2000, required States or LEAs to conduct alternate assessments for those students with disabilities who could not participate in the regular State assessment, even with accommodations. The regulation should not significantly change the manner in which most States assess students with disabilities; instead it affects how results from such assessments are included in AYP determinations. The decisions that parents, educators, and IEP teams make about how to help students with disabilities achieve grade-level standards in reading/language arts and mathematics and how best to include such students in the assessment system will continue to be made on an individual student basis.

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT AND CHOICE

1. Guidance and Monitoring

Since the enactment of NCLB, the Department has provided guidance on parental involvement in a variety of forms. Most recently, the Department released extensive non-regulatory parental involvement guidance. Prior to the document's release, the Department provided ongoing guidance to States, school districts, and parent organizations on the Title I parental involvement provisions through presentations at conferences (sponsored by the Department as well as by other entities) and public meetings. Other guidance documents, such as the LEA and School Improvement Guidance, Public School Choice Guidance, Supplemental Educational Services Guidance, Report Cards Guidance, and Teacher Quality Guidance, also address the specific parental notification requirements for each of those areas.

In an effort to reach out to and involve parents, the Department has redesigned its webpage, creating a portal specifically designed for parents. It includes information about homework, after-school programs, reading, NCLB, and college preparation, among other topics; much of this information is provided in both Spanish and English.

The Department has just completed implementing a new Title I monitoring process in nine States. Fifteen States will be monitored by next fall. Under the new process, monitoring includes the review of State implementation of statutory requirements in three broad categories-accountability, instructional support, and fiduciary. Within each category, critical elements aligned with statutory requirements are reviewed at the State and local level. One critical element reviewed under instructional support is that "[t]he SEA ensures that the LEA and schools meet parental involvement requirements."

At the SEA level, Department staff conducting the monitoring visits look for evidence that the SEA has reviewed the effectiveness of LEA actions and activities with respect to parental involvement provisions in the Title I statute, including a discussion of the SEA findings of LEA reviews of parental involvement activities.

At the LEA level, monitors look for evidence of programs, activities, and procedures that involve parents. Specifically, monitors look for documentation that the LEA has, among other activities:

  • Written parental involvement policies at the LEA and school levels
  • Provided notification to parents of its written parental involvement policy;
  • Reserved not less than one percent of Title I funds to carry out parental involvement activities, and seen that parents were involved in the decision about how to expend these funds;
  • Worked to build parents' opportunities to be involved in their child's school; and
  • Received guidance from the SEA on parental involvement.

Department staff also look for documentation that schools hold annual meetings to inform participating parents about Title I programs and that LEAs have done outreach with parents of limited English proficient students about how they can be involved in their child's education.

During site visits to the LEAs, Department staff discuss with LEA personnel the programs, activities, procedures, and policies implemented, as well as the funds used to carry out parental involvement activities. Also, each review includes interviews with parents of children receiving Title I services, which provide monitors with firsthand information regarding the involvement of parents in the education of their children in ways envisioned by NCLB.

Another critical element for review is that "[t]he SEA ensures that schools and LEAs are identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring as required and that subsequent required steps are taken." Monitors look for evidence that LEAs have publicized and disseminated results of their annual review of schools, that letters have been sent notifying parents that schools have been identified and the reasons for identification, what is being done to improve student achievement, how parents can be involved, and choice and/or supplemental services options, as appropriate. Monitoring reports to the States include recommendations for improving parental involvement activities and findings with any required corrective actions.

In addition, as part of the monitoring process, Department staff look for documentation that LEAs have sent letters notifying parents that they have the right to know the qualifications of their children's teachers and letters notifying parents if their child is assigned to or being taught by a teacher who is not highly qualified for four or more consecutive weeks. This topic also has been discussed with State Title I directors as part of ongoing conversations on Title I implementation issues, and was a point of discussion in the Teacher Assistance Corps meetings with States. Additionally, in order to increase awareness, Department staff have spoken about these provisions in numerous public meetings, such as those sponsored by The National Coalition of Title I, Chapter 1 Parents.

2. School Choice and Supplemental Services

The Department has placed a significant emphasis on rapidly developing and disseminating regulations and guidance on public school choice and supplemental educational services, because they are major new provisions in the law that require substantial parental participation and involvement. Most other parental involvement provisions are quite similar to requirements that have been in place since the previous ESEA reauthorization in 1994.

Consistent with its role under the law, the Department's efforts thus far have focused on providing information and guidance needed for the successful implementation of the public school choice and supplemental educational services requirements. As is the case with other provisions of the law, States have primary responsibility for enforcing these requirements at the local level. We have followed up with States and districts on these subjects as we learn of compliance issues.

3. Capacity for District Provision of School Choice

Department officials meet frequently with district representatives to explain the Title I public school choice provisions and work with them on developing approaches to implementing those provisions that meet the unique needs of individual school districts. As included in our guidance, Title I regulations clearly stipulate that an LEA may not use lack of capacity to deny students the option to transfer. In an effort to help States meet the public school choice provisions, the Department has delivered presentations at numerous conferences, including the Title I National Conference, the annual conference of Magnet Schools of America, and the annual conference of the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators, the organization of officials responsible for implementing Federal education programs in local school districts. We will take part in other events of this nature in the coming months.

Additionally, the Department has just released "promising practices" guides to implementing public school choice and supplemental services. These publications illustrate the strategies and actions carried out in school districts that are successfully implementing choice and supplemental service programs, including districts that face serious capacity issues. We anticipate that these guides will be a very helpful resource to school districts nationally as they implement the NCLB requirements.

NCLB is clear in requiring school districts to provide all children enrolled in schools identified for improvement the opportunity to transfer to another public school within the district. In implementing this requirement, however, LEAs are to give priority to the lowest-achieving students from low-income families. Ever since NCLB passed, the Department has explained to State and local officials how the two provisions can be reconciled. An LEA that has offered all eligible students, and their parents, a range of choices might find that it cannot provide all students their first choice of school. In such a situation, the LEA would give priority (in terms of preference for schools) to the lowest-achieving students from low-income families.

As another example, the Department's regulations require LEAs to use an amount equal to 20 percent of their Title I allocations for choice-related transportation and supplemental educational services. An LEA might find that it cannot, subject to that threshold, provide transportation to all eligible students who wish to change schools and would need transportation to get to their new schools. In that situation, the district would give priority for transportation to the lowest-achieving children from low-income families. Our explanation is also included in the guidance on Title I public school choice.

You have suggested that Federal funds for facilities could be provided to improve capacity for choice. Under §76.533 of the General Education Provisions Act, Federal funds may not be used for construction or renovation of school facilities unless specifically permitted by statute or regulations, an authority not presently granted. In general, the Administration believes that construction and maintenance of public school facilities is a State and local responsibility, in keeping with the primary role of State and local authorities in financing and administering elementary and secondary education systems. This position is consistent with the Federal role in elementary and secondary education over the past four decades, which has been targeted to helping States and school districts meet the needs of special populations, such as economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities, and not on assuming responsibility for basic functions, such as maintaining, renovating, or building school facilities.

It is more appropriate to invest Federal education funding (which, as you know, is approximately eight percent of all education funding) in programs that promise to leverage change and improvement in State and local education systems, such as Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies. Of the $501 billion spent last year on public education at the Federal, State, and local levels, the $460 billion provided by non-federal sources can best address the cost of renovating or replacing school facilities. On a related note, the NCLB-required study to consider the relationship between the condition of school buildings and student academic performance was submitted to Congress in April.

Our guidance also addresses how districts may meet public school choice requirements when there may be no choices available to students. Rural and other school districts are not required to expend their funds for choice-related transportation if there are no choices available to students (for instance, when there is only one school at a particular grade level in an LEA, or when all schools at a grade level are in school improvement status). In such cases, the law requires the LEA, to the extent practicable, to enter into cooperative agreements with other LEAs in the area that are willing to accept its students. If an LEA finds that it cannot enter into such an agreement, it might look at other options, such as charter schools or virtual schools to which students could transfer. But once an LEA determines that there are simply no choices available to its students, it does not have to reserve or spend funds on choice-related transportation under the Title I requirements.

The Department, in response to requests for ideas on how school districts facing capacity issues can implement the Title I choice provisions, included, in the most recent guidance on the choice provisions, the option of entering into agreements with private schools as one of ten possible ways of addressing the capacity issue. The guidance does not state or imply that all such districts should pursue that option. (The language of the guidance begins, "The range of possible options might include… .") Whether this option is appropriate will likely depend on the unique situation in a particular district.

As you know, the Administration believes that choice programs that include private school choices are an approach that can both enable children from poor families who are trapped in low-performing schools to receive a better education and give public school systems an incentive to improve their offerings. That is why the Administration supported the enactment of a choice incentive program for the District of Columbia (DC) and why the President's fiscal year 2005 budget includes $50 million for the extension of this type of approach to other districts. Education is freedom. The students in DC who get these scholarships have the chance to overcome circumstance and situation. They can throw off the chains of a school system that has not served them well. And by giving them this chance, one ripple effect may be the improvement of the entire school district.

4. Defining Parental Involvement

The Department has chosen not to promulgate regulations on parental involvement, but has released non-regulatory guidance to aid schools in involving parents in the academic achievement of their children. Schools cannot improve without the help of parents. This guidance addresses parental involvement issues and provides specific direction on the parental involvement responsibilities of SEAs, LEAs, and schools, including local responsibilities to build parents' capacity to affect the academic achievement of their children.

Your letter cites the Charting the Course document, which lists the nearly 40 different areas of flexibility and decision-making States had in designing their accountability plans and other important aspects of NCLB implementation, as somehow defining "parental involvement" as "parental notification." The Department developed this document to provide specific examples of the numerous important flexibilities States have in implementing NCLB, not to further define parental involvement or any other provision of the law.

SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT

Meeting the Need for Resources

Under the law, States and school districts are responsible for assisting schools in need of improvement, corrective action, or restructuring. States are required to reserve funding for this purpose prior to making final Title I, Part A allocations to school districts. The amount of the required reservation was two percent in fiscal years 2002 and 2003, and increases to four percent beginning in fiscal year 2004. The Department estimates that States reserved a total of approximately $437 million in fiscal years 2002 and 2003 for assistance to districts and schools identified for improvement, corrective action, and restructuring.

As indicated above, States and school districts are now receiving nearly $500 million annually as a result of the statutory increase to four percent, under the school improvement reservation authorized by section 1003(a) of the ESEA to support school improvement efforts. By law, 95 percent of these funds must be provided directly or through the provision of services to LEAs and the funds must be targeted to the school districts serving the lowest-achieving schools and demonstrating the greatest need for such funds. The Department currently has no plans to request separate funding for similar activities under the duplicative competitive grant program authorized by section 1003(g) of the ESEA.

As mentioned in my letter of February 24, 2004, to you and your colleagues, the Department has undertaken numerous technical assistance activities related to NCLB. In addition to those listed previously, you may be interested to know of the following activities that address school improvement:

  • At the State level, the Department focuses communication and support to chief State school officers via national organizations to provide timely and relevant NCLB-related information and assistance. Through this national support, 17 States last year were provided in-depth and multiple-day technical assistance by experts in the fields of accountability, assessment, and other areas. State educational agency staff were provided training and support on NCLB over ten times last year on such key areas as data-based decision making, school improvement, rural/small schools, highly qualified teachers, accountability, and other issues.
  • The Department supports mid-level education managers such as local Title I directors and other Federal program administrators in school districts through regular conference calls. These calls cover a variety of topics and issues on the implementation of Title I at the local level. The first two LEA phone calls were held in January 2004 and addressed the area of school and LEA improvement, and had over 1,000 participants. Additional calls are being scheduled on a monthly basis on various other NCLB-related topics. In conjunction with these phone calls, the Department has established a listserv of over 1,000 LEA staff, which provides an additional mechanism to communicate efficiently with these important staff.
  • The Department's High School Initiative supports the implementation of NCLB by informing educators at the high school level of the possibilities and opportunities for success through reform. The Department convened a national High School Summit in October 2003, gathering over 800 education leaders from 47 States. Seven regional summits reached over 800 key State and district education leaders.

Finally, as stated in the President's budget for the past three fiscal years, there are already significant resources available to support dropout prevention activities through programs such as Title I Grants to LEAs, Title I Migrant State Grants, and State Grants for Innovative Programs.

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Last Modified: 07/07/2004