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Policies effectiveness in improving the quality of u s elementary and secondary education

ESEA, first passed by Congress in 1965 as part of the so-called War on Poverty, provides funding to improve the educational opportunities of economically disadvantaged students. In recent months, Congress has been embroiled in reauthorizing this important piece of legislation. The provisions contained in the final version of the bill will affect the lives of students in the years to come. As implementation of the reauthorized ESEA unfolds, several themes and a number of issues related to these themes will emerge.

Flexibility and Funding in Exchange for Accountability The reauthorized ESEA gives states and local educational agencies greater discretion in determining their own educational priorities and how to distribute funding among those priorities. To continue to receive the funding associated with the legislation, states and local educational agencies must provide evidence of improvements in student achievement. Schools not showing satisfactory achievement within a certain time frame will face financial, organizational, and staff-related sanctions.

Advocates believe this is an effective and fair means of compelling schools and teachers to improve student achievement Paige, 2001. Others argue, however, that this approach disregards the influence that factors outside of schools have on student performance, unfairly punishes educators for things beyond their control, and directs public attention away from an examination of the possible social, economic, and political causes of unequal achievement.

Education reforms that incorporate flexibility in exchange for accountability are based on a number of assumptions, including the following: Producing results is primarily a matter of will. If educators focus on producing specific results, achieving those results is possible.

The influences of social, political, and economic forces on student achievement are negligible and need not be addressed to improve student achievement. Producing results is primarily the responsibility of educators.

If teachers teach well, all students will want to achieve the objectives and all children will be able to reach the objectives. It is possible to accurately and fairly measure whether objectives have been achieved. Those who develop educational reforms that incorporate this approach and those charged with implementing these reforms must be aware of these assumptions and should consider carefully whether the empirical evidence supports them.

High Standards for All Students Title I of ESEA emphasizes equity, or providing disadvantaged children in high-poverty schools with the educational resources needed to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Disadvantaged children who gain an education today are educated parents of the next generation.

  1. One of the most intractable problems faced by Congress during the reauthorization process proved to be developing a workable definition of adequate yearly progress.
  2. Since its inception, ESEA has improved the educational opportunities of children in schools throughout the United States. Helping teachers teach well.
  3. They argue that testing linked to sanctions communicates clearly to educators that they should have high expectations for all students and that all students are expected to learn and be able to do certain things.
  4. With ESEA, Congress struggled with the formidable task of developing an educational accountability bill that everyone could live with.
  5. Is this an appropriate definition of equity?

Their children will not suffer the same handicaps that they encountered. In January, President George W. Attention to equity in federal legislation comes on the heels of reports that the narrowing of the gap in achievement test scores that took place during the 1970s and 1980s has stalled. The reauthorized ESEA's emphasis on reducing the achievement gap implies that the appropriate standard for measuring whether educational equity has been achieved is not the provision of equal funding for all students, but the production of equal outcomes.

Specifically, equity is measured by equal outcomes on standardized achievement tests in core subject areas. This definition of equity, coupled with statements that it is the responsibility of the federal government to achieve equity, raises some important questions: Is this an appropriate definition of equity? How else might we define equity and what might schools look like if these alternative definitions were substituted for the current definition of equity?

What sorts of resources and programs would be needed outside of schools to produce educational equity? Given the achievement gap and the federal government's commitment to achieving equity expressed in ESEA, what responsibility does the federal government have to provide all schools with the resources needed to achieve equity? Increased Federal Control of Educational Policy and Practice The reauthorized version of ESEA also raises questions related to federal government control over educational policy and practice.

Some argue that the new version emphasizes greater local control than earlier versions because it gives states more authority over how to allocate federal funds. Yet others argue that because ESEA requires states to coordinate curriculum standards and assessments, and establishes specific sanctions for states and local education agencies that do not make sufficient progress in improving student achievement, it is a major step toward a federally controlled system of public education and a usurpation of states' and parents' rights Riley, 1999; Berlak, 2001.

Some educational researchers argue that the type of accountability measures found in ESEA will compel states to emphasize only those policies and practices that are most likely to result in student achievement on tests.

They fear that other educational policies and practices—for example, those that focus on the development of democratic character or aesthetic appreciation—will be pushed aside if they do not show a direct connection to producing the needed results WestEd, 2000. In this way, states have less control over curriculum and assessment. Since its initial passage in the 1960s, ESEA has proven to be a means of enabling the federal government to influence state and local policy and practice. States and schools, in order to receive funding attached to ESEA, have an incentive to comply with federal regulations or initiatives.

Problems arise when the values or priorities of a state conflict with those of the federal government, as during the 1960s when southern states were compelled to integrate their schools in order to receive ESEA funds Spring, 1996. More recently, many states have already implemented statewide education reforms directed at improving student learning.

Some state leaders have raised concerns that to comply with the new federal initiatives in ESEA, their state's reforms may have to be abandoned or redirected. As the conflict between current state and federal reform agendas shows, however, it is not always easy to determine whether state or federal initiatives are more likely to improve education and which should prevail.

The control that ESEA gives the federal government raises important questions: What role should the federal government play in directing educational practice? In the case of conflicts between the goals and values of states and those of the federal government, who should prevail? Are there certain educational issues that have traditionally been addressed by states that are so connected to justice and equity that the federal government should policies effectiveness in improving the quality of u s elementary and secondary education state control?

High-Stakes Testing Under the 2001 ESEA, each state must demonstrate that it has adopted rigorous content standards outlining what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Statewide annual tests must be given to all students in grades 3 through 8 in core subjects such as math and reading to measure student achievement of the state content standards.

Schools will be required to show that students are making adequate yearly progress in achieving proficiency in core subject areas, and school leaders must ensure that all students achieve proficiency within a fixed number of years. Any school that fails to make adequate progress during a single year is required to implement a school improvement plan. A school still failing to make adequate progress after the plan has been implemented suffers more serious sanctions: Under the 1994 ESEA, states are required to administer one annual test to students in grade spans 3—5, 6—9, and 10—12.

The latest reauthorization increases the frequency of assessment and greatly strengthens the consequences for schools that fail to make adequate progress in improving student achievement U. Department of Education, 2001. Advocates of high-stakes testing assert that the combination of testing and accountability measures provides an effective way to improve student achievement and ameliorate the long-standing achievement gap Landgraf, 2001.

They argue that testing linked to sanctions communicates clearly to educators that they should have high expectations for all students and that all students are expected to learn and be able to do certain things. They point to a recent report issued by the National Assessment for Educational Progress that shows that students in states with high standards, periodic testing, and strict accountability measures outperformed other students in math achievement over the last five years Archibald, 2001.

Attaching sanctions to the testing makes it difficult for educators to maintain the status quo and compels them to focus on improving the quality of classroom instruction Rothman, 2000. Advocates also argue that tests will produce data that can be used to identify underperforming schools in order to direct resources to those schools with the greatest need for improvement WestEd, 2000. Opponents of high-stakes testing argue that ESEA's use of standardized achievement tests to evaluate schools and teachers is inappropriate.

Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Achievement tests are designed to enable teachers to evaluate the relative academic strengths and weaknesses of individual students so that classroom instruction can be designed to meet the needs of those students.

To use the results of achievement tests to make inferences about the quality of an entire school implies a misunderstanding and a misapplication of these tests. Popham also argues that student performance is influenced by a number of variables unrelated to what is taught in schools, and because school quality is only one causative factor in student achievement, it should not be assumed that student performance can be attributed to school quality.

FairTest, an organization devoted to ensuring fair and sound evaluation practices, argues that achievement tests policies effectiveness in improving the quality of u s elementary and secondary education not be the sole measure of the quality of education, as this is a violation of proper test usage guidelines. If schools are to be held accountable for student performance, data on other factors such as student attendance and retention rates, and percentages of school faculty with appropriate certification should be included FairTest, 2001.

The president of the National Education Association, Bob Chase, has argued that high-stakes testing may lead to a narrowing of curriculum as teachers focus their attention on the material that is most likely to appear on the tests.

Those charged with implementing ESEA may be faced with a difficult problem: One of the most intractable problems faced by Congress during the reauthorization process proved to be developing a workable definition of adequate yearly progress. While a joint House-Senate conference committee met to resolve differences in their versions of the bill, a study was released illustrating serious problems with the proposed accountability provisions. For example, Texas schools had achieved substantial increases in student proficiency between 1994 and 1999.

Reflections for Implementation

If adequate yearly progress requirements are too high, the paperwork required to produce, evaluate, and respond to a mass of school improvement plans could overwhelm state education agencies.

It is also possible that identifying large numbers of public schools as failing would undermine school improvement efforts by eroding the public's commitment to public education, opening the door to widespread public support for a school voucher system. On the other hand, if standards are set too low, the bill could become an ineffective means of compelling schools to produce improvements in student achievement. Some state officials expressed concern that even with the increased federal funding provided by the bill, states will not have sufficient resources to develop and administer tests and to develop and implement school improvement plans.

In a recent meeting of top education officials from all 50 states, some said it might be less costly to lose federal funding for failing to comply with ESEA than to try to satisfy its requirements Wilgoren, 2001.

The current debate over high-stakes testing reflects longstanding and fundamental disagreements about what is most important for children to learn, how to measure learning, and how best to ensure that teachers are teaching and students are learning.

With ESEA, Congress struggled with the formidable task of developing an educational accountability bill that everyone could live with. The American Educational Research Association AERA cautions that several factors need to be considered when implementing any high-stakes testing program see box on page 5. The reauthorized version of ESEA acknowledges the important role that teacher quality plays in policies effectiveness in improving the quality of u s elementary and secondary education student achievement.

Under Title I, for example, schools must ensure that all of their teachers are highly qualified within four years; all teachers must be certified under state law and either have an academic major in their area of assignment or pass a test in the subject area of their assignment. Title II of ESEA focuses on the improvement of teacher quality through the funding of teacher recruitment and professional development activities.

Federal funds are provided for several innovative teacher recruitment and retention practices, including bonus pay for teachers in high-need subject areas and in high-poverty areas, the establishment or expansion of alternative routes to teacher certification, merit pay, and reform of the teacher tenure system.

Most states are already experimenting with these practices; however, they remain highly controversial. For example, alternative certification, which would create new tracks into the teaching profession and allow professionals with bachelor's degrees and professional experience in a particular field to take an accelerated route into K-12 classrooms, bypasses much of the traditional teacher education coursework.

  • To what extent are recommendations about teaching reading based on ideology and not reliable research?
  • Title II of ESEA focuses on the improvement of teacher quality through the funding of teacher recruitment and professional development activities;
  • Tests and the curriculum must be aligned.

Alternative certification allows states to remedy teacher shortages in specific subject areas and geographic regions, and it enables those with extensive knowledge and experience in a particular field to move easily into the classroom to share their expertise with students Feistritzer, 1998.

ESEA displays a tension that exists in recent education reform: On the other hand, state and federal governments are developing alternative routes into teaching that would make the certification process less rigorous. The latest reauthorization of ESEA would give states greater flexibility in determining how to distribute federal funds between professional development programs; in return, states must use these funds to ensure that all children are taught by effective teachers and that all funds are spent only on those programs that will promote scientific, research-based and effective practice in classrooms.

This flexibility may allow states and local education agencies to select professional development activities that are closely related to their own educational reform initiatives, a practice that research indicates is likely to promote the effectiveness of professional development Corcoran, 1995.

However, with that flexibility comes a heavy responsibility for those charged with implementing ESEA at the state and local level. They will need to determine Which types of professional development activities are most likely to generate improvements in student achievement. Which types are most cost effective. How to distribute funding between initiatives that are likely to produce quick results professional development, for example and those that may take longer to produce results reforms in teacher education, recruitment, and compensation systems, for example.

Reading In the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP in reading, 37 percent of 4th grade students scored at or below basic level and 32 percent scored at or above proficient, the level that all students are expected to reach.

While the percentage of students reaching proficiency has increased by a small but statistically significant level since the 1992 NAEP, evidence indicates that alarming numbers of students are still not learning to read well. Results indicate that an achievement gap still exists: Analysis of scores reveals that the achievement gap between high scorers and low scorers is growing Phillips, 2001. ESEA introduces two initiatives, Reading First and Early Reading First, directed at having all students achieve reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade.

Reading First calls for developing programs and investing funds to support comprehensive, scientifically based reading instruction programs in kindergarten through 2nd grade.