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in 2002, it has had a swee ping impact on U.S. public school classrooms. It affects what students are taugh t, the tests they take, the training of their teachers and the way money is spen t on education. Debate rages over whether the law is an effective way to improve academic achiev ement. Congress was scheduled to decide whether to renew it in 2007. But efforts stalled amid criticism of the law from both Democrats and Republicans, and argu ments over how to change it. The latest estimates, according to U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon, are that NCLB will probably not be reauthorized until 2010. In the meantime, in October 2008, the U.S. Department of Education added new regulations to the law which include requiring schools to provide a uniform calculation for high schoo l graduation rates, and enhancing a parent's ability to access school choice and tutoring options for their children by requiring schools (and providing them wi th funds) to communicate to parents about their options in a timely and clear wa y. The Focus of the Debate NCLB's advocates say the landmark law holds schools accountable, empowers parent s and is helping to close the achievement gap in America's schools. Many critics, including those who agree with the law's goals, argue that it is a "one-size-fits-all" approach to education that overemphasizes testing and doesn 't provide enough money to schools to achieve success. As stricter testing requirements and penalties have taken effect, several states have rebelled, challenging the law in legislatures and the courts. In response, the U.S. Department of Education has given greater latitude to some districts a nd states in satisfying the law's provisions. That, in turn, has drawn criticism that the federal government has gone too far and weakened the law so much that it can't achieve its goals. For parents trying to figure out how NCLB affects their children, it can be toug h to keep up with the fast-moving developments. Here's a primer: NCLB, Your Child and Your School The law may help your child in two ways: • Your child may be eligible to move to a better school or could receive free tuto ring. • Your school could qualify for grants to use toward attracting top-notch teachers or other school programs. But your child and your school may not receive the full benefits if you don't as k for them. The U.S. Department of Education has neither the personnel nor the b udget to make sure that all of the nation's public schools comply with NCLB's co mplicated regulations. Education officials have said from the start that the key to enforcement would be parents who pressure schools to give their children the options provided by the federal law. The Law's Goals and What It Says Philosophy: The law, which was passed with bipartisan support, was designed to introduce nat ional standards to a system in which students in some demographic groups were mo re likely to succeed and others likely to be left behind. But it allows states t o determine how success is measured. Targets: States are required to set targets for overall achievement and for specific cate gories of students, such as English language learners or economically disadvanta ged students. These targets determine whether the school makes "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, as measured by state standardized tests. A school can fail even if it is making substantial progress for most of its students - if one cate gory of students cannot meet the standards. The goal is for every student in pub lic school to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Testing: Students must be tested annually in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and a
t least once in grades 10 through 12. Students must be tested in science in at l east one grade in elementary, middle and high school. Schools that don't meet go als for their overall student bodies or specific categories of students are sanc tioned. Affected schools: The law applies to schools that receive Title I money from the federal governmen t. Schools that get Title I funds are generally those in which at least 35% of s tudents are from low-income families. More than half of all public schools are T itle I schools. How the Law Affects Teachers Teachers must be "highly qualified" to teach core academic subjects in every cla ssroom. Specifically, an elementary school teacher must have a bachelor's degree and pass a rigorous test in core curriculum areas. Middle and high school teach ers must show they're competent in the subjects they teach by passing a test or by completing an academic major, graduate degree or comparable coursework. Research, including a 2006 study of three states by the think tank Education Tru st, shows that students in schools with a large percentage of minority and low-i ncome students are more likely to be taught by teachers who are inexperienced an d lack a major or minor in the subjects they teach. The teacher qualification pr ovisions of NCLB are aimed at insuring that schools where students tend to need the most help employ teachers who are qualified to provide it. States have strug gled to meet this goal. The law covers other teaching staff, too. Most teachers' aides and other "parapr ofessionals" are now required to complete two years of college or an equivalent type of training. Reading Instruction NCLB also requires teachers in kindergarten through third grade to teach reading based on "scientifically based" research. Schools may be eligible for "Reading First" grants to assist with improving reading instruction. Although this progra m has shown initial signs of effectiveness in helping to boost reading instructi on, it came under scrutiny in September 2006 when a scathing report (PDF) by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education revealed that s everal members of the panel who award Reading First grants may have had conflict s of interest because they had ties to publishing companies which promoted speci fic reading materials with a specific philosophy. By GreatSchools Staff Unsafe Schools States must have an "Unsafe School Choice Option"-that is, a plan that allows st udents to transfer to a safe school if they attend a school designated as a pers istently dangerous school or if they become victims of violent crime. Sanctions Those that haven't met "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) for two consecutive scho ol years are identified as "in need of improvement." Every student in the school will be given the option to transfer to a better-performing school in the distr ict, with free transportation included. However, NLCB requires that priority in providing school choice be given to low-achieving children from low-income famil ies. School districts may not use lack of space as a reason to deny a transfer, but t hey have some flexibility in meeting this requirement. School districts may rest rict which schools are available for transfer and when transfers may occur. They may sign contracts with neighboring districts to accept students from failing s chools, contract with online schools, create schools within schools, offer suppl emental services a year early, hire more teachers, add portables or build new cl assrooms at more successful schools. If a school continues to fail to meet AYP, these sanctions take effect: After three consecutive years, the school must also provide "supplemental educat ion services," or SES, to children who remain at the school. Those services can include tutoring, remedial classes, after-school services and summer school prog rams. The federal government has allowed some districts to switch the order of sanctio
ns. Students would be eligible for free tutoring if these schools fail to meet t heir goals for two years in a row and would then get the option to transfer if t he school misses its goals a third time. After four consecutive years of failing to meet annual goals, the district must take action to improve the school, such as replacing certain staff or implementi ng a new curriculum. After five years, the school is identified for restructuring and arrangements mu st be made to run it differently. These can include a state takeover, the hiring of a private management contractor, conversion to a charter school or significa nt staff restructuring. How Schools Can Benefit There are rewards for schools that close achievement gaps between groups of stud ents or exceed academic achievement goals. States can use federal funds to pay t eachers bonuses, and they can designate schools that have made the greatest achi evement gains as "Distinguished Schools." Other benefits of No Child Left Behind include: • Grants for teacher training. Parents should be aware that districts have flexibi lity in how they can spend federal funds designed to find and retain quality tea chers, including alternative certification, merit pay and bonuses for teachers o f high-need subjects such as math and science. • Grants for reading instruction. The goal of the Reading First program is to help every child learn to read using "scientifically based" research. States may app ly for these grants for their reading programs. • Flexibility in spending federal funds. School districts have considerable leeway in spending up to 50% of their non-Title I funds in categories such as teacher quality, technology, after-school learning, and Safe and Drug-Free schools. For example, a district may decide to spend 50% of its federal technology funds on r ecruiting quality teachers instead of technology.New regulations issued in Octob er 2008 make it easier for schools to use Title I funds for outreach to parents to make them aware of their school choice and free tutoring options. What Schools Must Tell Parents All schools and districts are required to make annual report cards available to the public. The report cards must include details on: • Student academic achievement for all student groups • A comparison of students at the basic, proficient and advanced levels of academi c achievement within the school district and compared to other students statewid e • High school graduation rates and dropout rates • The professional qualifications of teachers • The percentage of students not tested • The names of schools identified as "in need of improvement" The U.S. Department of Education also requires states to participate in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math assessments of fourt h- and eighth-grade students every two years. These tests allow parents to compa re how students are performing in different states. The NAEP results must also b e included on school and district report cards. What Parents Can Do The No Child Left Behind law was designed to hold schools more accountable and e mpower parents. Here are some steps you can take to make the law work for your c hild: • Find out how your school is performing. You don't need to wait for the school re port card to be issued; you can discover a great deal about your school by readi ng its school profile on GreatSchools.org. You can compare your school's perform ance to other schools by using our Compare Schools feature. To get an idea of ho w your school is performing nationally, visit the NAEP Web site. • If you suspect your school may be a failing school, ask your principal or superi ntendent to clarify its status. If it is a failing school, thoroughly investigat e your options for tutoring help or transfer. • Ask your school principal what the school is doing to help close any achievement gaps between different groups of students. For example, if the test results of
English language learners significantly lag other groups in the school, your sch ool should have a plan designed to give those students extra help. Your school w ill be judged on the performance of students in all groups, not just schoolwide results. • Ask what your school is doing to attract, train and keep well-qualified teachers . • Find out if your district has applied for a "Reading First" grant and how it int ends to spend the money. • Ask about your state's Unsafe School Choice Option and whether state officials h ave certified in writing to the U.S. Secretary of Education that your state is i n compliance with this provision as a condition of receiving funds under No Chil d Left Behind. How the Law is Working The nonprofit, independent Center on Education Policy releases annual report car ds on NCLB. The organization, which advocates for public schools, surveyed educa tion officials in 50 states and gave the law a mixed report card in 2006. The ce nter concluded that as a result of the law: • Districts are better aligning classroom teaching with state academic standards. • Principals and teachers are making better use of test results to improve teachin g. • Scores on states tests are higher in a large majority of states and school distr icts. • Teachers report high stress levels and poor staff morale because of the pressure to improve scores. • Most school districts are cutting back on social studies, science, art or other subjects to make more time for reading and math, the subjects that are tested. • The effect on achievement gaps between groups of students of different races or ethnicities is unclear. While most states and districts reported that the achiev ement gap in test results had narrowed or stayed the same, the center's own case studies did not find the same results. As a result, the study concluded, it is "impossible to reach an overall conclusion about achievement gaps." In a harsher report, the The Civil Rights Project, formerly known as the Harvard Civil Rights Project, concluded in 2006 that NCLB is failing to close the achie vement gap, won't make its 2014 goals and has not significantly improved reading and math achievement. Federal education officials dispute these conclusions.
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