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FROM THE CAPITAL TO THE CLASSROOM: New Report Finds Encouraging Signs of Positive Impact, but Calls for Midcourse Corrections in Year Three of NCLB

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"Despite the challenges faced in helping all of the schools that have been identified for improvement, a majority of the districts received less federal Title I funding in 2004-2005 than they did in the previous year, and while the overall federal education budget has grown in smaller percentages in 2004 and 2005 than in previous years, it now stands to be cut in 2006, according to President Bush's request."

In the third year of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a majority of states and districts are reporting that students’ scores on state tests are rising and that the law has focused greater attention on students who need extra help to learn, according to a new report from the Center of Education Policy (CEP). However, the report, From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 3 of the No Child Left Behind Act, also found that many states and districts lack the capacity to help all schools that were “in need of improvement” and that many officials believe the goal of 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014 is unrealistic.

“After three years of No Child Left Behind, state and district officials have made it clear: student performance is up and achievement gaps are closing,” said Jack Jennings, president and CEO of CEP. “But those officials have also made it clear that the long-term success of the law is at risk unless the federal government can offer more support to bridge the capacity gap now preventing states and districts from effectively reaching all of the schools that need help.”

In a survey of education officials in 49 states and 314 school districts, CEP found that 36 states (73 percent) and a majority of districts (72 percent) saw improvements in student achievement. They also reported a narrowing in the achievement gap between white students and other key subgroups including blacks, Hispanics, and English-language learners.

In spite of these improvements, officials in many states and districts were skeptical that they could provide assistance to schools in need of improvement, which, according to the report, account for about six thousand Title I schools in each of the last three years-the highest concentrations of which have been in urban and very large districts.

The report notes that a lack of funding remains an issue. “Despite the challenges faced in helping all of the schools that have been identified for improvement, a majority of the districts received less federal Title I funding in 2004-2005 than they did in the previous year, and while the overall federal education budget has grown in smaller percentages in 2004 and 2005 than in previous years, it now stands to be cut in 2006, according to President Bush’s request.” As a result, the report said, forty-two of twenty-nine states indicated that providing assistance to all schools identified for improvement poses a “serious” or “moderate” challenge. Forty-five states said that staff size and thirty-one states said staff expertise marked a “serious” or “moderate” challenge.

In a response, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Ray Simon said that the report’s “perpetual cry for more money . . . simply does not comport with the facts: since taking office President Bush has increased education funding by $13.8 billion, or 33 percent.”

In addition to the funding issue, other key challenges identified by states and districts included

  • ensuring equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers;
  • working with English-language learners; and
  • narrowing the curriculum.

Like the citizens surveyed in the PEN report, school leaders identified school choice and supplemental services as issues of concern. A majority of districts (69 percent) said they didn’t know what effect school choice had on student achievement, with only 3 percent saying that it is raising achievement even somewhat. Similarly, 42 percent of districts did not know what effect supplemental services had, though 20 percent believed that achievement was raised “somewhat or to a great extent.”

To further investigate the effect of the law’s implementation on different types of school districts, CEP conducted in-depth case studies across the nation and found that the law is having a “markedly different impact” in various settings.

In its conclusion, the report noted support for the goals of NCLB and encouraging signs of positive impact. “But problems persist that have been exacerbated by the way the Act has been administered,” it noted. “Mid-course corrections must be made in federal administration, funding, capacity, and other areas if the nation expects to see long-term, sustainable improvements in student achievement.”

The complete report and case studies are available at http://www.cep-dc.org/pubs/nclby3/.

1) According to Academic Atrophy: The Condition of Liberal Arts in America’s Public Schools, a 2004 report by the Council for Basic Education, the amount of time teachers spend on social studies, geography, civics, and other related subjects has decreased at the elementary level, while time spent on reading, mathematics, and science has increased since the implementation of No Child Left Behind. Additionally, the report said that time allocated to foreign languages, art, and music has decreased at both elementary and secondary levels-especially among schools with high minority populations. 

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