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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION APPROVES STATE ACCOUNTABILITY PLANS: Fifty States Are Approved, but Some Issues Still Up for Debate

"This is not the end-it is the beginning. The extraordinary efforts of the states have laid the foundation for education improvement and accountability. The reforms of No Child Left Behind mean that, for the first time in history, every child in every school in every state in this country will have an education accountability plan for them-and accountability means results."

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requires that every state develop and receive federal approval for accountability plans. These plans must outline how a state will ensure that every school-age child will be proficient in reading and mathematics by the 2013-2014 school year. On June 10, President Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced that all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have submitted their plans, and that all have received federal approval.

At the White House press conference, Secretary Paige noted that the approval process for state accountability plans was only one of the first steps to making sure that no child is left behind. “This is not the end-it is the beginning. The extraordinary efforts of the states have laid the foundation for education improvement and accountability. The reforms of No Child Left Behind mean that, for the first time in history, every child in every school in every state in this country will have an education accountability plan for them-and accountability means results.”

In outlining its plan for accountability, a state must describe how it will close the achievement gap among all groups of students and make sure that each student achieves academic proficiency. In addition, states must release annual state and district report cards that inform parents about state and individual school progress. Schools that do not make adequate yearly progress must provide supplemental services such as afterschool assistance and free tutoring.

Despite Approval, Several State Plans Still Need More Work

With it’s announcement on June 10, the department met the congressional deadline for review and approval of each state plan. However, some state officials noted that there were several issues still under negotiation with the federal government. For example, Lisa Gross, the spokeswoman for the Kentucky education department told Education Week that her state still must find a solution to “a lot of unanswered questions” about Kentucky’s accountability plan.

In addition, some states must still gain approval for their accountability systems from their state legislatures or state boards of education. In the same Education Week article, Ron Tomalis, chief of staff to Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok, said that there was “no way that these steps, in many states, could have been accomplished in a short time period” and that the plan was “approved on the condition that they were going to do these things.”

State Officials Continue to Worry about “Under-Performing” Schools

Looming on the horizon for state officials is a large number of schools that will be determined “under-performing,” or failing under NCLBrequirements. Under the law, schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years are designated under-performing and must give students the opportunity to attend another, better performing, public school. If a school fails a third consecutive year, it must provide supplemental services such as tutoring, after-school help, and summer school.

Last summer, Secretary Paige estimated that 8,600 schools, serving as many as 3.5 million students, would fail to meet adequate yearly progress goals under the No Child Left Behind Act. The estimate was based on state standards and the (then) most recently available state data. The Alliance for Excellent Education found that 807 high schools have been labeled under-performing. In an effort to lower their number of under-performing schools, many states have pointed to more recent data or even considered lowering their standards.

In Michigan, for example, state school board officials adjusted the calculations that they used to determine which schools have not met academic standards in accordance with NCLB. As a result, the state went from having 1,513 under-performing schools last summer to only 216 schools earlier this year. In Indiana, the release of the state’s annual list of under-performing schools has been delayed because so many schools appealed their placement on the list. Thus far, the state department of education has received about 380 appeals from schools that plan to challenge their placement.

States Worry About Federal Funding for NCLB Provisions

Given already tight state budgets, many state officials are worried about whether they will have enough money to implement all of the law’s requirements. In his speech announcing the approval of all 50 state plans, President Bush said that the federal government is meeting its obligations and noted that his budget for next year boosts education funding to $53.1 billion-an increase of nearly $11 billion-since he took office. However, detractors are quick to point out that the President’s budget request for education programs in fiscal 2004 is essentially a freeze when compared to the amount that Congress appropriated in 2003.

Earlier this month, Rep. Dennis Moore (D-KS) introduced a bill that would allow states or school districts to delay implementation of NCLB until it is fully funded. Noting that the congressional budget plan for NCLB programs in 2004 is approximately $9 billion below the authorized level, Moore drew a parallel to the federal government’s failure to meet its promise to fund its share of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). “Over and over again, I heard pleas that NCLB not become another unfunded mandate like IDEA legislation for special education. I want to make this law work. Our schools can succeed if provided with the resources promised.”

Moore’s bill, H. R. 2394, the Keeping Our Promises to America’s Children Act of 2003, would allow a state education agency or school district to suspend implementation of the provisions of NCLB until it is fully funded. The Secretary of Education would be prohibited from penalizing the state or school district for this action. Already, 13 states have petitioned Congress for more money to implement NCLB while Maine and Hawaii are thinking about rejecting the federal funds entirely and not even participating in the program. Currently, there are 21 cosponsors on Moore’s legislation. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

Read the complete Education Week article at:

State Accountability Plans: Up Close and PersonalWith the release of Left Out and Left Behind: NCLB and the American High School, the Alliance for Excellent Education provided a summary of the high school provisions in state accountability plans that were approved by the U.S. Department of Education by April 11, 2003. A complete review of accountability plans from all 50 states will be available on the Alliance Web site in September.


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