Ed Trust Letter to House Education Committee Leaders Supporting the Bi-Partisan Title I Agreement

Publication date: Oct 4, 1999

The Honorable William Goodling
Chairman
House Committee on Education and the Workforce
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable William Clay
Ranking Member
House Committee on Education and the Workforce
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Gentlemen,

I am truly happy to be able to offer The Education Trust’s support for the bi-partisan Title I agreement. Although the agreement falls short in some areas, it represents significant progress in federal policy for low-income students.

We are particularly pleased with the accountability provisions in the bill. These provisions will make institutions receiving Title I funds more accountable for ensuring that all students meet high state standards. Moreover, the public reporting and parental notification provisions will make parents-and the community at large-full partners in the effort to hold schools accountable for high achievement for all students.

The accountability provisions of the agreement close many of the gaping loopholes in the 1994 law. Because the bill requires that judgments about school progress be based on disaggregated student achievement data, we believe that “all students” will finally mean all students. Because the agreement establishes a ten-year time line by which states must get all students to the proficient level, we believe that “progress” will finally mean progress.

As important as we think these provisions are, and they are supremely important, we think that the public reporting/parental notification provisions may ultimately be even more valuable in the effort to ensure that all schools serve all children well. The federal government, in exchange for its significant investment must hold states, schools, and school districts accountable for making significant progress; but most of the hard work of ensuring that schools work well for all students is at the local level and most of it is done by parents. The agreement would finally give parents, and other local stakeholders, many of the tools that they need to be informed and effective advocates for higher achievement of all students.

 

  • The comparative data and the trend data on student achievement, as well as the data on teacher quality included in the state and local report cards will provide parents and the larger community with the information that they want and need to know. All of these elements are absolutely necessary-in fact the minimum needed-to paint a full and accurate picture of school performance and to guide local efforts to improve student achievement.
  • The requirement that parents be notified when their child is taught by an underqualifed teacher is critical in the effort to ensure that all children  have only fully qualified teachers. If parents don’t have this information how can they effectively engage in the effort to boost the quality of the teaching force and to advocate for their own children?
  • The requirements for parental notification of school improvement and corrective action will ensure that parents have the opportunity for meaningful and informed participation in efforts to improve their children’s schools.

Advocates for increased local and parental control should firmly embrace each of these public reporting/parental notification measures because they will provide parents-and the community at large-with the data that they need to formulate effective school improvement strategies. To deny parents and the public access to this information denies them the power to engage effectively in school improvement efforts.

Our praise for the accountability provisions in no way diminishes our enthusiasm for other important provisions contained in the agreement.

 

  • The improvements to the corrective action provisions will help to ensure that schools that continue to fail despite second chances and focused support will be transformed more surely and swiftly.
  • The clearer and more specific school improvement plans required by the agreement will help ensure that failing schools are turned around before they reach the “corrective action” phase.
  • The teacher qualifications and timelines borrowed from the Teacher Empowerment Act (HR 1995) will, we hope, spur states to move aggressively on efforts to increase the quality of their teaching force.
  • The “right to transfer” provisions allow parents to get their children out of failing schools and into higher performing schools. However, our support for these “right to transfer” provisions should not be taken to infer support for portability proposals. We strongly oppose any effort to make Title I portable.
  • Lowering the school wide threshold to 40% will benefit an increased number of low-income students by allowing their schools to use Title I funds to strengthen the quality of the overall academic program. Although some of our friends worry aloud that lowering the school wide threshold will cheat low-income children out of their fair share of funds, our experience convinces us that low-income children are better served by schools that use Title I dollars to improve teacher knowledge and to upgrade the quality of the school curriculum than they are by targeted assistance programs that focus on just an hour or two of the school day.
  • The rewards for high performing high poverty schools will help create well-balanced state and local accountability systems. Well-balanced accountability systems not only mete out sanctions for failure, but also reward success. It is important that federal policy take a balanced approach  to accountability. At last week’s Achieve summit on education it became clear to me that there is strong support among both Governors and business leaders for strategies that include rewards for successful schools and successful teachers.
  • The in-district ranking changes contained in the agreement, we believe, will focus the limited funds available to Title I more sharply on schools with the highest concentrations of low-income students.
  • The improvements to the corrective action provisions will help to ensure that schools that continue to fail despite second chances and focused support will be transformed more surely and swiftly.
  • The clearer and more specific school improvement plans required by the  agreement will help ensure that failing schools are turned around before they reach the “corrective action” phase.
  • The teacher qualifications and timelines borrowed from the Teacher Empowerment Act (HR 1995) will, we hope, spur states to move aggressively on efforts to increase the quality of their teaching force.
  • The “right to transfer” provisions allow parents to get their children out of failing schools and into higher performing schools. However, our support for these “right to transfer” provisions should not be taken to infer support for portability proposals. We strongly oppose any effort to make Title I portable.
  • Lowering the school wide threshold to 40% will benefit an increased number of low-income students by allowing their schools to use Title I funds to strengthen the quality of the overall academic program. Although some of our friends worry aloud that lowering the school wide threshold will cheat low-income children out of their fair share of funds, our experience convinces us that low-income children are better served by schools that use Title I dollars to improve teacher knowledge and to upgrade the quality of the school curriculum than they are by targeted assistance programs that focus on just an hour or two of the school day.
  • The rewards for high performing high poverty schools will help create well-balanced state and local accountability systems. Well-balanced accountability systems not only mete out sanctions for failure, but also reward success. It is important that federal policy take a balanced approach to accountability. At last week’s Achieve summit on education it became clear to me that there is strong support among both Governors and business leaders for strategies that include rewards for successful schools and successful teachers.

We also support the “90/90/90″ inclusion and progress requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress as well as the fines for states that, after seven years of forbearance on the part of the federal government, fail to have their assessment, standards and accountability systems in place.

Despite all of these important and positive changes, the bill falls terribly short in four   areas. Three of the four issues relate to improving instructional quality in high-poverty schools. We find this particularly puzzling given all the time and  attention that the Committee has devoted to issues of teachers and instructional quality.

 

  • Teachers will need a great deal of help in improving their own skills and knowledge if they are to help all of their students meet high state standards. There is only one way that Congress can provide that help in Title I: by creating a set-aside for professional development. The agreement fails to establish such a set-aside and eliminates the existing set-aside for professional development for teachers in schools in “school improvement”. This is a serious step backward, at a time when we-and all of our teachers-should be moving forward.
  • Instead of being taught by our very best teachers low-income children are too often taught by our weakest teachers. This despite reams of evidence on the devastating effects of this practice. The agreement fails to strengthen the comparability provisions of Title I, most notably in the area of teacher quality. It is clear to us, and we believe to anyone who gives serious attention to the issue, that the academic achievement gap separating low-income students and minority students from others will never be eliminated unless the teaching talent gap is closed. Although the bill repeatedly indicates that it is the intent of Congress to close the academic achievement gap, the bill fails in anyway to attend to the teaching talent gap. By requiring that states take action to reduce between district disparities in teacher quality and by including measures of teacher education and experience in the bill’s comparability section to address within district disparities, Congress could join the effort to ensure that low-income students have teachers of the same caliber as other students.
  • Large numbers of Title I children receive significant amounts of their instruction not from teachers, but from inadequately prepared paraprofessionals. Moreover, the use of Title I funds  for the salaries of paraprofessional salaries prevents these funds from supporting activities-like high quality professional development for teachers-that have a demonstrably positive effect on student achievement. This agreement utterly fails to address either of these problems. Although the agreement does raise the qualifications for paraprofessionals, it still leaves them grossly underprepared to teach and it allows them to provide instruction to the very children who need our best teachers. In fact, the agreement sanctions this practice, and in doing so grants federal approval to what is quite simply educational malpractice. By not reducing the use of funds devoted to paying paraprofessionals the bill is fiscally irresponsible.
  • Finally, this bill shortchanges students with limited English proficiency (LEP). The bill should have authorized funds for the development of high quality tests of English language acquisition in the areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening. It should have required that states develop standards for English proficiency and that they test LEP students annually  in order to hold schools accountable for ensuring that these students acquire high level English skills as quickly as possible. Instead, the bill includes new and seemingly arbitrary requirements that, to our knowledge, have no basis in research about what works to help children learn English.

These are all quite serious issues; despite them we offer our support for the bill. However, we hope these issues will be addressed before the reauthorization process is completed.

We appreciate the fact that this bill is the product of a bi-partisan effort and that both parties, for the most part, seem to have put the long-term interests of low-income students ahead of short-term partisan gains. We hope that that this sprit of cooperation, together with a vision firmly fixed on what works to boost the achievement  of low-income students, will continue to guide the work on this bill and on the other education bills that will come before the Committee this session.

Sincerely,

Kati Haycock,

Director

cc: Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Related Content