ESEA Reauthorization / No Child Left Behind

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind or NCLB, is the federal government’s most comprehensive public education law.  This broad and complex law, which has been in effect since 1965, structures the vast majority of public K-12 education programs conducted by the federal government, including the substantial formula grant programs that go to every state.  ESEA’s purpose is to improve academic achievement for the nation’s most disadvantaged students and schools; to meet that goal, the reauthorized law should take advantage of the power of high-quality expanded learning time to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps.

The core of ESEA is Title I, which targets federal resources toward higher-poverty districts. Title I provided approximately $14.5 billion in FY 2011, along with an array of specific educational programs, and it requires standards-based accountability for the education of all children. ESEA’s next largest educational programs are teacher and principal recruitment and training (Title II); 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Title IV, Part B); and programs for English language learners and immigrant students (Title III).  Traditionally, these programs have made very little use of ELT, and on balance do more to hinder schools and districts that seek to expand their schedules than the programs do to support them.

Like many major federal authorizing laws, ESEA only empowers the U.S. Department of Education to create and fund programs for a limited time. Congress periodically revisits the law to update and reauthorize its provisions. ESEA was renewed six times in its first 40 years. The last update, in 2002, led to the law being renamed No Child Left Behind, and added many of the accountability features associated with NCLB. Those changes—and others—marked major shifts in U.S. education law. To address inevitable growing pains, Congress scheduled NCLB for review and reauthorization in 2007. Four years past that deadline, however, the old law is still in force with only minor changes.

Significant legislative work has been done on reauthorization throughout 2011 in both the Senate and House.  The Senate has drafted a full ESEA reauthorization bill, based on extensive bipartisan negotiations, and the bill was passed by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) in October.  Expanded learning time had broad bipartisan support on the committee and was included in the final bill.  The House has taken a different approach to ESEA, with Republican education leaders choosing to break it up into several smaller bills and pass them one at a time.  So far, none of those smaller bills have included ELT; however, the House approach has been to push for greater flexibility for states and districts, so it is reasonable to expect that flexibility to allow districts to use federal funds for ELT will eventually be added to one or more of those bills (ELT was included in two of the bills introduced earlier this year by Senate Republicans who took a similar piece-by-piece approach prior to the comprehensive bipartisan bill passed in committee).   

Despite significant tension on many areas of the law, and significant differences in the general approach to reauthorization taken by the Senate and the House, there is building bipartisan agreement to provide greater federal support for states, districts, and schools that choose comprehensive expanded-time school reforms.  To ensure that scarce federal resources are used with the greatest educational impact, NCTL supports these key principles for supporting expanded-time schools:

• Incorporate the Time for Innovation Matters in Education Act of 2011 into ESEA. Based on the best practices of high-performing ELT schools, as well as district and state-level implementation experience, the TIME Act represents the best  policy framework for supporting  high-quality ELT programs to benefit high poverty and underserved students.  The Act provides the definitions, standards, and performance and accountability provisions that will help ESEA-supported ELT schools succeed. The Act’s standard for comprehensive school redesign include 300 additional hours, more time for academics and enrichment, and more time for teacher planning and professional development.

• Add flexibility to the 21st Century Community Learning Center program. Title IV of ESEA is intended to increase learning opportunities during non-traditional school hours for disadvantaged students in low-performing, high-poverty schools. The program directs most of its money to schools, but under NCLB, it rigidly restricts schools from using the funds to provide learning opportunities within a school’s scheduled hours—regardless of when the school day begins or ends. This creates a perverse incentive against expanding opportunities to learn for all students through comprehensive ELT school redesign. The 21st Century program must be made flexible enough to allow local communities to choose expanded-time schools, afterschool and summer programs, or a mix of both. Partnerships between schools and community organizations have always strengthened both types of programs, and any individual program should be evaluated based on its quality and the educational value it provides for students, not who provides the service.  The TIME Act language should be used as an addition to Title IV to ensure that only high-quality ELT school designs are considered in the grant process.

As passed by the HELP committee, the Senate reauthorization bill includes flexibility for high-quality ELT within the 21st Century program.  The reformed Title IV adopts the definition of an “expanded learning time initiative” directly from the TIME Act, including its standards for adding 300 hours, providing a well-rounded education, and more time for teacher planning and professional development.  The structure of the grants and use of measureable performance targets to promote accountability also have their roots in the TIME Act model.  NCTL worked closely with the committee to define these standards and strongly supports these provisions.

• Strengthen the School Improvement Grant Program. The SIG program already supports ELT by requiring “increased learning time” (ILT) as a part of school turnaround and transformation grants, which has been an important step forward in the use of expanded learning time. The SIG program’s use of time can be further improved with the kinds of standards, support, and guidance that have been developed since the ILT requirement went into effect in 2009. For example, comprehensive school redesign requires a thoughtful planning process. Pending proposals to improve SIG also draw on the TIME Act to provide the benchmarks for ensuring that the additional time is used well as part of an integrated and comprehensive school improvement strategy.

In the ESEA bill passed by the Senate HELP committee, increased learning time was not included as part of the turnaround or transformation models in the SIG program.  NCTL is working with the committee on possible amendments as the bill moves forward, focusing on the need to include high-quality ELT in the turnaround model and on including comprehensive analysis of the use of time in the needs assessment for all SIG grantees. 

• Make ELT a Remedial Option Along with Supplemental Educational Services. Under NCLB, when a school fails to make sufficient progress on raising student test scores for more than two years in a row, it has to offer its students the option of transferring to a higher-performing school in the district or supplemental educational services (SES). Far more students use the SES option, which typically takes the form of the school district paying for afternoon tutoring through a private company. Billions of federal dollars have been spent on SES tutoring, much of it with little or no connection to academic standards or curriculum. Overall, the program has shown only minimal educational impact on a small percentage of participants. That money has been drained out of districts’ Title I funding, diverting it from other high-needs schools, programs, and children.

•The current SES program only tries to offer students an escape from a struggling school for a couple of hours in the afternoon (and blindly hopes it will be a good couple of hours). It’s expensive – often $2,000 per child to a private, for-profit company – serves relatively few students, for insufficient hours, and accomplishes little for them. 

•The funds and the extra time would be much better spent on the redesign and expanding of school time that the ELT model offers. The change would allow meaningful school reform that improved and expanded the entire school day for all students, not just tinkered with a limited number of after school hours for a select few students.

Under the bill passed by the HELP committee, the “adequate yearly progress” system that triggered SES obligations would be scrapped and no schools would be required to offer tutoring.  While the implementation of the SES program has been severely lacking, its focus on providing additional learning opportunities for students in underperforming schools is admirable.  Refocusing the program by bringing the funds back into districts to support high-quality expanded learning time schools is a better option than eliminating it in its entirety.