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NEA's Positive Agenda for ESEA Reauthorization


NEA's Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization

July 2006

Executive Summary

This Executive Summary of the Positive Agenda highlights the recommendations contained in the full report. The full report, starting on page 8, provides the rationale and additional background for each recommendation.

Great Public Schools Criteria

All children have a basic right to a great public school. Our vision of what great public schools need and should provide acknowledges that the world is changing and public education is changing too. Meeting these Great Public Schools (GPS) criteria require not only the continued commitment of all educators, but the concerted efforts of policymakers at all levels of government. We believe these criteria will:

  • Prepare all students for the future with 21st century skills
  • Create enthusiasm for learning and engage all students in the classroom
  • Close achievement gaps and raise achievement for all students
  • Ensure that all educators have the resources and tools they need to get the job done
  • These criteria form a basis for NEA's priorities in offering Congress a framework for the 2007 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The reauthorization process must involve all stakeholders, especially educators. Their knowledge and insights are key to developing sound policies.

Quality programs and services that meet the full range of all children's needs so that they come to school every day ready and able to learn.

Students must have access to programs such as public school pre-K and kindergarten programs; afterschool enrichment and intervention programs; nutrition, including school breakfast and lunch programs; school-based health care and related services; counseling and mentoring programs for students and families; safe and efficient transportation; and safe and drug-free schools programs. [See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 8-11]

High expectations and standards with a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum for all students.

All students should have access to a rigorous, comprehensive education that includes critical thinking, problem solving, high level communication and literacy skills, and a deep understanding of content. Curriculum must be aligned with standards and assessments, and should include more than what can be assessed on a paper and pencil multiple choice test. [See ESEA Positive Agenda, page 12]

Quality conditions for teaching and lifelong learning.

Quality conditions for teaching and learning include smaller class sizes and optimal-sized learning communities; safe, healthy, modern, and orderly schools; up-to-date textbooks, technology, media centers, and materials; policies that encourage collaboration and shared decisionmaking among staff; and the providing of data in a timely manner with staff training in the use of data for decisionmaking. [See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 12-13]

A qualified, caring, diverse, and stable workforce.

A qualified, caring, diverse, and stable workforce in our schools requires a pool of well prepared, highly skilled candidates for all vacancies; quality induction for new teachers with mentoring services from trained veteran teachers; opportunities for continual improvement and growth for all employees; working conditions in which they can be successful; and professional compensation and benefits. [See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 13-14]

Shared responsibility for appropriate school accountability by stakeholders at all levels.

Appropriate accountability means using results to identify policies and programs that successfully improve student learning and to provide positive supports, including resources for improvement and technical assistance to schools needing help. Schools, districts, states, and the federal government should be financially accountable to the public, with policymakers accountable to provide the resources needed to produce positive results. Accountability systems should be transparent so that policies are determined and communicated in an open, consistent, and timely manner. [See ESEA Positive Agenda, page 14]

Parental, family, and community involvement and engagement.

Policies should assist and encourage parents, families, and communities to be actively involved and engaged in their public schools; require professional development programs for all educators to include the skills and knowledge needed for effective parental and community communication and engagement strategies; provide incentives or require employers to grant a reasonable amount of leave for parents to participate in their children's school activities. [See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 14-15]

Adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding.

School funding systems must provide adequate, equitable and sustainable funding. Making taxes fair and eliminating inefficient and ineffective business subsidies are essential prerequisites to achieving adequacy, equity, and stability in school funding. ESEA programs should be fully funded at their authorized levels. [See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 15-16]

NEA's Priorities for ESEA Reauthorization

[See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 17-29]

A great public school is a basic right of every child.

NEA's priorities for the 2007 reauthorization of ESEA focus on a broad range of policies to ensure every child access to a great public school.

The current version of ESEA-the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)-is fundamentally flawed. It undermines existing state and school district structures and authority, and shifts public dollars to the private sector through supplemental educational services and takeovers of public schools by for-profit companies.

However, its stated goals -- to improve student achievement and help close the achievement and skills gaps that exist in our country -- are important to NEA and our society. We want to retain the positive provisions of ESEA, both those that existed prior to NCLB and those that were added by NCLB, in the 2007 reauthorization.

Congress must shift from the current focus that labels and punishes schools with a flawed one-size-fits-all accountability system and severely underfunded mandates to one that includes common-sense flexibility and supports educators in implementing programs that improve student learning, reward success, and provide meaningful assistance to schools most in need of help.

The following five priorities are crucial to realizing the goals of improving student achievement, closing the achievement gaps, and providing every child a quality teacher.

Accountability That Rewards Success and Supports Educators to Help Students Learn

[See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 19-22]

  • Accountability should be based upon multiple measures of student learning and school success.
  • States should have the flexibility to design systems that produce results, including deciding in which grades to administer annual statewide tests.
  • States should have the flexibility to utilize growth models and other measures of progress that assess student achievement over time, and recognize improvement on all points of the achievement scale.
  • Growth model results should be used as a guide to revise instructional practices and curriculum, to provide individual assistance to students, and to provide appropriate professional development to teachers and other educators. They should not be used to penalize schools or teachers.
  • Assessment systems must be appropriate, valid, and reliable for all groups of students, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners, and provide for common-sense flexibility for assessing these student subgroups.
  • States, school districts, and schools should actively involve teachers and other educators in the planning, development, implementation, and refinement of standards, curriculum, assessments, accountability, and improvement plans.
  • Accountability systems and the ensuing use of the results must respect the rights of school employees under federal, state, or local law, and collective bargaining agreements.
  • Accountability systems should provide support and assistance, including financial support for improvement and technical assistance to those schools needing help, with targeted assistance to those schools and districts most in need of improvement.
  • Assessment and accountability systems should be closely aligned with high standards and classroom curricula, provide timely data to help improve student learning, and be comprehensive and flexible so that they do not result in narrowing of the curricula.
  • A federal grant program should be created to assist schools in ensuring all students access to a comprehensive curriculum.
  • A comprehensive accountability system must appropriately apply to high schools without increasing dropout rates.
  • Standards and assessments must incorporate the nature of work and civic life in the 21st century: high level thinking, learning, and global understanding skills, and sophisticated information, communication, and technology literacy competencies.
  • Schools that fail to close achievement gaps after receiving additional financial resources, technical assistance, and other supports should be subject to supportive interventions.

If certain elements of the current AYP system are maintained, specific flaws must be corrected. These corrections include: providing more than one year to implement improvement plans before subjecting schools or districts to additional sanctions; designating schools or districts as "in need of improvement" only when the same subgroup of students fails to make AYP in the same subject for at least two consecutive years; targeting school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) to the specific subgroups that fail to make AYP; providing SES prior to providing school choice; and ensuring that SES providers serve all eligible students and utilize only highly qualified teachers.

Smaller Class Sizes To Improve Student Achievement

[See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 22-23]

Restore the Class Size Reduction program that existed prior to NCLB to provide an optimum class size of 15 students.
Schools should receive federal support-through both direct grants and tax subsidies-for school modernization to accommodate smaller classes.

Quality Educators in Every Classroom and School

[See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 23-26]

  • Provide states and school districts with the resources and technical assistance to create an effective program of professional development and professional accountability for all employees.
  • Revise the ESEA Title II Teacher Quality State Grant program to ensure alignment of federally funded teacher professional development with the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) standards.
  • Provide federally funded salary enhancements for teachers who achieve National Board Certification, with a smaller salary incentive for teachers who complete this rigorous process and receive a score, but do not achieve certification.
  • Create a grant program that provides additional compensation for teachers with specific knowledge and skills who take on new roles to assist their colleagues.
  • Expand opportunities for education support professionals to broaden and enhance their skills and knowledge, including compensation for taking additional courses or doing course work for advanced degrees.
  • Provide federal grants that encourage districts and schools to assist new teachers by pairing them with an experienced mentor teacher in a shared classroom.
  • Provide financial incentives-both direct federal subsidies and tax credits -- for retention, relocation, and housing for teachers and support professionals who work in schools identified as "in need of improvement" or high-poverty schools, and stay in such schools for at least five years.
  • Provide hard-to-staff schools with an adequate number of well trained administrators and support professionals, including paraeducators, counselors, social workers, school nurses, psychologists, and clerical support.
  • Provide paraeducators who are involuntarily transferred to a Title I school and who have not met the highly qualified standard with adequate time to meet the requirement.
  • Grant reciprocity for paraeducators who meet the highly qualified standard when they move to another state or district, with different qualifications.
    Revise the definition of highly qualified teachers to recognize state licensure/certification, eliminate nonessential requirements that create unnecessary obstacles, and eliminate loopholes in the scope of coverage.
  • Provide teachers who may not meet the highly qualified standard by the current deadlines, due to significant implementation problems, with assistance and additional time to meet the requirement.

Students and Schools Supported By Active and Engaged Parents, Families, and Communities

[See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 26-27]

  • Provide programs that encourage school-parent compacts, signed by parents, that provide a clearly defined list of parental expectations and opportunities.
  • Provide programs and resources to assist in making schools the hub of the community.
  • Expand funding for the Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRC) program in ESEA.
  • Include as a requirement for professional development programs funded through ESEA, training in the skills and knowledge needed for effective parental and family communication and engagement strategies.
  • Provide incentives or require employers to provide parents a reasonable amount of leave to participate in their children's school activities.

Resources to Ensure a Great Public School for Every Child

[See ESEA Positive Agenda, pages 27-29]

  • Fully fund ESEA programs at their authorized levels.
  • Enforce Sec. 9527(a) of NCLB, which prevents the federal government from requiring states and school districts to spend their own funds-beyond what they receive from the federal government-to implement federal mandates.

Protect essential ESEA programs by:

  • Providing a separate ESEA funding stream for school improvement programs to assist districts and schools
  • Providing adequate funding to develop and improve assessments that measure higher order thinking skills
  • Establishing a trigger whereby any consequences facing schools falling short of the new accountability system are implemented only when Title I is funded at its authorized level
  • Providing a separate ESEA funding stream for supplemental education services and school choice, if these mandates remain in the law
  • Providing adequate funding to develop and improve appropriate assessments for students with disabilities and English Language Learner students
  • Providing technical assistance to schools to help them use money more effectively
  • Providing adequate funding to assist state and local education agencies in administering assessments, and collecting and interpreting data in a timely manner so it can be useful to educators
  • Important children's and education programs outside of ESEA, including child nutrition, Head Start, IDEA, children's health, child care, and related programs, must be adequately funded.

The Full Report