NCLB Regulatory Action

The Secretary of Education traveled to Detroit today to announce some new regulations around No Child Left Behind (pdf). AP here. Department of Ed’s page here. Senior administration aides say the choice of locale was not coincidental but intended to be a backdrop to drive home the scale of the educational challenge the country faces. She did announce it, however, at a Masonic facility. That’ll surely fuel the conspiracy loons. I hear that if you fly over Washington the streets near the Department’s building spell “NCLB”…

Anyway, the package, which is now open for public comment before a final regulation is issued, is basically the sum of ideas she’s discussed this year. Key takeaways:

*This is probably the final nail in the coffin of any hope that NCLB would be reauthorized during this Congress. House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller’s press release reaction was basically seething with frustration over that and how the administration has handled reauthorization more generally. That’s a fair gripe; they really didn’t set the stage like they needed to in order to get a bill out of Congress.

*Overall, on policy, the package is pretty good considering what they can and can’t do through regulatory action. If there is one word that describes the proposed new rules, I’d say it’s “transparency” in the sense that where they can’t take steps to fix problems they are at least trying to shine a brighter light on them. In particular, there is finally an acknowledgement that the Supplemental Educational Services (tutoring) initiative is riddled with quality problems, as much action on high school graduation rates as one could reasonably hope for, and some steps on ending the state gaming of the law’s accountability provisions. The law also reiterates some existing policy, for instance around test quality, that has basically been ignored by states.

*Some things I don’t like, but I’ll focus on one here. In any accountability system it’s important to strike a balance between information you want to know and indicators you actually want to hold schools accountable for. The idea of NCLB’s accountability system was to create a dashboard of data on school performance and then have states and school districts respond accordingly. Because of a witch’s brew of the law’s rigid rules for the first few years a school is not making adequate yearly progress and the state and local desire to more generally evade accountability that hasn’t happened (one reason the Secretary is prodding them with this differentiated consequences pilot). Absent the differentiated consequences pilot the same subject and same subgroup rule the Secretary is proposing here makes some sense. Basically it means that schools would not be identified as “needing improvement” unless the same subgroup of students (for instance African-American students or poor students) did not make adequate yearly progress in the same subject for two years. But, as happened with existing rules, cumulatively, these provisions could prove to be a walkback on accountability.

Update: Besides the general points, you can ignore the graf above this, in a hurry to post and overabundance of suspicion I conflated oral information with what was in the regs. The proposed regulation reads as follows:

§200.32 Identification for school improvement.(a)(1)(i) * * *(ii) In identifying schools for improvement, an LEA–

(A) May base identification on whether a school did not make AYP because it did not meet the annual measurable objectives for the same subject or meet the same other academic indicator for two consecutive years; but

(B) May not limit identification to those schools that did not make AYP only because they did not meet the annual measurable objectives for the same subject or meet the same other academic indicator for the same subgroup 125 under §200.13(b)(7)(ii) for two consecutive years.

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