The Five-Year Anniversary: Nina Rees Assesses NCLB
Five years have passed since President Bush enacted the No Child Left Behind law, and while progress is being made towards achieving its goals, the jury is still out on how it might be reauthorized and implemented in the coming years.
Nina Rees, one of the law's chief architects and former assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, shares her perspective on the real-world implementation of the law and the impact it has had on America's education system. She now serves as senior vice president for strategic initiatives at the Knowledge Universe Learning Group, a Santa Monica-based company that invests in education products and services.
DA: What impact has NCLB had so far on the education system?
Rees: While the standards and accountability movement has been around since the 1980s, NCLB is the first attempt at the federal level to encourage districts to measure student progress on an annual basis against these standards and to hold schools accountable to ensure that all children (regardless of race or income) meet their state's standards. But NCLB's greatest contribution has been the focus it has brought on the need and urgency to close the achievement gap.
DA: Is the achievement gap between whites and minorities really closing? Is it widening?
Rees: At this stage it is difficult to say. It definitely isn't widening. More sophisticated research and investments at the federal level are necessary to really address this.
DA: Are the bill's parental choice provisions-school transfer option and free tutoring programs-working?
Rees: To some extent. While less than one percent of the eligible students are participating in choice, more than 450,000 students (or nearly 20 percent of eligible students) are participating in supplemental educational services. There is definitely room for improvement. Districts need more resources and capacity to educate parents about how to make good choices.
DA: How will the new Democratic majority factor into reauthorization?
Rees: This is a good time to reauthorize the law, given that many of the original framers of the bill are still in leadership roles (Senator Kennedy, Congressman Miller and President Bush). I am not sure if the changes in party leadership will have a huge impact, though it will be interesting to see how leaders in both parties can bring their members to align around reauthorization without making too many fundamental changes to the law.
DA: What will be the focus of renewing the law?
Rees: Strengthening math and science skills is a priority, and expanding the law to high schools is also something that needs to be worked out. Growth models, to credit individual students progressing forward rather than only tracking student progress based on hitting benchmarks, will also be a hot topic.
DA: How might NCLB be reworked to address our nation's failing high schools?
Rees: Business community groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable are working towards this goal and are heavily focused on high school reform. The quality of students who graduate and compete in the workforce are big concerns. How exactly the law will be expanded is unclear. Keeping the framework of NCLB intact while expanding the law at the same time is a huge task.
Open Court Reading Program:A Florida District NCLB Success
Of the 67 districts in the state of Florida, the Leon County School District (www.leon.k12.fl.us) was the only one to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress in 2004 and 2005, and in 2006 the district met AYP criteria for all student subgroups except for those with disabilities. Much of its success can be attributed to its implementation of SRA/McGraw-Hill's Open Court Reading program, supported by the NCLB Reading First initiative grant.
OCR weaves together crucial elements that 50 years of research show is necessary for learning how to read, such as phonemic awareness, vocabulary instruction, and writing skills. Its instructional methods align with the NCLB Reading First initiative to put proven methods of early reading instruction in classrooms.
Assistant Superintendent Iris Wilson says that the program helps teachers target specific needs among students. "[OCR] addresses all students-from low-performing to high-performing," she says.
In the 1998-1999 school year, OCR was phased in at eight district elementary schools, and teachers received training by SRA consultants to understand the need for explicit and systematic instruction in reading. Six additional elementary schools began implementing the program the following year.
In 2001 the state required all districts to adopt research-based reading programs, and Leon County was prepared for the challenge. OCR professional development programs began during the 2002 school year.
SRA continues to provide support for teachers and administrators in Leon County for the reading program. Twenty of the district's 23 elementary schools now use OCR school-wide.
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which helps to determine AYP, measures academic achievement on five levels, and the percentage of students who perform at level 3 (proficient) and above continues to improve.
"We believe that every child can be successful if taught using researched methods of instruction," says Wilson. "Open Court Reading obviously works for our students because our district consistently ranks among the top five or six in the state for academic success as measured by the FCAT."
New COPS Publication Reports on Combating Crime in Schools
The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (www.cops.usdoj.gov) announced in January the availability of a new report, "School-Based Partnerships: A Problem-Solving Strategy."
In 1998 and 1999 the COPS office funded the School-Based Partnerships grant program to partner law enforcement agencies with middle and high schools to address crime and disorder problems. The new report examines three of the school-based partnership programs and their use of the Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment (SARA) problem-solving process to address specific school issues, such as student and teacher threats, illegal drug sales and truancy.
The emphasis on the SARA problem-solving strategy stems from pioneering research on problem-oriented policing by Herman Goldstein in 1979 and from experiments in the early 1980s in Madison, Wis.; Baltimore County, Md.; and Newport News, Va. The model takes a comprehensive, proactive approach to crime and disorders rather than the traditional reactive approach of working on a case-by-case basis.
The full report is available online. www.cops.usdoj.gov/mime/open.pdf?item=1920