NCLB Commission Releases Recommendations


2/13/2007—The Commission on No Child Left Behind held a press conference Feb. 13 in Washington, DC to release its final report on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). There were 75 recommendations in total in the report, titled Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation's Children.

The bi-partisan NCLB Commission, chaired former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and former Georgia Governor Roy E. Barnes, was formed about a year ago to gather information and make recommendations to Congress to ensure that NCLB becomes "a more useful force in closing the achievement gap that separates disadvantaged children and their peers." Those recommendations were released today by chairmen Thompson and Barnes, who were joined by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, chairman, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Senator Mike Enzi, ranking member, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Congressman George Miller, chairman, Committee on Education and Labor; and Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, ranking member, Committee on Education and Labor.

Chairman Barnes, speaking at the commission's press conference Feb. 13, said, "Our recommendations ... create a blueprint ... that we are hoping the Congress and the President will use to chart the course of the next reauthorization of this important law. We can, and we should, reauthorize No Child Left Behind this year. The commission stands ready to help and assist in any way that Congress should desire. And while the goals of No Child Left Behind are sound, our work has shown that the states and the status in the states is not perfect and in some instances does need significant change. This upcoming reauthorization discourse and discussion must keep what is working and make the changes that are necessary, if we are to realize those goals."

Over the course of the last year, the commission held six public hearings and six roundtable discussions, visited a number of schools, conducted research and received more than 10,000 comments via the group's website. Data collected was used in the recommendations, which came out in the form of a 222-page report that includes research, statistics, case studies, and recommendations for the ways in which NCLB can be improved to enhance student learning and improve the competitiveness of students in the United States in the global economy.

What kind of impact will this commission's recommendations have? In his presentation at the commission's press conference, Senator Kennedy said, "Unlike [with] other studies, unlike [with] other commissions, we, all of us, on the education and health committees in the House and the Senate are going to ... value [this commission's] recommendations. And I believe so many of their recommendations are going to see life."

Broadly, these recommendations fall into four categories:

  • Teacher and principal effectiveness;
  • Improved accountability;
  • Effective school improvement and improved student options;
  • Improvements to student standards and assessments.

The commission also addressed in its report the needs of English language learners, early childhood education, and improving support for migrant students.

The complete report and an executive summary are now available on the group's website. (See links at the end of this article.)

Teacher effectiveness
Said Chairman Barnes, "The commission recognized that teacher and principal quality, along with high, rigorous, and challenging standards, are essential and critical to ensuring that we close the achievement gap and that our nation's students are ready for college and the workplace after they leave high school. Teacher quality is the most important factor in improving student achievement, especially for disadvantaged children. The difference that an effective and high-quality teacher can make for all children is well documented in study after study over the last few years."

He continued, "Unfortunately, the commission heard loudly from teachers, school district officials, and state leaders that No Child Left Behind High Qualified Teacher requirements simply were not leveraging real quality in our classrooms. Instead, these requirements have become a paper chase that's more about compliance than about ensuring our teachers' skills to improve student achievement. In response to this, the commission recommends a sea change in [NCLB]'s way of determining teacher quality."

Some of the specific recommendations in the area of principal and teacher quality include:

  • Requiring all teachers to be Highly Qualified Effective Teachers (HQET)—teachers who demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom. Under HQET, states would be required to put in place systems for measuring the learning gains of a teacher’s students through a "value-added" methodology, using three years of student achievement data, as well as principal evaluations or teacher peer reviews. Under this system, teachers would need to produce learning gains and receive positive principal or teacher peer review evaluations. Student achievement can count for no less than 50 percent of the determination of HQET status. Teachers who fall in the top 75 percent of producing learning gains in the state and receive positive evaluations would achieve HQET status.
  • Ensuring comparability of access to quality and effective teachers by requiring that Title I and non-Title I schools have similar expenditures for teacher salaries and comparable numbers of HQETs.
  • Granting principals in Title I schools the ability to refuse the transfer of a teacher into his or her school if such teacher has not obtained HQT or HQET status.
  • Enhancing school leadership by establishing a definition of a Highly Effective Principal (HEP) an requiring it as a condition of working at a Title I school.
  • Requiring districts in need of improvement to dedicate funds for professional development of principals.
  • Ensuring that principals are included in the needs assessment done before allocating Title II funding.
  • NCLB’s specific teacher and principal professional development funding in Title II be focused on activities that are proven to strengthen the ability of teachers to provide better instruction.
  • Creating incentives for states to make teacher certification and licensing reciprocal across states.
  • A study of pension portability for teachers and principals.

Improved accountability
The commission also said it wants to improve and expand accountability under NCLB, moving beyond simple AYP to a progress-based system and to include science assessments in AYP calculations. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Improving the accuracy and fairness of AYP calculations by allowing states to include achievement growth in such calculations.
  • Development of high-quality longitudinal data systems that permit the tracking of student achievement over time. Such systems must be in place no more than four years after the enactment of a reauthorized NCLB.
  • Requiring that the results of the science assessments under NCLB be included in the AYP calculations of schools and districts.
  • Requiring schools to be identified for improvement if they do not make AYP for the same subgroup in the same subject for two consecutive years.
  • Improving the rules for including students with disabilities in AYP calculations by maintaining the United States Department of Education's 1 percent policy (allowing children with severe cognitive disabilities to be assessed against alternate achievement standards using alternate assessments) and amending the proposed 2 percent policy (allowing students with disabilities to be assessed against "modified achievement standards") by reducing the cap in this policy to 1 percent.
  • Extending the time period, from two years to three years, that English language learners can remain in the English language learner subgroup for AYP purposes.
  • Improving the graduation rates of all students by closing the graduation-rate gap by 2014 and requiring states to conform to the NGA compact on graduation rates.

Effective school improvement and student options
The report also addressed the need for change in the ways in which NCLB deals with schools in need of improvement and for improvement in student options.

Some of the recommendations in this category include:

  • Strengthening the capacity of states and districts to help low-performing schools by increasing the amount of federal funds set aside by states for school improvement from 4 percent of Title I funding to 5 percent.
  • Shifting the focus of district restructuring efforts on the lowest-performing 10 percent of their schools.
  • Barring the U.S. DOE from interfering with the selection and use by a state, district, or school of a curriculum or program if it meets the requirements outlined in a program funded under the law.
  • Requiring schools in corrective action to select a comprehensive set of interventions designed to have a systemic impact, rather than the one option presently required.
  • Using a portion of Title I funding to study the nationwide effects of SES on student achievement.

Improvements to student standards and assessments
The report also offered broad recommendations for the improvement of assessments and for setting higher standards for students. These include allocating state funds toward improving assessments and developing alternate assessments for students with disabilities and students who are English language learners, as well as for upgrading test delivery and scoring technology. It also recommended that districts use a portion of their Title I funds to "develop or acquire and implement high-quality formative assessments and that they be required to use such assessments in schools that are identified for school improvement."

And it recommends the addition of a test for 12th grade, the results of which could be used to assign college credit to students who show mastery of college-level material on the test.

On the side of standards, Chairman Thompson of the commission said at the Feb. 13 press conference that standards should be focused on areas that will help improve student success in higher education and in the workplace. The report itself calls for the development of "voluntary model national content and performance standards and tests in reading or language arts, mathematics, and science based on NAEP frameworks." Ad it recommends that the U.S. Secretary of Education periodically issue reports on state standards to compare them with national model standards and tests.

Additional recommendations can be found in the full version of the report.

About the NCLB Commission
The commission on No Child Left Behind is an independent, bi-partisan organization housed at the Aspen Institute. Aside from chairmen Thompson and Barnes, commission members include: Craig Barrett, chairman of the board of Intel; Christopher Edley Jr., dean and professor of law at Boalt Hall; Eugene Garcia, dean and professor of education at Arizona State University's College of Education; Judith E. Heumann, advisor on disability and development at the World Bank Group; Thomas Y. Hobart Jr., former New York State United Teachers president; Jaymie Reeber Kosa, middle school teacher at West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, Princeton, NJ; Andrea Messina, vice chairman, Charlotte County Schools school board, Florida; J. Michael Ortiz, president, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CA; James Pughsley, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg superintendent, Charlotte, NC; Edward B. Rust Jr., chairman and CEO, State Farm Insurance Cos.; John Theodore Sanders, executive chairman of the Cardean Learning Group and co-chair of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future; Jennifer Smith, executive director, Principal's Leadership Institute, District of Columbia Public Schools; and Ed Sontag, senior advisor and acting deputy director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

The group is is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Carnegie Corp. of New York, and the Spencer Foundation.

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About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .