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COMMITTEE U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce

These notes on the House hearing are supplied by the International Reading Association.

COMMITTEE U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce

SUBJECT Hearing on "No Child Left Behind: Raising Student Achievement in America’s Big City Schools"

HEARING DATE June 23, 2004


Dr. Mike Casserly

Executive Director
Council of the Great City Schools
Washington, DC

Dr. Margaret Raymond, Director
Center for Research on Education Outcomes
Hoover Institution
Stanford, California

Dr. Eric Smith, Superintendent
Anne Arundel County Public Schools
Annapolis, Maryland

Paul Vallas, Chief Executive Officer
School District of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dr. Marcus Newsome, Superintendent
Newport News Public Schools
Newport News, Virginia

Opening Statements

Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) explained that the hearing was the 9th in a series intended to assess the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This hearing investigated how NCLB is improving academic achievement in big city schools, particularly in inner city schools, where the achievement gap between minority students and their peers is largest. Rep. Boehner asserted that funding for NCLB is greater than ever, in exchange for increased accountability. He also emphasized that prior to NCLB, achievement data was only reported in aggregate, but NCLB broke down this practice and required achievement data to be reported by subgroup. Rep. Boehner referred to a recent report from the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) that revealed that students in big city schools exhibited increases in mathematics and reading in the program’s first year. He said that further studies have confirmed this finding and he cited some of the statistics that substantiated that the achievement gap is closing.

Ranking Minority Member George Miller (D-CA) complemented the panel’s knowledge and experience and said that he shared the Chair’s excitement over the findings. However, he expressed his continued concern that the funding was not adequate to sustain the gains over the 12 year period during which projects must meet assessment objectives. Rep. Miller also expressed interest in hearing opinions about whether the prioritization of spending in NCLB was appropriate.

Dr. Casserly presented some of the findings from the March 2004CGCS study, entitled Beating the Odds, which measured the number of students achieving at or above the fully proficient level. The study concluded that urban schools have increased their performance since the passage of NCLB. Casserly attributed the gains to a movement to standards-based curricula, an emphasis on assessment and hard work by teachers and administrators. He concluded by stating that there is now no question that improvements can be made, the question is how fast.

Dr. Raymond reported on research she has conducted testing the assumption that an emphasis on accountability will positively affect student performance. She reported positive results, but said that Hispanic students exhibit higher gains than Black students. She also concluded that gains were not as high as they could be, because most states simply added accountability to existing curricular and instructional systems.

Dr. Smith said that NCLB has caused educators to look at the business of education in a different way. He cited several examples - the change in viewing kindergarten programs as a time for sorting students into achievement categories to trying to teach all students to read and the change in viewing teaching as an art form to viewing it as a science, having a strong strategic planning component. He thought the things that would make NCLB work include belief in its tenets; ensuring that teachers are doing the right work; managing time properly; making the right tools available; providing good, clean, timely data; and redefining special education.

Dr. Vallas cited the importance of raising expectations, but identified data disaggregation as an NCLB issue causing consternation among his colleagues. He cited several reasons for the success of the Philadelphia educational program – expanding choice and supplemental services, aggressively recruiting high quality teachers and implementing corrective action programs. Vallas recommended that Congress address the issue of full funding for special education.

After noting the recognition that many Newport News schools have received for their successful programs, Dr. Newsome referred to the large gap between Black students and their peers as a real problem that must be solved. He urged a focus on accountability.

Questions and answers

Rep. Boehner asked the three superintendents to identify the biggest change they made that has led to higher test scores and the biggest challenge that they are facing now. Vallas mentioned a structured, well-managed instructional system, the alignment of standards and curriculum and lots of professional development. He cited as the biggest challenge [getting more] parental involvement. Newsome attributed his district’s success to a focus on a strong curriculum and the alignment of curriculum and accountability. He identified teacher quality and parental involvement as the two largest challenges he faces. Smith pointed to clarity of work; i.e., children and teachers knowing what is expected of them, as both the most important change agent and the biggest challenge. He added that teachers must have tools that are useful, explaining that that meant research-based practices and materials. Rep. Boehner interjected that he was dismayed and distressed by the fact that he had visited a school district that did not have a common curriculum across schools. Vallas responded that the important factor is not the specific model used, but the use of alignment, research validation and a managed instructional system.

Ranking Minority Member George Miller (D-CA) reflected on the matter of a common curriculum. He asked rhetorically if it was better for teaching to be creative or should teachers teach to the test. He went on to propose that if teachers did their job more effectively, they would spend less time on remediation. He then asked the witness what is needed to have sustained success and what are the impediments to sustained success. Raymond replied that it is important to tie sanctions to performance. Vallas answered that educators must come up with a curriculum, instructional plan and a professional development program and stay with it. He commented further that it is important to increase the instructional time on task. Newsome identified the need for leadership training, including training for governance bodies.

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) reflected on Vallas’ service as Superintendent of the Chicago school system, reminding him that he had removed management from poor performing schools, rather than the students. She asked him if he still continues the practice in Philadelphia. He answered that he does, but that he has refined the procedure by converting public schools to charter schools. Rep. Biggert asked how high school and junior high school students are working under partnerships with colleges and universities. Vallas indicated his satisfaction with the program, noting that the number of students in AP courses has increased and in some cases, colleges are actually running schools. Rep. Biggert also wondered if Vallas still had intensive efforts to involve parents and if he still operated extended day and summer intervention programs. He said that he did and he described some of them.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) complemented the witnesses on their outstanding testimony and then turned to the relationship between Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and the evaluation of Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) students. He expressed concern about artificial limitations placed on the achievement of these students by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) interpretation that there can be no latitude for testing of special education children. He asked the witnesses how they tested special education children and if they could suggest any changes. Smith admitted the matter is causing extraordinary pressure. Both Vallas and Newsome protested that too many children are classified as special education; however, both indicated that they gave the same test to both special education and regular classroom children. Rep. Andrews commented that while screening must be mandated and implemented, a fair test for special education children is needed. He then proposed to the Chair that additional talks were needed, since we are undergoing a paradigm shift.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) speculated that family involvement should be a higher indicator of student achievement than socio-economic status, but admitted that the two are so closely related that you don’t usually get one without the other. He then asked Newsome if the success rate of the Achievable Dream program is as high as he had indicated and he wanted to know the percentage of children who complete the program. Newsome replied that he did not have the figures, but would provide them.

Rep. Timothy H. Bishop (D-NY) asked the witnesses if they had the resources to get to the next level. Smith said that he did, but noted that there are challenges, especially with special education, the efficacy of strategies and the quality of the work force. Vallas said resources must be focused on early childhood and Newsome complained of a lack of space, due to the inflexibility in the way funds can be spent. Casserly contended that better ways of teaching limited English proficiency (LEP) children are needed.

Rep. Tom Osborne (R-NE) said that he knew that there is a high correlation between parental involvement and achievement and asked how parents can be involved at a higher level. Vallas replied that he tries to tap into Medicare and social services funds and to establish locally elected parent councils. Smith observed that parents of children who are successful in school will get involved and vise versa.

Observing that educators in his district have told him that the transfer aspects of NCLB create problems with allocation and space, Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) asked if these provisions were any good. Smith insisted that educators had an obligation to educate children and that in his district seats were found, even though there were some absurdities. Newsome observed that the choice rate is about 2% and that rate can be accommodated. But he warned of problems if the rate rises. Casserly concurred with Newsome’s assessment. Vallas noted that larger school districts have fewer problems than smaller ones and said that he had not encountered difficulties in Philadelphia. He pointed to open enrollment magnet schools as being helpful. Rep. Tierney then turned to the issue of school size, asking the witnesses for their experience with smaller high schools. Vallas admitted that smaller is better, but pointed to the need for a managed curricular system.

Mentioning that science testing will begin in school year 2007-08, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) asked if anyone is developing standards for science courses and if they had encountered any problems. Smith responded to the first question, noting that the length of the school day and the number of other courses in the curriculum are factors that limit the amount of time available for teaching science. Rep. Ehlers next asked if we are better or worse off because of the paradigm shift [prompted by NCLB]. Both Casserly and Vallas responded in the affirmative

Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) asked for comments on the supposition that in low income, low performing communities, the easiest way to increase performance is to create partnerships between the schools and the community. Newsome said that it is essential that the school concede some control to community leaders. Rep. Davis then speculated that there are so few males in early childhood education that Black children grow up believing that education is a female thing. He wondered if there are ways of correcting this situation. Vallas and Smith responded that they aggressively recruit Black male teachers and work with faith-based institutions, where students often get role models.

Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) observed that NCLB would probably be modified in January 2005 and he asked the witnesses how they would change the law. He provided as an example the fact that he did not like the provisions dictating that a school that barely fails to make AYP is subject to sanctions. He also mentioned that early intervention components are absolutely essential and complained that nothing in TV sells the value of education. Casserly said that although he did not have a detailed list of recommended changes, he agreed that AYP needs calibration. He also acknowledged additional two topics that should be subject to review - how choice provisions interact with supplemental services and how the growth of student achievement is measured. Raymond stressed that regulations dealing with highly qualified teachers do not relate to the effects that teachers can create in students. Vallas suggested that a single bid for supplemental services reduces competition. He also complained that the provisions for highly qualified teachers provide states with too much latitude.

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) referred to Casserly’s assertion that statistical manipulations eliminate smaller concentrations of children from inclusion in assessments. He asked if it has resulted in a major problem and, if so, how it could be fixed. Casserly described how ED was now reviewing applications from seven states to change minimum sample sizes, mostly for special education children, to as much as 100-200 children. He concluded that lots of students could be left out of AYP calculation. Noting that he had introduced a school construction bill some 25 years age, Rep. Kildee asked Newsome how inadequate facilities make it difficult to implement NCLB. Newsome replied that some federal funds had to be turned back because all students could not be seated.

Citing a California newspaper article lambasting federally mandated school standards and a related assembly resolution, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) let it be known that she "…was not high on NCLB". She suggested that what is needed are small schools, small classrooms, quality teachers and healthy, nourished children and she wondered why it was not happening. Vallas identified accountability as the key to better education and said that more money would only go so far without accountability. Rep. Woolsey countered by asking where our accountability was. No one could answer that question, but Raymond addressed the California legislative initiative, explaining that it was coming from small, rural school districts that are failing to embrace the paradigm shift and are uncomfortable being in the spotlight [because of their inability to produce adequate gains]. Rep. Boehner provided the final comment by observing that one of the most significant changes created by the disaggregation of data is the shift of focus [for obtaining student achievement gains] from urban to suburban and rural schools. He then closed the hearing.


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