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Event Transcript
April 13,1999


Fresh Thinking about Federal Education Policy, continued

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Four Proposals for Change

JAMES TRAUB: My name is Jim Traub, and I'm a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine.  Unfortunately, unlike E.J. Dionne, I can't say that I'm astonished that the Manhattan Institute asked me to moderate this panel since, lamentably, I've written a few things that actually are similar to positions they hold. But I want to assure all of you that on all the fundamental issues I disagree with them altogether.

This panel is intended to be more wonky than the first.  We have asked members to delve into some of the details of the broad issues discussed earlier.  I imagine, though, that this is an audience that is eager for those details.

Essentially, panelists will present four different plans for how to reform the ESEA. The plans more or less cover the spectrum from left to right in terms of ďan invasive federal presence,Ē to use Will Marshall's felicitous phrase. I hope that as we talk about the specific details of these plans, we can also keep in mind the broader philosophical question that was touched upon frequently during the first panel.  That is, to what extent do we believe the federal government can and should try to create specific educational objectives? 

Can we reform the system by making decisions at the federal level and then imposing them on localities?  Or must the ideas bubble up from the bottom, with the federal government only in the role, perhaps, of assuring accountability, making sure that civil rights are not violated, assuring standards are met and so on?

Our first speaker is Diane Ravitch, who is the kind of person a journalist like me winds up quoting in every single article he ever writes. Dianne is an educational historian, she is an activist, and she is the author of The Schools We Deserve, The Troubled Crusade, American Education:  1945 to 1980, and The Great School Wars: New York City 1805 to 1973, among many other things. Like Checker Finn, Diane includes in the third paragraph of her resume the fact that she served as Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991 to '93, but it is possible that she is slightly less chagrined about having done that then Checker is. Diane.

Ms. RAVITCH: Thank you, Jim. I want to say "Hello" to a lot of friends that I seldom see in Washington because I went home to Brooklyn where I am a triple Fellow.  I think I'm the only person here who's a Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, the Progressive Policy Institute and the Brookings Institution. So, I guess Brooklyn is the best place to be to be on neutral ground.

I want to talk about a proposal for reforming Title I. I'm going to be testifying tomorrow before the House Committee on Education in the Workforce saying what I'm saying today. As the first panel showed, everyone agrees that Title I is very important.  No one is suggesting that the federal government should abandon its obligation to seek to provide equal educational opportunity. I would also like to emphasize that I support the administration's emphasis on standards and accountability for children in Title I schools, as well as for children in general.  I think it's very important and I'm happy to see that it has now a good deal of bipartisan support.

It's important to point out that Title I, as it operates today and as it has operated for many years, is not actually a program. We speak of the Title I program, but in a sense, there is no Title I program, if we mean by that a coherent strategy and uniform national activities.  Rather, Title I is a funding mechanism to channel federal dollars into districts that have significant numbers of poor children.  Consequently, it's confusing to refer to it as a program, because the money is used in so many different ways and for so many different purposes.

In different schools it supports many different things, among them school-wide reforms, teacher training technology, and the cost of classroom aides.  Some of these are effective practices, and some of them are not. Most of the time, the best that researchers can say about them is it all depends on local circumstances as to whether this is an effective practice or not.  So when we say that Title I is working or not working, it's usually impossible to generalize and it's always difficult to know what it is that's working and what it is that's not working.

The most recent national assessment of Title I, issued a few weeks ago by the Department of Education, showed that there has been some improvement in math scores.  In reading, however, there has only been enough improvement to recover ground lost since 1990, and the scores are back at 1990 levels. More tellingly, this recent national assessment points out that nearly 70 percent of fourth grade children in Title I are below basic on the NAPE test of reading, as are 60 percent on the NAPE test of mathematics. In other words, despite some recent gains, poor kids are still far, far behind in the fourth grade.  As we know, the children who can't read and can't do mathematics in fourth grade tend to fall farther and farther behind as they get older.

Unfortunately, the current Title I system breeds bureaucracy.  You see this especially if you live in a big city.  It's a complicated system and it involves many regulations and requirements, so it takes a large number of state and local bureaucrats to run the program, to decide which school gets what, and to manage the flow of paper.

Because of the complexities of the formula, there are literally millions of poor children in the United States who do not receive any Title I services at all.  When poor children in Title I schools move to non-Title I schools, they lose Title I services. If they decide to enroll in a public charter school, their Title I dollars may or may not follow them. At present, Title I dollars fund school districts -- they do not fund poor children.

So what I'm suggesting is that states should be allowed, if they choose, to turn Title I into a portable entitlement for poor children. This would mean that federal Title I money would follow poor children to the school in which they're enrolled, consistent with the state's laws and with the constitution.  Instead of sending Title I money to the states and the districts, it would go to the school where the poor child is enrolled.

This would mean that Title I would be available to every poor child in a state that has portable entitlements. This would mean that Title I funding would support the education of every poor child in those states, not just the poor children who happen to attend schools designated by districts as Title I.  If the eligible child changed schools, the federal funds would follow her to the next school. If the child enrolled in a public charter school, the federal funds would follow her there.

Turning Title I funds into a portable entitlement would reduce bureaucracy.  With a portable entitlement, the whole process is simplified and automatic. Schools would get money depending on how many poor kids are enrolled, period.

Let me be clear about what I am saying and what I am not saying. I am not proposing to turn Title I into a voucher program. I am not suggesting that Title I funds should go to the family to use as they see fit. I'm not saying that Congress should initiate this kind of change overnight, but rather that it should allow some states, if they choose, to try out this approach and to evaluate its affects on schools and on children.

Under this approach, there would be more federal money for schools that enroll poor children.  These schools could use federal funding in the ways they think will be most effective. They could use them for whole-school reforms or reading programs or intensive tutoring or whatever they choose.

Certainly there must be accountability for performance.  Accountability requires good information. One way to improve information about performance would be to provide incentives for every state to participate in NAPE and to continue to disaggregate NAPE results by income levels.  This would function as an external auditing process for Title I and for other efforts to improve the achievement of poor children. Armed with the results, state and local officials should continue to be responsible for accountability, since they have the immediate and ultimate authority for accrediting, reorganizing, and even closing schools.

What I am suggesting is that we use the Pell Grant program and higher education as models for supporting poor children in elementary and secondary education. In 1972, there was a great debate in the Congress about how to direct federal funding for higher education. On one side was Rep. Edith Green, a Democrat from Oregon.  She argued we should fund the institutions based on the number of students they enroll. On the other was Sen. Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, who argued for funding needy students and letting the funds follow them to the institutions they attend.  It is now widely recognized that Sen. Pell's victory promoted the democratization of higher education.

Earlier this morning, the question was raised as to whether having the dollars follow the child would involve more federal intrusion.  I don't think so at all.  I think it would involve far less because there would be far less bureaucracy involved. It would be a much more direct way of supporting poor children.  The basic principle that I suggest is more federal dollars for the schools that poor kids attend, more federal dollars for the teachers in the schools where the poor kids are, and fewer federal dollars for administration and compliance.

The only way to change a federal program of this kind is slowly and carefully. But there must be a willingness to try new approaches that hold the promise of better results. We know what doesn't work: Having no accountability, no standards, and no incentives. In order to change, we have to be willing to try some new approaches. So I suggest that we consider the Pell Grant Program as a model. This way we can continue our support for poor children, and also perhaps increase it and target it better, so that our money goes to children rather than districts.  Thank you.

Mr. TRAUB: Next is William Taylor, who speaks for the group actually implicated in the ESEA as it currently exists. Mr. Taylor was involved with a panel that made recommendations and played a very important role in the reform of the ESEA in 1994.  He is a civil rights lawyer who has been involved with major desegregation cases.  He worked as legal counsel to Sen. Kennedy in 1987, was involved with the effort to prevent Robert Bork from being confirmed for the Supreme Court and is the founder, and is now the Vice Chairman, of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights.  Mr. Taylor.

Mr.  TAYLOR: Thank you.  It's a pleasure to be here this morning and I've learned a number of things, including that the true test of conservatism is whether you keep the name that you were born with.  I must say, I would have paid more attention to how I was addressed if I knew that was the only name I would be addressed by in most meetings and in daily commerce in the '90's.

In any event, as your moderator mentioned, I have spent a good deal of time as a lawyer in school desegregation cases. I started in 1954 on the staff of Thurgood Marshall, right after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. I've stayed with it to this very day, in part because I think that, apart from righting a major constitutional wrong and dealing with a caste system, desegregation as a remedy has proved to be of great educational value. If you look at the fact that during the '70's and '80's the gap between white and black children closed significantly, and closed very significantly in the South, you have to conclude that school desegregation, along with other measures, played a significant role in raising achievement for black children.

If you try to analyze why that is, you find that everything changes for poor children, children of color, who are able to enter successful middle class schools where expectations and standards are high. Often the parents of black children have to fight to get the same standards applied to them.  But once they are, children will not only complete school, but will go on to college and will continue to achieve.

These schools don't stand for failure. Affluent, middle-class parents are well practiced in getting rid of principals, teachers and others who don't perform, so there is accountability in these systems. As you may have noticed, desegregation is not exactly sweeping the country these days. In fact, we are regressing and segregating, which I think is terribly unfortunate for the reasons I've just indicated, because desegregation is a way to achieve some success.  Maybe Miss Ravitch's proposal would help to move us in that direction.

I got enlisted in the drive for standards-based reform about 10 years ago. I have come to understand that the essentials of standards-based reform are really the same kinds of things that make schools work for poor kids and kids of color in desegregated situations.  You have to expect the best of all children.  You have to expect that they can succeed and you have to set high standards.  Then you have to find ways of assessing whether the kids are meeting the standards and, at the other end of the process, you have to assure accountability.

The 1994 amendments, which constituted a major overhaul of Title I, started with the assumption that all children can achieve at high levels. That is central. People at school systems all over don't believe that to this day, and that's the expectation that really has to be changed.

Those of us who succeeded in making those changes in 1994 failed in one very significant respect: We did not level the playing field. Title I is based on a massive fiction that the states and localities provide a level playing field, that essentially they provide equal resources, and that Title I is extra money to address kidsí disadvantages.

We all know that isn't the case. Despite litigation and other efforts, there are still massive inequalities, and we were not very successful in addressing that issue.  In 1994, Jack Jennings kept telling me, "It's the suburbs, stupid." He meant that they rule the Congress and they're not about to see massive transfers or requirements that funds be transferred to level the playing field. That's the history, and it creates a dilemma.

Let me say a word about what I think is the limited, but critical, role of the federal government, because that's been an issue this morning. Somehow the notion's gotten around that this is all a state matter.  But we've got a century of experience with state-endorsed segregation and deprivation in public education.  We've got the current reality. The basic fact is the Fourteenth Amendment still calls upon the federal government to assure equality of opportunity in public education, and the provisions that call for a strong national defense in our constitution and for steps to promote the common welfare also give the federal government an interest.

As I've said, the gap between minority children and others has closed. It would not have closed without strong federal action to end state-enforced segregation.  It would not have closed without the federal government at least partially insisting that federal money for poor children be spent for poor children and not for other things.

Here we are in 1999, with very large concentrations of kids living in poverty, almost all of whom are black and Latino. There's a lot of poverty around this country, but there is concentrated poverty among blacks and Latinos, and state policy permits the practices that result in that. While we have made some progress, we still have wide variations in the allocation of resources. So to say that the federal role should be minimal, and that this can all be left to governors and other state officials, is to consign poor children to a conditions that ought not to be tolerated.

That's why the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, of which I am the Vice Chairman, and other organizations, are very skeptical about things like Ed-Flex, which seem to provide very little protection for poor children.  That's why the federal enforcement measures have to be kept in place and used.

And if I hear the story of Chicago and Mayor Daley one more time, I think it may drive me up the wall. The fact of the matter is that there are federal tools in place that helped bring about the desegregation of the South.  It didnít just involve withholding money, although withholding money proved to be an effective threat. But there is a whole array of tools that the federal government can use if itís serious about providing equality of opportunity, which is its job.

Having said all that, it's the view of the Citizens' Commission, the Leadership Conference and others that standards-based reform, as passed in 1994, should be ratified and improved in this Congress. We believe this in part because we have noted that important gains have been made in places around the country, such as Texas and Kentucky, Memphis, New York City and others. The Citizen's Commission is documenting those gains, as are other groups.

It is a policy that seems to be bringing about results even in the face of rather lax enforcement and implementation by the Department of Education. And it's not just a school here or there: it is whole groups of schools. For example, 35 schools in San Antonio that were low-performing have moved out of that category over the last few years. So we have experience that shows this is an appropriate way to go.

We do need to figure out how to improve teacher quality, and I'm glad about the emphasis that the administration is placing on that. I'm glad that something we urged in '94 -- that money be set aside for good, professional development, and that efforts be made to identify good professional development -- is going to be pursued this time. Iím glad to see standards for teachers and that weíre making efforts to have only certified teachers in inner-city schools.  Iím also glad to see incentives being provided for people to take on the challenge of teaching in inner-city schools.

We wish the President would do more to talk about teaching as a challenging profession and less about things like ending social promotion.  If youíre talking about the federal role in education, does it have to do with things like school curfews, school uniforms and promotion policies?  Or does it have to do with securing equality of opportunity? 

We believe that accountability measures need to be strengthened. We believe in efforts to ensure that if schools fail over a period of time, if they don't respond to help, then they will be reconstituted. And we believe in choice, too. We believe that poor children ought to have the opportunity to opt out of failing schools and go to schools that are performing better, whether those schools are in their district or in the neighboring district.  Maybe Title I money should go along with them. But they should not be stuck in failing schools.

So that's essentially the outline of what people in the civil rights community and the reform community believe should happen.  I'm happy to find there's some measure of agreement in this room about what the major goals are, and Iím happy that we're at least implicitly talking about the role of public education as defined by Thomas Jefferson.  He said its mission was to uncover the mass of talents that lay buried beneath poverty for want of ways to develop it.  Iím glad that we're not talking in the old cliches about how schools can't do the job.  With that kind of agreement on fundamentals, maybe we can agree on some specifics that will help move us forward. Thank you.

Mr. TRAUB: We now move from the left wing to the right wing of our panel. Our next speaker is Jennifer Marshall.  She is the Educational Policy Analyst at the Family Research Counsel, which is the body that Gary Bauer headed until he left to run for President. She is the person there who monitors education policy and is the editor of their Ed-Fax, which is a weekly fax on education news. Jennifer.

Ms. MARSHALL: Thanks, Jim. I appreciate the opportunity to be here and to bring an alternate perspective on ESEA reform to this unique forum. I'm going to speak about what was previously characterized as that obscure, wonkish proposal called Straight A's. Interestingly enough, itís becoming increasingly popular with groups represented in this room, with members of Congress, and with many governors as well.

In discussing this proposal, I'd like to draw a distinction between federal policymaking in education and federal aid to education.  I'd like to propose that this ESEA reauthorization move us in a direction away from the former and towards the latter, toward simple federal aid to education.

When ESEA was originally introduced, it was a mere 32-pages long.  Those of you who have started digging into this reauthorization know that we have a thousand-page tome in our hands as a result of the 1994 reauthorization, so a lot of policy making has gone on in the interim. Washington today even proscribes pedagogy in some cases. But mandates and compliance details distract local education professionals from their primary task, which is to instruct students. In short, the more the federal government has become involved in making policy, the more it has become an obstacle to good education.

If Congress wants to ensure access to educational excellence, it must take a different approach.  Its first step should be to return the federal governmentís role to one of simply providing aid to education rather than making education policy judgments, which it has done unsuccessfully for three decades. Instead of trying to figure out why 47 million students aren't achieving and what new twist in federal policy might help them, Washington should simply provide resources to those who can better make these decisions: state and local educational officials, along with parents and taxpayers.  All Washington needs to be concerned with is the objective result: Is academic achievement improving?

Instead of aiming for the simple result, however, Washington educational policy currently goes off in hundreds of different directions. For instance, right now theyíre trying to reduce the number of babies with low birth weights, to institute a comprehensive health curriculum, to get midnight basketball leagues going, to train parents and so on and so on.  Theyíre attempting to do all of these things, and doing little of it very well.

With that as an introduction, let me summarize the three points I'd like to make today.  First, we should begin by returning ESEA to the simple role of providing aid for education. Second, we must give education professionals the flexibility they need to produce academic achievement among their students. Finally, we need greater and more direct accountability, so that parents and other taxpayers are assured that the added freedom reaps a harvest of excellence.

These three principles are the basis of the Academic Achievement for All Act, nicknamed "Straight A's." The proposal is an over-arching approach to ESEA reform that would allow states to consolidate any of their choice or other K through 12 programs into a flex fund. States could use combined funds for any purpose at the state or local level that does not violate state or federal law.

The Straight A's plan would change how the federal government sends money to states and localities, but it would not change who is covered by federal financial assistance. If states choose to include Title I, for example, in their flex funds, they must develop a method of distribution that guarantees low-income students are achieving at higher rates than they are under current law. States that choose the Straight A's option would be free from program mandates in exchange for more objective accountability.

Despite all the fuss those of us in Washington are making about accountability, the federal government has plenty of paperwork but very little useful information about whether students are actually achieving anything.  Instead of asking for simple data on whether studentsí academic achievement is improving, Washington asks states and localities for extraneous paperwork and process.

We all share the goal of seeing academic achievement for all our students rise.  But if thatís really what we want, then we currently have the wrong system of assuring accountability in place. All Washington needs to know is whether states are doing better after state policies are implemented than before. The Straight A's proposal would require states to measure just that by administering the same test before a program is put into place and then five years later.  States would be allowed to designate their own test and the rate at which they hope to achieve progress.  States that meet their stipulated goals would have the opportunity to gain increased flexibility and could qualify for potential bonus funding. There is no clearer accountability method in federal educational policy today.

  In addition, the ESEA reauthorization should require greater fiscal and lateral accountability. Taxpayers should know more about what's happening to their education funds. Right now, we don't even know how much federal money earmarked for use in the classroom actually reaches the classroom.  Washingtonís current approach assumes that the federal government needs to know more about what's happening in local schools than do the parents and local taxpayers who finance and consume that education.

In short, Straight A's would change the relationship between the federal government and the states. Recognizing that states and localities are responsible for policy-making in education, the federal government would simply provide aid to education while checking to see that the funding produces the promised higher academic achievement.

There is a precedent for this type of relationship --  the charter-school model. As you all know, charter schools enjoy flexibility in how they use their funding and freedom from regulations in exchange for greater, clearer accountability, based on predetermined measures of student success. We're also hopeful that Straight A's will resemble charter schools in another respect: We hope it attracts broad-based support as a common sense idea that can help all American students. That's the Straight A's Act, and I thank you for the opportunity to present it to you today.

Mr. TRAUB: Our last speaker, Andrew Rotherham, plainly believes in an invasive federal government since he's affiliated with the Progressive Policy Institute, like Will Marshall.  He is the Director of the PPI's 21st Century Schools project, and prior to that, he was the legislative specialist and policy analyst for the American Association of School Administrators.  Andrew.

Mr. ROTHERHAM: Thank you, Jim. It's a little tough being the last speaker after all these different viewpoints have been presented.  I feel a little like I imagine Elizabeth Taylor's last husband felt on their honeymoon. I know what I'm supposed to do here, but I'm not sure how much more variety I can really add.

Our proposal is different from those you have heard. It picks up on some of the themes that you've heard from those on both the Left and Right, and from those on both panels.  But it goes in a different, more radical, direction. I'm going to define what we see as the problem with ESEA and then propose our solution.

Iíd like you to keep in mind two assumptions that should inform our work. First, the most important aspect of education is the relationship between student and teacher. That's where learning goes on.  It's been like that since the Greeks, and it's going to be like that regardless of advances in technology. We can't lose sight of that. The role of government is to facilitate that relationship and make it as effective as possible.  Second, there really are concerns with bureaucracy, no doubt about it.

Diane did a good job of laying out some of the problems with Title I.  But we can't lose sight of the fact that while 30 percent of kids in this country are in school districts with more than 25,000 kids, 35 percent of them are in districts with fewer than 4,500 kids. If we ignore that reality, we do so at our own peril. We will end up making policies that won't affect the vast majority of school districts in this country. 

In 1999, ESEA is more about symbolism than substance. Think about a duck on a pond. From the top it looks so tranquil. But underneath its legs are paddling really hard.  ESEA is exactly the opposite.  It looks like we're doing a lot.  We have programs for everything.  But in reality, we're not really doing very much at all.  It's like an inverted duck.

Who gets hurt because of that? Poor kids. We create expectations by saying that we're doing so much for them, we're sending so much money to them. Then we ask why aren't their schools better? Why isn't learning going on? Poor kids become victims of expectations that we set up that they can't meet under the current system.

Having the federal government play a role in education is not the problem. I think Will was very eloquent about that on the first panel. The problem is the nature of the federal role right now. 

Let me give you a few examples of what we're talking about.  Title I is the cornerstone of our commitment to educate poor kids. For my money, there may not be a more important federal law. But what qualifications does a teacher need to be a Title I instructor?  A high school degree, or its equivalent.  Or he must earn one within two years of employment. That is patently absurd. We're setting up a dynamic assuring that kids who need the most qualified teachers get the least qualified. Our report highlights exactly how that plays out in high-poverty schools.

There are 3.2 million kids in this country that are characterized as ďlimited English proficient.Ē Seventy-five percent of them are in high-poverty schools. Twenty percent of them aren't getting any kind of service targeted to their language limitations.  The federal solution under ESEA is a program that gives them preference in obtaining bilingual education, which is based on a very dubious premise to start with. James did an excellent article on that for The New York Times Magazine, and I recommend it to you.

That's symbolism.  That's not substantively addressing a problem.  Will talked to you about the targeting, saying we send the money out in dribs and drabs.  The average grant for the Safe and Drug Free Schools program is $5 a kid.  Thatís symbolism. Itís the same with the issue of class size. Reducing class size is wonderfully popular, and, everything being equal, you would have to say that smaller classes are better. But the research shows clearly that teacher quality is more important.

The current categorical program, the whole approach, is broken.  It was good in 1965.  It played a valuable role.  But it needs to be updated. We're in a new economy now, and the federal role needs to adapt to that new economy. Right now, as has been pointed out amply, it's all about process. It's all about dictating means, accounting for inputs. What this has created, first of all, is a Balkanization of priorities. It has created much more concern over administrative compliance than actually solving problems and educating kids.

I would argue that the concept of flexibility in categorical programs is to some degree incoherent.  You can't have real flexibility within a categorical approach.  Let me give you an example I was thinking about this morning. You have all seen the media reports about the beavers eating the cherry blossom trees at the Tidal Basin.  If the Department of Education and Congress were going to solve this problem with a categorical approach, there would be a policy formulated, and there would be grants. Some would go to higher education to research the beaver problem, some to practitioners, some to study how to catch beavers, and some to study whether beavers should be caught in the first place.

Anybody that raised a stink that maybe this wasn't a good use of money, well, they'd be labeled anti-tree immediately. Through all of this, there'd be no accountability for the money being spent to actually catching beavers.  When this failing was brought to light, the special interest group that would have inevitably spawned around this categorical program would argue that the original purpose of the program wasn't to catch beavers, it was just to be a bully pulpit to make people aware of beaver problems. That's a slightly facetious example, but look through ESEA and you will see that scenario played out in title after title after title.

The law has gotten way too big.  That's the primary shortcoming of Ed-Flex and Super Ed-Flex. It establishes another process around an already outmoded system.  It doesn't address the core categorical problem.  In fact, it puts additional power in the hands of bureaucrats through a waiver process.  We should be giving bureaucrats less power and giving practitioners more. Flexibility is key, but its got to be added in tandem with achieving results.

Diane talked about the problems with Title I.  The program is not results-focused. We're not advocating deregulation. We're advocating a shift in regulation.  Performance results, rather than process, should become the regulatory mechanism.  To do that, we propose consolidation. Some people say itís a Democratsí block grant. Excuse me, but Republicans block grant and Democrats consolidate. We do propose consolidation, and we're not going to shy away from that.

There are too many federal education programs right now. They should be consolidated around a few important national purposes.  I suggest to you that those include compensatory education for poor kids, professional development for teachers and education leaders, helping limited-English proficient kids, and driving innovative practices. There's a research role, but it's separate from this title.  Those are the four core areas.

We ought to send performance-based grants to state education departments.  We're proposing five performance-based grants. The details are in our report.

We believe the federal government should establish basic performance benchmarks, as Will said. What the President proposed in his State of the Union address was courageous.  We should establish benchmarks of teacher quality, and we should end social promotion.  Instead, there must be intervention to identify and help kids.  We're not doing kids any favors graduating them with worthless degrees.

We need to do more on the issue of failing schools.  There are too many schools in this country that we know are failing and no attention is being paid to them. Ideally, we need national standards to measure their performance against. I would recommend to you Jack Jenningsí new book on why we need national standards, and the absolutely tortured process we've gone through to try and develop them. In the meantime, the least we should do is tie federal dollars to demonstrative progress on state standards.  We have got to drive results with this money. The ineffective practices that people talk about will be curtailed if funding is contingent on results.

Mike was right on the issue of taking away money.  You can't come in with a sledgehammer.  But at the same time, we can't continue to allow there to be no consequences for systems in which kids keep failing. There are very real consequences for the kids, but not the systems, and that's just not right.  We're not advocating taking money away immediately.  We should not be Draconian. But at some point the federal government has to stop subsidizing failure in places where we know it is taking place. Ultimately, accountability entails consequences, and it has to be that way in federal education policy.

Beyond that, Washington should get out of the way. It should be more strategic in its approach.  It should disseminate information about what works, do research, ensure public awareness.  That's the more strategic federal role that Will outlined in the first panel.

Funding should be sent to localities based on targeted formulas. The GAO stuff that Jack talked about during the first panel is very, very important.  We should make sure the money is getting where it's supposed to go, sending it by formula to local school districts.

But beyond sending money and doing the things I just mentioned, Washington needs to get out of the way.  It is time to re-think the role.  Right now the federal role emphasizes all of Washington's weaknesses.  There are 14,000 school districts in this country, and 50 states. How can we monitor them for process compliance and make sure they're doing all the things spelled out in all these categories?  How can Washington take a programmatic approach to every problem?  If it were that simple, a lot of us in this room wouldn't have jobs.

Washington should take a role that allows it to emphasize its strengths. It should provide resources, exercise leadership and empower states and localities to solve their own problems, and it should hold them accountable for results. We think that's the new deal on education that needs to be struck during the ESEA reauthorization. Thank you.

Mr. TRAUB: Well, we obviously have very broad disagreement.  It seems itís both on some specific questions, like the extent to which the law as reformed in 1994 has actually worked, and also on broader issues, like the extent to which the federal government should issue mandates.  Conversely, we can trust state governments to actually take care of the poor as we believe the federal government should do?

Despite the disagreement, nobody actually lashed out at anybody else, as of course we need them to do. So prior to taking questions, I'd like to ask each of the members to take about one minute and criticize something that someone else said, something they believe is wrong.  So maybe we'll do this in ideological sequence, starting with William Taylor.

Mr. TAYLOR:OK, I haven't figured out the ideological sequence, but I'm always glad to have an opportunity to go first. It's not my lashing out day. I'm going to save it for another occasion.  But I think we need to try to achieve some clarity in diagnosing the problem and looking at the solutions.  It strikes me that Andrew has read all of the titles of the Elementary and Secondary Act except Title I.  I won't disagree with him that there are all kinds of little federal programs and interventions that don't seem to be related to the problems of poor kids. But I would be happy to give him the assignment of going up to Capitol Hill and lobbying against all of those programs for the next year or two, and then reporting back on his success.  They are the results of a process that is very difficult to disturb.

Iím not saying it isnít a waste of money - in many cases, it is. But Title I is the $8 billion part of this program.  It is the thing that we ought to keep our eyes on.  And Title I, if you read it, does now provide both for flexibility and accountability. We were able to get rid of a lot of the input regulation in return for demanding results.

One other thing. The process we initiated was intended to take longer than five years, so we're only now coming to the accountability parts.  We're only now reaching the stage of final assessments and of districts and schools being responsible for results. But Congress said we have to reauthorize the program every five years even if it's a seven- or 10-year process that we're involved with.  So let's not throw out that baby with the bath water, because it does hold promise.  We've got to figure out how to improve it and make it work.

Mr. TRAUB: Andrew, you can respond to that.

Mr. ROTHERHAM:There's no doubt that Title I is littered with accountability provisions.  In fact, it's head and shoulders the most complicated part, and not just because it's the largest. The problem is that 35 years of experience should have taught us that, regardless of what accountability provisions we put in there, ultimately theyíre not going to be enforced.

The 2001 deadline obviously is not here yet. We highlight that in our paper.  We're not proposing radical changes to Title I, with one exception.  We are proposing that there be, for the first time, serious fiscal accountability to ensure academic achievement by poor kids. Thirty-five years of history shows that we are willing to take money away for fiscal non-compliance, and that we'll take it away for civil rights violations, but we won't take it away for just simply failing to educate poor kids. That's a travesty.

What we're proposing is not a radical overhaul of Title I. Bill is right. It would send a terrible message to practitioners if we pulled the rug out from under them four years, five years after we just changed the law and only a few years after the started implementing it.  But we propose that Title I become truly results-focused for the first time.  It's not enough just to send money where poor kids are. We have to make sure states and localities use those dollars for successfully educating kids. 

Mr. TRAUB: Diane, attack away.

Ms. RAVITCH: I'm not an attacker, but I would like to suggest to Andrew that PPI reconsider their focus and their target. They're still talking about sending money to districts. I think that the suggestion I made would fit very nicely with their general proposal.  Let the money follow the child. If it boils down to $800 or $1,000 per child, let that amount follow them. If it means a huge increase in the Title I appropriation, so be it.  But the money should be for the children, not for the school districts.  Itís in the districts that all these distortions get introduced about who gets what.

As Bill Taylor said, poor children should be able to leave failing schools.  They should be able to leave schools that have been designated, let's say, by the state and city superintendent as the worst in the district. They should be able to take their Title I funding with them and go to another school.  The funding should follow them as it does for students who switch to a different college. 

Mr. TRAUB: Jennifer?

Ms. MARSHALL: I'd like to clarify one point and then ask Bill a question.  Andrew mentioned that the PPI wanted to go beyond Super Ed-Flex.  I think we're talking about the same thing, which is an overlay. Straight A's is an overlay for the ESEA reauthorization. In other words, it allows states to opt out of any of these programs if the state can raise the level of student achievement through alternate means.  We will still go through the ESEA reauthorization. I think we would endorse some approach, similar to what you suggested, regarding blocks of packaging that would improve the ESEA law around some central themes.

Hereís my question for Bill. You continue to talk about process, yet I don't think you would say process is the goal of Title I.  Would you then support the Straight A's proposal, allowing states alternate means for meeting the same goals of Title I and other programs if they had the wherewithal to do that?

Mr. TAYLOR: I don't think I talk about process so much as equality of opportunity, which in some respects is process. But my experience over a number of years is that you simply cannot trust states to do right by poor children and children of color. There is an enormous history behind what Iím saying. Itís no accident that we find mostly black and Latino children in areas of concentrated poverty today.  That happened because of conscious policies by the state.

To answer your question, Jennifer, I would give states a lot of flexibility and I would make them accountable for results.  But I have to understand more about your proposal, because I don't see that it involves making states truly accountable for results and for giving poor children a real opportunity to succeed.

Mr. TRAUB: Let's hold on to whatever further disagreements we might have and invite questions from the audience.

QUESTION: My question for Miss Ravitch has to do with low-performing schools.  Let's assume that we have standards and incentives and that weíre talking about a solution other than simply letting children out of low-performing schools.  I call on you because of your work with OAR.  I think you agree with Checker that there is a large knowledge base about what makes schools high-performing. I'd like your thoughts on how we could use that knowledge base to improve the very many low-performing schools.

Ms. RAVITCH: I would have to say I've been very impressed by the fact that lots of people in the country know what that knowledge base is.  It doesn't really come from OERI so much as from education researchers all over the country. Tomorrow, I'm testifying about research. This is a whole other area, and I donít want to divert the panelís attention too much.

But I think it's very important not to say to poor kids, "Some day, perhaps not in your generation, but some day this might be a high-performing school. So you must stay in it because we need you here." I think if a school has not improved after all the system can do to fix it, kids have to be allowed to get out.  They have to be able to make the choice to go to another public school, to go to a charter school, to go to whatever the district or the state says is permissible, and to have better opportunities.

You can't say to kids that their lifetime has to be sacrificed for the sake of some effervescent future. In the final analysis, if some of these low-performing schools have to be closed, then we should generate new schools.  I know it's not easy. We're doing it in New York.  There are hundreds of new schools, maybe 150 at this point. Some are good and some are not good.  But the kids who are there are there by choice. I think that's very important, because it helps to build a community.

One of the things that research shows to be important in a good school is a sense of community, a sense that adults know the kids and that the kids feel the adults are responsible for them.  I think this is not esoteric knowledge. But I think that it also goes with what I suggested earlier and what Bill Taylor suggested.  Kids should not be trapped in low-performing schools just because they're poor.

QUESTION:Mr. Taylor, this question is primarily directed towards you, but if any of the other panelists want to follow up, that would be appreciated.  Mr. Taylor, you said that forced integration had closed the gap in performance between minority and white students.  I was wondering if you had any statistics that would indicate whether the gap closed primarily because minority children are now getting the quality education that white kids have always gotten or primarily because white kids are now getting a lousy education that minority kids have always gotten.

Mr. TAYLOR: I think that you'll find ample evidence, starting with the NAPE analysis, that the gap has been closed not by regression on the part of white children, but by advances on the part of black and Latino children. You will find those same results in individual case studies. We ought not to neglect the progress of the last 30 years. There has arisen a black middle class with black people being integrated into all aspects of American life and succeeding in many areas.   That came in large part through the end of racial isolation, so I would reject any notion that what has happened is anything but an indication of progress. It is also the result not just of academic advancement, but of learning how to live and succeed in American society.  Itís the result, in part, of access to an environment where people are accustomed to success.

Mr. TRAUB:Next question.

QUESTION: I just want to make a comment on the topic you were just discussing. I grew up in a segregated society and I far prefer a desegregated society. But the gap is not closed.  There still is a huge racial gap. It has gotten narrower, that's accurate. But the average 17-year-old black or Hispanic child scores on the same level as the average 13-year-old white child on the NAPE test in every subject area.  It is a damning gap.  It's a terrible burden for these kids and I think that what we're talking about with Title I bears on this because we have not done enough to close the gap.  We have really put in place a system that absorbs money and is not succeeding for kids.

QUESTION: This is for Diane Ravitch. You said that Title I should not be a voucher program. Why?

Ms. RAVITCH: I would prefer to see the money going to the institution because I don't know how to hold millions of parents accountable for the use of federal funds. I think if the money is delivered to the school where the child is enrolled, there's a way of maintaining responsibility and accountability on the part of the adults.

If I can just add something that bears on this discussion, I think something has to be said about the Head Start program. As I was listening to Mike Smith talk about accountability this morning, I couldn't help thinking that we would not have quite the mass of problems we do if Head Start were a better program.  It's a federal program with no standards, no accountability, and horrendous teacher pay. The average teacher pay at Head Start is $17,000 a year. Senior teachers who have been there for 15 years make $30,000.  High school graduates with no degrees are teaching Head Start.

It is really outrageous that this program, which funnels kids already behind their middle class peers into Title I, has not been reformed by the people who own it, namely the federal government.  I know it's not a Department of Education program and is operated instead by the Department of Health and Human Services.  But it ties in very much to the discussion we're having today about closing the gap, and the gap continues to be large.

Mr. TRAUB: I have a question for Jennifer. If you feel that the federal government should have no proscriptive role at all and should only be a source of funds, why should there be any federal role at all? The amount of money is relatively trivial and education is traditionally a state and local function. Why not abolish the federal role altogether?

Ms. MARSHALL: I wouldn't mind if you came to that conclusion. But putting aside our ultimate aims, I think we could do what Iíve recommended as a first step.  Itís where we can achieve consensus. And I think itís a step we should take in the interest of children.  I hope that this proposal has generated agreement in this room. It sounds like there is basic agreement on many themes. So this is the step that we should take first, evaluate the results, and decide later what our next step should be.

Mr. TRAUB: Would you prefer that there be no federal role, including a financial one?

Ms. MARSHALL: I think students would be better off if the money was kept in localities.

Mr. TRAUB: OK.

Mr. ROTHERHAM: We have talked about the federal role being trivial.  You often hear that 7 percent of public school funds comes from Washington, and itís true thatís the average. But, for example, in Fairfax County, Va., they only receive about 3% of their money from the federal government, because it's a very wealthy school district.  On the other hand, in Birmingham, Ala., they get 15 percent.  The money is not targeted to the degree that it needs to be.  But federal dollars do go to impoverished areas and that's where Washington can really play a leadership role.

QUESTION: This is for Diane Ravitch. If the money follows the student around, does that mean you reject the theory that the real problem we have is the existence of areas of concentrated poverty?   Say a kid from a Title I school went to a Montgomery County school.  Montgomery County probably doesnít need that $900 bucks because they're pretty well off, and the kid would be going to a school that does not have a concentration of poor children.  So if you want the money to follow the kid, does that mean you reject the theory that the problem is the result of these concentrations of poor kids?

Ms. RAVITCH: Where there's a concentration of poor children, there's a concentration of students with money following them.  So there's quite a lot of money following them. But there are also probably 4 million eligible children who receive no Title I services, and I think that's a far more serious problem than the D.C. student who might take the $900 with him to Alexandria.  I don't know what percent of D.C. students now receive Title I. But under my proposal, all of those eligible would receive Title I services, not just those who are in Title I schools. Right now, if a child changes from a Title I school to a non-Title I school, which is not necessarily a great school, they lose their Title I services.  That's not right.

Mr. TAYLOR: If I can interject, I think the question is right on the mark. If we're talking about a child going from one district to another district, then tuition transfer will likely occur. The question is whether Title I money should be allocated to a child even if the child is going to a school where there are very few poor children and which would not ordinarily be entitled to Title I funds. As a desegregation lawyer, I have to say I tried for years and could never get a straight answer out of the department as to why Title I money didn't follow the child because there were regulations to that effect, but they never seemed to be followed.  

But I have also come to the view that it really is important to figure out how to use the money to change the institutions that are serving children so poorly.  I would propose this as the broad test of any proposals we're looking at today: To what degree will the money serve the large numbers of kids who are now attending school in areas of concentrated poverty and going to schools that are failing?  I agree with many of the proposals weíve discussed. But whatever one wants to say about charter schools, introducing more flexibility, or magnets, there is no set of proposals that will substitute for making real efforts to change practice, to change teaching, or to demand accountability for results in the massive schools attended by poor children.

Mr. TRAUB: I'd like to pick up on what Bill said.  According to the research, itís pretty clear that when more than 50 percent of kids in a school come from impoverished homes, it has an impact on the achievement of all the kids in that school. That's the theory behind the school-wide programs, which are starting to show some real success.  We want to be careful we don't do anything to undermine those programs.

Secondly, we shouldnít forget the lesson of IDEA, and I'm not talking about the proscriptive stuff mentioned earlier.  We don't have an unlimited supply of money, and we should be careful about what we promise to pay for. When the federal government first passed the IDEA law, it promised to cover 40 percent of the cost.  It's paying about 10 percent now, and states and localities have a huge financial burden.  We ought to be careful that when we set up an entitlement program we're not creating the expectation that we can pay for something and then, because of the appropriations process, we donít deliver.

Ms. RAVITCH: We always seem to be able to deliver to the district level bureaucrats. They have an entitlement.  What we have is a district-entitlement program.

If I can just add one other point relating to what Mike Smith and others said about the need to invest in professional development.  We have a system that's broken. According to a report issued six weeks ago by the Department of Education, only 38 percent of American public school teachers have an academic degree in anything.  We can't keep re-educating people who didn't learn anything in college. This has really got to stop.

One of the things that we should all worry about is why we don't have in place a much better program to test teachers when they first enter the public school system.  Iím not talking about re-training and certifying, because virtually all teachers are certified regardless of their level of skill.  I mean real testing of teachers who are going to be responsible for kids who then have to take high-stakes exams in math, science and, English, subjects that their own teachers can't pass a test in.  This is wrong.

Mr. TRAUB: Bringing the focus back to poor kids, what Diane says is exactly right. The kids most often served by teachers either teaching out-of-field or teaching without an academic major are in impoverished areas.  Quite frankly, the rush to reduce class size is only exacerbating that problem.

QUESTION: I actually have two questions. The first one is for Ms. Ravitch.  I'm very intrigued by your proposal and it sounds like a wonderful concept. But how would it affect private schools?  Would it force private schools to follow federal regulations?   And how would it affect parents if they chose to educate their children at home?

My second question is basically for the panel. We're all discussing money here, but most of us would probably accept the contention that money isn't the answer. Look at the District of Columbia, for example. They spend an exorbitant amount of money, but the children still aren't being educated.  So, moving beyond just throwing more federal money at the problem, how do we find solutions?  We discuss the fact that spending $11,000 to educate a child in a poor area doesnít address the problem, because the problem is the teachers and the quality and the safety of those schools. How can we use Title I money to really fix the problems?

Ms. RAVITCH: My answer to your first question is that a portable entitlement for poor kids would be subject to state law.  In some states there are no charter schools, for example, so the money wouldn't go to charter schools. The entitlement would be conditioned on whatever the state law is.

Mr. TAYLOR: May I comment on the other part of the question? I thought we'd get through the whole session without somebody saying that money didn't make a difference. A lawyer in one of the school equity cases said that if money doesn't make a difference in the education of children, then poor children as well as rich ones should have the opportunity to experience that disappointment.

The fact is that money itself doesn't make a difference, but the services that money buys certainly make a difference in the lives of children. There isn't time to go into all of that now, but we ought to be looking at whether we've got comparable services for poor children in districts within areas of concentrated poverty.  We ought to be looking at the quality of teaching. We ought to be looking at class size.  We ought to be looking at the availability of counselors.  We ought to be looking at the availability of pre-school education. Even with improvements in Head Start, poor children are served much less well by pre-school education than wealthier children.  So let's not get into a mode where we're saying money doesn't make the difference.

Mr .TRAUB: Last question.

QUESTION: I'm from Houston, Texas. We've adopted many of the practices that we're talking about today both statewide and in our school system, and have found them to be highly effective.  Our accountability system has made a difference.  We're focusing now on our mediocre schools because we've improved our low-performing schools through targeted assistance. I think that schools need that assistance in order to improve.

But I would hope that, as we're looking at these practices, we donít assume that all school districts are uncaring and impossible to work with. Instead, I hope we concentrate on developing policy that enables school districts to do the right thing and to have the flexibility to do it well. I believe we are an example of the fact that school systems run by elected boards without any takeovers by local or state government can make good things happen.  

We would love flexibility that allows the money to follow the children.  Our concern about the current system is that in districts with schools that have a 75 percent poverty rate, little money gets to the schools with a 60 percent poverty rate.

Those of us at the local level would also like to have enough flexibility to be innovative and improve student performance without a lot of time and energy going into making sure weíre complying with very complicated formulas. They don't help children learn, in our opinion. I hope that as you talk about these things, you don't assume that no public school systems are interested in doing a better job, or that we're looking for entitlements for school systems. We're looking for systems that work for children and that give us the flexibility to be better educators. 

Mr. TRAUB: Anyone feel a need to respond?

Ms. RAVITCH: Yes, I want to respond. Thank you for your comments. What you have said, and what your district has accomplished, both show that a district can make things work and be extremely creative with the money following the child.  Last year I heard your superintendent and your then-chairman talk about the reforms in Houston and how you've been able to raise standards, improve performance, and increase accountability.  I know you're getting very good results, particularly in ridding the system of low-performing schools. I just want to say thank you for your comments, and that I didn't meant to bash you and the Houston district, because you've done a great job.  I wish that the district I lived in did as good a job.

Mr. TRAUB: Bill, you have a comment?

Mr. TAYLOR: Yes. I just want to say that I know superintendents all over the country, I know principals all over the country, I know teachers all over the country who are dedicated and skilled and doing a terrific job.  Some of them are even in Texas, so I don't want to be construed as saying that the energy and commitment arenít there.  But I also have to point out that Texas didn't begin to really make the progress that people are talking about until some standards were adopted and some accountability measures were adopted to assure that more people would be doing the job.

Mr. TRAUB: All right, I think that's it. Thanks very much.

[next section]

 


Manhattan Institute.

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Manhattan Institute Education Conference, Co-Sponsored with the Progressive Policy Institute

SUMMARY:
Co-sponsored with the Progressive Policy Institute, this event featured a wide range of opinions on what, if anything, Congress should change as it debates reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Proposals were offered to give states more freedom in determining how federal aid dollars can be spent in exchange for committing to improving student achievement (ďSuper Ed FlexĒ) and to permit states to use Title I money to provide vouchers for low income students. Speakers included Marshall Smith, Jack Jennings, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Will Marshall, Stuart Butler, Diane Ravitch, William Taylor, and Floyd Flake.

AGENDA:

Welcoming Remarks & Introduction:

Henry Olsen, Director, Center for Civic Innovation, Manhattan Institute

Will Marshall, President, Progressive Policy Institute

The Federal Role in Education: Past, Present, and Future

Moderator:

E.J. Dionne, Washington Post & Brookings Institution

Panelists:

Jack Jennings, Director, Center on Education Policy

Marshall Smith, Acting Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education

Chester E. Finn, Jr., John M. Olin Fellow, Manhattan Institute

Will Marshall, President, Progressive Policy Institute

Stuart Butler, Vice President for Domestic Policy, Heritage Foundation

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Four Proposals for Change

Moderator:

James Traub, Contributing Writer, New York Times Magazine

Panelists:

Diane Ravitch, Senior Fellow, Manhattan and Progressive Policy Institutes

William Taylor, Vice Chair, Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights

Jennifer Marshall, Education Policy Analyst, Family Research Council

Andrew Rotherham, Director, 21st Century Schools Project, PPI

Featured Speaker:

Introduction:

The Hon. Dan Coats, Former Member, U.S. Senate

Featured Speaker:

The Hon. Floyd Flake, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

How The Federal Government Can Best Help Urban Youth

 


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