(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings that outlined her concerns over the Secretary's proposed regulations to Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act. Murray's letter, which calls on the Secretary to heed the concerns of the public, including teachers and parents, comes as the Department of Education seeks public comment on the regulations. The Department of Education is hosting a public meeting for comments on the regulations in Seattle on Thursday, May 22nd.
“I have been working hard in the Senate to ensure the people of Washington get the support they need in educating our youth," Murray writes. "I applaud the proposed steps towards improving the implementation of this law through better data on student achievement and graduation rates, the expansion of much needed technical assistance, and clarifications regarding state accountability systems. However, many of the issues addressed are complex, and I believe the public deserves a complete and transparent consideration process with opportunity for input."
Senator Murray’s letter outlines recommendations on four areas of the regulations: Member selection for a National Technical Assistance Council; Supplemental Education Services – the tutoring provisions within the law; administrative considerations in the regulations; and the proposed calculation of graduation rates. Senator Murray is a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee that is responsible for authorizing federal education programs.
The full text of Senator Murray's letter:
May 21, 2008
The Honorable Margaret Spellings
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 7W301
Washington, D.C. 20202
Dear Secretary Spellings:
I am pleased that you have the opportunity to hear from the people of Washington state regarding the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Administration’s proposed rule changes to the law. I appreciate your efforts to obtain feedback directly and in-person from residents of my state, and I hope you will take this opportunity to listen carefully to their thoughts and recommendations. I am sure Washington state residents will tell you many of the same things they have told me, and I look forward to working with you to address their recommendations.
I have been working hard in the Senate to ensure the people of Washington get the support they need in educating our youth. Communities and families in Washington state count on quality K-12 education to prepare their students for higher education and successful careers. I applaud the proposed steps towards improving the implementation of this law through better data on student achievement and graduation rates, the expansion of much needed technical assistance, and clarifications regarding state accountability systems. However, many of the issues addressed are complex, and I believe the public deserves a complete and transparent consideration process with opportunity for input. I also firmly believe that a full reauthorization of this Act remains critical in order to comprehensively address the issues and concerns raised by our communities.
I am particularly concerned about four areas within the proposed regulations:
National Technical Advisory Council member selection
The first is the proposed process for selecting members to the National Technical Advisory Council (TAC). While I commend you for proposing to increase technical assistance surrounding the law to improve its implementation, I urge you to ensure that the process for selecting members of the National TAC is fully transparent, explicit, and inclusive. Over the course of this Administration, we have seen that it is critical to include diverse viewpoints and identify potential conflicts of interest when decision-makers are being chosen so that processes remain fair and open. I feel strongly that the selection process for the National TAC must meet the requirements of the Federal Advisory Commission Act to ensure a fairly balanced Advisory Council.
Supplemental Education Services
Second, I am concerned about the quality of evaluation and assessment standards to which Supplemental Education Service providers are held under current law and in the proposed regulations, as compared to the level of accountability already required of districts and states. Supplemental Education Services, or tutoring, is considered one of the main mechanisms for improving student achievement under current law, and districts in need of improvement are required to set significant funds aside for these services.
Current law requires districts and states to submit detailed plans and go through peer review for quality assessments, school improvement, and achievement goals. In contrast, the proposed regulations reinforce that supplemental service providers are held only to their own evaluations and feedback from parents and districts, with minimal specifications for the rigor, quality, or validity of these evaluation measures. If families, districts, and states are to make informed decisions about which services are truly helping to improve achievement and learning, supplemental service providers must supply accurate, valid, and reliable assessment information about how their services measurably improve student academic success.
I am also particularly concerned that the proposed rules do not take into account the unique situations of rural districts, where there are often fewer providers available and therefore fewer opportunities for families to realistically take advantage of high quality supplemental services. I urge you to build into the law the flexibility to account for unique situations such as this.
The totality of your proposed regulations will require a number of administrative changes and new activities for states and districts. I urge you to consider the number of administrative requirements already placed on schools, districts, and states, particularly those identified for improvement, and to ensure that any activities required of them are reasonable and proven to increase achievement. I also ask that you incorporate comments and recommendations from the public on these administrative activities into your final product.
Calculation of Graduation Rates
Lastly, I am pleased to see that the Administration is now undertaking steps to implement the Office of the Inspector General’s recommendations [April 2008 report] to obtain better, more reliable data on graduation and dropout rates. We currently have a pervasive graduation crisis: only 70 percent of students overall in Washington state graduate on time; and on average, African-American students and Latino/a students in the state are graduating at a much lower rate than this. These numbers are similar at the national level. It is critical that we accurately track disaggregated graduation rates in this country as we work to improve student persistence and achievement. That is why, in my Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS) Act, I proposed increasing the capacity of states to accurately measure meaningful graduation rates, as well as capacity to improve student achievement.
I believe that the final regulations will need to ensure that students with Individualized Education Plans or with Limited English Proficiency are not unintentionally left behind when graduation rates are measured. Some consistent and reliable recognition should also exist for students with individual graduation goals due to significant barriers or cognitive disabilities. It is imperative that the rulemaking process be fair and open in order to craft the best policy possible; and there must be a sincere effort to use the comment process to find effective solutions to these difficult issues.
I am also concerned that the regulations do not acknowledge the effectiveness of programs to help students re-enroll and complete high school if they have dropped out. As currently crafted, the proposed regulations would not give these students credit for graduation. While this may not be the ideal path, I believe our national policy should not add disincentives for struggling students to complete their high school education.
I urge you to address these issues and the recommendations provided by Washington state residents as you work towards a final product, and I look forward to your response. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you before the end of the comment period to further discuss these recommendations.
United States Senator