Today, Democrats on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) introduce the No Child Left Behind Improvement Act, a bill that would set a better course to implement school reforms and correct several Bush Administration implementation failures.

Since the enactment of the law two years ago, many problems have arisen in its implementation. The Administration has left schools without appropriate guidance on several key provisions. Parts of the regulations and guidance released by the Department of Education have threatened to weaken the impact of reforms to be carried out by schools and school districts, or have undermined schools' efforts to comply with the Act.

"The No Child Left Behind Act contains essential reforms for the nation's schools. It's time to keep the promise of those reforms for all students across the country," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). "The Administration's implementation of the reforms has been inadequate and ideological. It has refused to support full funding as promised, and its ineffective implementation has undermined the reforms it said were so important."

It took nearly two years for the Administration to issue the final regulations setting goals of "adequate yearly progress" for schools, revising the method by which states count limited-English-proficient students and students with disabilities. Democrats say that the regulatory delays subjected schools to confusing goals for improvement, and risked the misidentification of many schools as needing improvement.

"Schools don't deserve this excessive burden in complying with the required reforms," Kennedy said. "The Department's delay in issuing adequate rules and guidance was a needless setback. The inexplicable refusal to give schools a fair chance to re-calculate their scores will result in schools mislabeled and resources denied to students who should have had them."

"This law is being implemented by the Administration in a manner that is inflexible, unreasonable and unhelpful to students and educators without the resources the Administration promised to carry its provisions out," said Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), a co-sponsor of the legislation. "The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act will make changes to the law that make implementation a real possibility while providing additional resources to meet the challenges that implementation presents."

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) added, "The purpose of NCLB was to identify schools that need help and give them the resources they need to improve. Unfortunately, this Administration has lost sight of the intent of the law and has failed miserably in providing those resources to schools. This bill would re-focus federal efforts to provide the resources schools were promised." The Democrats' bill also provides $50 million in additional funding for schools to improve the quality and scope of student testing ­ especially for students with special needs and limited English skills.

"The No Child Left Behind Act has been consistently underfunded. This has been a major problem for kids historically left behind - students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency. I am particularly pleased that this bill will authorize additional funding to improve assessments for these children and ensure that tests accurately measure their knowledge. This is a much needed boost for our children and our schools," Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said.

The Act being introduced today also addresses other shortcomings of the Administration's implementation. The Improvement Act makes clear that schools must report disaggregated results on dropouts each year, ensuring that students do not fall through the cracks.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said, "This year, nearly 540,000 students will leave school without a diploma, drastically limiting their options for the future. The reform and accountability of the No Child Left Behind Act will fail students, and specifically certain populations, if we do not act on this problem. Our bill ensures accurate collection of information on graduation and dropout rates, so that we can focus resources on keeping at-risk students in school and keeping their futures bright."

The Improvement Act also aims to enable teachers and para-professionals to meet required standards for teacher quality more effectively, in order to ensure all students receive the high-quality education they deserve.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) said, "One of the most important things that we can do for our students is to ensure that they are taught by qualified teachers. However, the Department's flawed NCLB implementation efforts have made it difficult for many experienced educators to demonstrate that they are highly qualified. The NCLB Improvement Act gives teachers and paraprofessionals a better opportunity to demonstrate their skills and meet the standards of NCLB, thereby helping to keep experienced and dedicated teachers and paraprofessionals in the classroom."

Finally, the Democrats' proposal is intended to help schools better implement school choice requirements, avoid overcrowding in classrooms, and provide better access to adequate supplemental services for students. "Everyone loses when schools are forced to cram forty students into one classroom," said Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). "This bill provides much-needed flexibility and critical assistance to schools that are bursting at the seams as they try to abide by the Bush Administration's rigid interpretation of the school choice provisions in No Child Left Behind."

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act is being introduced by Senator Kennedy and other Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, including Senators Dodd, Harkin, Mikulski, Bingaman, Murray, Reed, and Clinton.


The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act of 2004


Helps Keep the Promise of Public School Choice

NCLB provides an option for students to transfer to another public school of their choice, if their school fails to meet their accountability targets 2 years in a row.

The Problem: The Bush Administration's regulations for carrying out public school choice recklessly have directed school districts to ignore health and safety codes and unnecessarily crowded students into schools. The Administration has consistently opposed class size reduction and school construction programs ­ two practical solutions to help reduce the overcrowding problem and accommodate more students.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Ensures that school districts consider health and safety codes in providing options for students to transfer to other public schools.

  • Provides new funds for schools that are overcrowded to carry out public school choice, supporting school construction and renovation efforts.

  • Does not change NCLB's existing requirements for public school choice.

Ensures Fair Access to Quality Supplemental Services

NCLB provides an option for students to receive tutoring and other academic support, if their school fails to meet their accountability targets 3 years in a row. NCLB requires providers of supplemental services to comply with health, safety, and civil rights laws.

The Problem: The Bush Administration has failed to enforce civil rights protections for private providers of supplemental services, thus compromising fair access to services for children (especially those with special needs and limited English proficiency) and leaving beneficiaries vulnerable to discrimination. Rather than focusing on quality in these services, the Department of Education's guidance actually prohibits states from ensuring that tutoring services are delivered by certified teachers.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Reverses the Administration's policy and reinforces civil rights laws, so that all supplemental service providers are barred from discriminating against children.

  • Gives states the option of ensuring that supplemental services are provided by certified teachers.

  • Requires all supplemental service providers to employ quality personnel.

  • Does not change NCLB's existing requirements to provide supplemental services.

Ensures Highly Qualified Teachers and Para-Professionals in Every Classroom

NCLB requires all teachers and para-professionals to be highly qualified by 2006.

The Problem: The Bush Administration's regulations fail to ensure that every state implement the teacher quality standards provided for under NCLB, running counter to the law's requirements for veteran teachers. Such action could result in difficulties in keeping experienced and committed teachers and para-professionals in the nation's schools.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Ensures every state develop and implement the standard criteria under the law for ensuring that veteran teachers are highly qualified (High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation, or HOUSSE).

  • Ensures that every state provide all newly hired and existing paraprofessionals every opportunity under the law to demonstrate their skills and meet NCLB's requirements.

  • Does not change NCLB's existing requirements for ensuring a highly qualified teacher in every classroom.

Ensures Fair and Accurate Accountability Decisions

NCLB requires schools to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for all students.

The Problem: The Bush Administration delayed guidance and final regulations for counting children with disabilities and English language learners for two years. As a result, states may have mislabeled potentially thousands of schools under NCLB's standards last year. Even after the Administration established clear policies earlier this year, the Education Department has refused to play by their own rules by refusing to allow schools to review last year's scores.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Requires the Secretary to give schools the option of re-calculating AYP scores from last year, for a more accurate picture of student achievement under the Department's own new rules.

  • Avoids misdirecting resources and unfairly penalizing schools because of the Department's own failure to issue regulations and guidelines in 2003.

  • Does not change the law's existing requirements for accountability or adequate yearly progress (AYP).

Prevents High Dropout Rates

The Problem: Despite detailed requirements for including graduation rates in accountability systems under the law, this Administration has failed to collect data that shows whether students actually complete school. Without accurate graduation rate data, some students may drop out of school or fall through the cracks, even as student test scores improve.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Requires the Secretary to collect and report information on dropout rates for each subgroup of students, each year.

  • Provides for a more accurate calculation of dropout rates, as states develop new data tracking systems.

  • Does not change the law's existing requirements to include graduation rates in the adequate yearly progress (AYP) determination.

Improves the Quality and Scope of Student Testing

NCLB requires high-quality assessments of all children to measure proficiency in reading and math, including accommodations for students with disabilities and native language assessments for English language learners, to the extent practicable.

The Problem: Despite NCLB's commitment to a higher standard of quality for the assessment of children under the law, the Administration has failed to promote fair testing standards for children with disabilities and English language learners, shirking responsibility to issue guidance on these issues.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Provides new funds to help states develop native language assessments for English language learners, and better assessments for special needs children.

  • Provides new funds to help states develop better assessment and data systems, including longitudinal tests to follow the progress of individual students from year to year.

Reaffirms Civil Rights Protections and Prohibits Discrimination

NCLB contains explicit civil rights protections.

The Problem: The Bush Administration is ignoring and misinterpreting NCLB's critical civil rights language, and by doing so, has opened the door to religious discrimination against staff of supplemental services and after-school programs, or applicants for such positions.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Clarifies that discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (except as otherwise permitted under Title IX), national origin, or disability in any program funded under NCLB is prohibited.

  • Clarifies that recipients of any services under No Child Left Behind may not be discriminated against.

Promotes Quality Technical Assistance and Research

Under several authorized programs, NCLB requires the use of activities, strategies, and materials based on "scientifically-based research."

The Problem: In some instances, the Bush Administration has provided an overly narrow and rigid interpretation of scientifically-based research that has ruled out some successful approaches to educational improvement. The Education Department has insisted that some schools modify programs toward a specific educational ideology, rather than ensure that they are tailored to proven and effective methods of teaching and learning.

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act:

  • Requires the Education Department to ensure that all technical assistance and research activities make use of educational strategies, programs, and practices that have been successful in improving educational opportunities and achievement for all students.