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From The Title I Editor:

ED Releases Sweeping Set of NCLB Proposals
Grad Rates, SES Among Topics Addressed

In a move designed to reform high schools that have become "drop-out factories," the Education Department (ED) issued proposed regulations Tuesday that would force states to calculate graduation rates in a uniform manner.

The far-reaching proposals, which also include revisions ranging from after-school tutoring to student testing, come with less than a year remaining in the Bush presidency and after it became clear that Congress has stalled on reauthorizing his signature domestic achievement, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Jack Jennings, executive director of the Center on Education Policy and a former senior Democratic staffer for the House Education Committee, called it "the Bush Administration's swan song."

Graduation Rates

While many of the proposed regulations offer only minor tweaks of the law or codify existing departmental policy, the graduation rate recommendations are new. They respond to criticism and recent news accounts that the inconsistent reporting of graduation rates has allowed schools and states to game NCLB's accountability requirements.

States currently use many methods to determine graduation rates, methods that often generate overestimates.

ED's proposal would essentially codify one made by the National Governor's Association in 2005: By the 2012-2013 school year, states must define the graduation rate as the number of students who graduate with a diploma in four years divided by an "adjusted cohort" of that graduating class. The cohort is a calculation of the number of students who entered that class as freshmen, and any students who transferred into that group prior to graduation, minus those who transferred away from that particular school during the four-year period.

The regulation would also require states to disaggregate graduation data by 2013-2014, in response to long-standing disparities in graduation rates among certain student populations.

Notably, however, the proposal does not require states to set a specific target for getting more students to graduate, a goal many advocacy groups had been clamoring for.

"It doesn't go far enough," said Jamie Fasteau, director of policy development for the Alliance for Excellent Education. "It will give us a lot of the information we need. But to really get at the dropout rate, you have to push for a higher graduation target from year to year."

'From Nothing to Something'

In a telephone press conference with reporters, ED Secretary Margaret Spellings said the department was entering into a "transition phase" in terms of graduation rates, but would need Congressional approval to go further.

"What we have here is a transition from nothing to something on our way to something that's vigorous and uniform," she said. "We have no data that's uniform. We have no disaggregation. And we have no target."

Asked why ED failed to set a specific target for improving the graduation rate, Spellings responded: "I do not have the authority to do that. I am trying to push the envelope as hard as I can."

Changes In Choice, SES

In other proposals submitted Tuesday, the department is seeking to tighten some of the parental notification requirements associated with public school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) in exchange for granting schools new flexibility in how they spend the Title I funds reserved for the improvement initiatives.

Administration officials have long lamented the low participation in choice and SES, attributing much of the problem to poor communication efforts on the parts of districts. Recent data from the department indicates that only 14.5 percent of students eligible for SES actually enroll. The recommended changes would, in ED's view, greatly bolster parental outreach efforts and thus boost the numbers of students utilizing the options.

NCLB mandates that schools failing to hit their "adequate yearly progress" benchmarks for two years in a row allow parents to transfer students to another school that has not been identified for improvement. Schools in the second year of improvement status must offer SES. Districts with schools identified for improvement must spend an amount equal or greater than 20 percent of their Title I allocation on SES or choice-related transportation.

Among the proposed changes, ED would require that districts notify the parents of all students eligible for choice no later than 14 days prior to the start of a new school year. Current regulations state that districts must provide parents with this information by the first day of a new academic year.

To increase SES enrollment, districts would be required to ensure that the letters informing parents of SES options are clear and concise.

The proposed rules also would require that districts seeking to reallocate an unused portion of their choice/SES set-aside demonstrate to the state that they have made additional efforts related to those services, including: partnering with a community-based group to notify parents of their options; providing timely and accurate notice for parents; utilizing a rolling enrollment that allows students to sign up for SES anytime during the school year; and granting outside SES providers equal access to school facilities.

To assist districts with meeting these new expectations, ED's proposal would permit districts to count dollars spent on parental outreach toward the mandatory 20 percent district reservation for public school choice and SES. The department would cap the allowable expenditure toward parental notification at 0.2 percent of a district's overall Title I Part A allocation, or 5 percent of the set-aside.

The department's blueprint also would ratchet up the expectations associated with states' monitoring of district implementation of SES and provider effectiveness, as well as set tougher standards for state approval of SES providers.

In other proposed regulations, the department seeks to:

*Require states and school districts to include the most recent scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress when they report the results of state assessments.

*Create a National Technical Advisory Council to advise ED on issues related to state standards, tests and accountability.

*Explain how their minimum subgroup sizes (also known as n-counts) lead to "statistically reliable information."

The proposed regulations, which carry an estimated $22 million compliance cost, will be open to comment for 60 days before final regulations are issued.

Dianne Piche, executive director of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, said the recommendations are in keeping with Spellings' earlier promises to tweak the law in the event Congress didn't reauthorize NCLB.

"While the proposal is certainly ambitious, there have been signs since at least the beginning of this year that the Secretary was serious about promoting good implementation of the law and nailing down some important clarifications," she said.

-- By Andrew Brownstein and Travis Hicks

More go here.


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