Which school do you want to support?
People are sometimes surprised to learn that the federal government only provides about 10% of school funding. Those federal dollars seem to be just enough, along with the power of federal laws in some cases, to get most states and public school districts to follow along. Federal requirements often seem to dominate local school policies and decisions, in part because some of the funding comes with strings attached.
The federal government provides about 10% of school funding.
Particularly in the last two decades, the federal government has become increasingly engaged in the quest to improve the performance of students and schools. As described in Lesson 1.5, organizations mirror human nature in their tendency to believe the best of themselves. Self-ratings are almost always higher than external ratings; Americans know that students in large numbers are not getting the education they need, but believe their own kids will graduate from college.
An important role of the federal government in education over the past few decades has been to collect and shed light on facts about schools’ achievements and shortcomings. Another important role has been to provide incentives for experimentation that is then evaluated.
NCLB made Federal funding "contingent"
A central pillar of the federal government’s education policy from 2002 to 2015 was the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Officially, NCLB reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first created as a cornerstone of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Title 1 ("Improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged") is the most familiar program. The main function of ESEA, and then NCLB, was to provide extra support to schools that serve low-income children. The difference was that NCLB made the funding contingent on states adopting content standards, administering standardized tests in English and Math, and holding schools and districts accountable for the results of those tests.
NCLB established a romantic 12-year goal for all students to score at a proficient level on the tests by 2013-14. It never happened. This goal was frankly impossible (for example, to have all English learners score proficient in English is by definition not achievable) but was deemed politically necessary. To have aimed lower than proficiency for all would have been unseemly. Though passed as a bipartisan measure, NCLB eventually lost the support of both Democrats and Republicans as more and more schools fell short of the goal. While NCLB technically expired in 2007, states were invited to apply for waivers in exchange for specific assurances. Virtually all states eventually applied for and received waivers. The state of California itself did not apply, but a group of ten California districts including Los Angeles, the second largest district in the nation, applied independently. After years of bickering over how to extend (read “fix”) NCLB, in 2015 a new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), was finally adopted. (See below.)
States, like mules / are stubborn blokes / so changing schools / requires some pokes
In the massive downturn of the Great Recession, state and local revenue sources for public education dropped precipitously. As part of the economic stimulus package, states received about $100 billion in federal funds to sustain schools from collapse. Most of these funds were delivered without strings attached, but some came with conditions.
For example, some of the funds required states to adopt educational standards, which led to unexpectedly rapid adoption of the Common Core standards. The requirements also spurred development of teacher evaluation systems. The stimulus package also included $4 billion in competitive grants collectively known as Race To The Top. These grants encouraged districts to adopt and specific policies in four areas:
At the end of 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which shifted Federal education policy closer to California’s model of more local control and flexibility. It passed with strong bipartisan support, and takes effect in 2017-18.
ESSA moves past an accountability system that relied primarily on high stakes standardized tests and centralized control in Washington. It gives states more power, especially the ability to use multiple measures of school and student progress.
Many fundamental ideas of NCLB remain. States must still:
The new law runs over 1,000 pages, enough reading to keep you up many nights. To save you some time, the Alliance for Educational Excellence has created a series of videos on key areas within the Every Student Succeeds Act as well as side-by-side chart comparing accountability provisions in NCLB, NCLB waivers, and ESSA.
The federal government continues to administer many other programs, including two huge ones that get less attention; child nutrition and special education. These federal programs are not affected by California's Local Control Funding Formula.
A lot of information (okay, an overwhelming amount of information) about federal education programs and initiatives is available at the U.S. Department of Education website. The department itself says its mission is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”
The prior lesson explored the role of the state in education. This lesson explored the role of the federal government. The next lesson will be closer to home.
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