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Decoding the Alphabet Soup of Education Policy

Can’t tell your RTTT from your AYP? Here is a quick primer to help decipher the alphabet soup of education policy.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was one of the key pillars of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. It created the Title I federal aid program aimed at reducing achievement gaps between rich and poor students and between students of different races.

Every few years, the law has been amended and reauthorized. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the latest incarnation, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. NCLB links its federal dollars to draconian penalties for schools that cannot meet a series of one-size-fits-all standards.

One of the most important of those standards is called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Under NCLB, students must be tested once a year in reading and mathematics. Students are expected to score at the "proficient" level or above on state-administered tests and make Adequate Yearly Progress toward that goal. Schools with students that do not meet AYP are penalized.

Race to the Top (RTTT) is a $4.35 billion competitive grant program announced by the Obama administration in 2009. While the program makes some steps towards meaningful education reform, it also gives preference to states that ease limits on charter schools and rely heavily on poor quality standardized test scores to judge students and educators. It makes states compete for education funding, which all schools need to succeed.

Using $3.5 billion in stimulus money, the Obama administration created School Improvement Grants. These funds are made available to states by formula and competed for by school districts. As they compete for the funds, school districts must identify the schools they want to transform, and then determine which of the four following models they want to use: turnaround, restart, school closure or transformation. The first three require firing at least half the teachers and staff at a school or converting it to a charter or closing it outright. NEA supports the transformation model, in which teachers, union leadership, parents, and other stakeholders work together to boost student achievement.

The Blueprint
In March, 2010, the Obama administration announced its plans for reauthorizing ESEA. “The Blueprint” is unfortunately a continuation of the same, failed teach-to-the-test policies of No Child Left Behind. The proposal for reform also leaves out the most important people in any student’s life: parents.

NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign (PSC) is a different approach to the top-down mandates of No Child Left Behind and the Blueprint. It brings everyone to the table, including teachers, community leaders and policy makers, to pursue innovative programs that work for students.

—Will Potter


Learn more about ESEA/NCLB reauthorization

Make your voice heard. Tell lawmakers what you think should happen with NCLB at NEA's Education Votes website