APA Comments on the Draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization

September 26, 2007

The Honorable George Miller Howard “Buck” McKeon
Chairman Ranking Member
Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Miller and Ranking Member McKeon:

On behalf of the 148,000 members and affiliates of the American Psychological Association (APA), I am writing to respectfully comment on several provisions of the staff discussion draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization. APA appreciates the opportunity to comment on this critically important law that guides our nation’s federal investment in all elementary and secondary education.

APA is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial, and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare.

Earlier this year, APA submitted to the Committee a set of organization-wide recommendations on how to improve the law. We are grateful that a number of these recommendations have been included in the discussion draft of the legislation. However, we hope that the Committee will consider the following comments that would help strengthen the draft legislation. Please note that specific legislative language recommendations are attached to this letter for your consideration.

Growth Model

In our earlier comments to the Committee, we expressed concern with the “static” model of assessment under current law, and we are grateful for your inclusion of the growth model in the draft Title I amendments. These provisions focus attention on maintaining the law’s high standards, bringing all students to proficiency, and ensuring that assessments validly and reliably measure student progress across school years.

Parental Involvement

The draft bill makes improvements sought by APA to the provisions in the law addressing parental involvement. This includes language instructing state education 840 agencies to ensure that local education agencies’ parental involvement strategies are based on the latest research and show effectiveness in promoting high achievement for all students. The language in the draft bill that creates the school-parent compact also addresses APA’s recommendation that parental involvement provisions emphasize the partnership between schools and parents rather than the role of parents in becoming involved in their children’s learning.

Teacher Professional Development

(for specific legislative language, please see attachment, page 2)

For teachers to be effective, they must be well versed in the content they are teaching and able to effectively deliver that content. It is difficult for children to learn even the most exciting or important school material if their teachers cannot communicate the knowledge effectively. APA recommends that the term “Teaching Skills,” which is widely used in the discussion draft (as well as current law), be defined. Teachers need a multitude of teaching skills anchored in psychological science to make everyday decisions that enhance student well-being and achievement in the classroom.

Students with Disabilities

APA strongly supports policies that increase access to the general curriculum, such as the inclusion in the draft bill of a requirement for each state to have an accommodation policy. However, we are concerned with provisions that would allow for a waiver to expand the number of students with disabilities who would be exempt from grade-level academic achievement standards.

Literature raises the concern that evidentiary standards and expectations for members of stereotyped groups perceived as “deficient in an attribute” may inadvertently be shifted in the direction of leniency, less challenge, and minimal competencies. Lowered expectations for all students with disabilities continues to be a latent force in many of America’s classrooms, and may be exacerbated by high stakes educational accountability. While the proposed changes to the accountability system would seem to offer states greater flexibility, this may also lead to a shift (towards lower) evidentiary academic standards for students with disabilities representing a potential barrier to the goal of educating all children.

Graduation Rates/Dropout Rates

APA supports the inclusion of indicators besides math and reading tests for accountability, including the accurate measurement and enforcement of graduation, dropout, and college-going rates. Recent research illustrates that students who are racial and ethnic minorities have significantly lower graduation rates and are much more likely to drop out of high school.

Former United States Secretary of Education Rodney Paige’s controversial regulations stating that graduation rates did not have to be disaggregated by minority subgroups represents a substantive departure from the law’s disaggregation requirement for accountability purposes in testing, and does not reflect the will of the Congress.

Combined with test-driven accountability, this has led to the unintended consequence of creating an incentive to force out low achieving minority students.

English Language Learners

APA supports the strengthening of provisions in current law to ensure that English language learners have access to high quality supports and services, including services in their native language. ESEA has unquestionably drawn attention to the needs of the rapidly increasing numbers of students with limited English proficiency.

There are many factors that can impact the rate of acquisition of a language and affect student and school achievement, such as family and community environment, financial resources, transportation, and access to health care. As such, it is particularly important that schools are cognizant of the needs of these populations and have the flexibility and appropriate funds to offer services that support English language learners based on their individual needs.

Instruction in Native American Languages

Given that American Indian children are performing at far lower academic achievement levels than other students, APA supports the expansion and strengthening of Title VII programs to provide for more emphasis on meeting the unique cultural, language and educational needs of American Indian students through enrichment programs that supplement other ESEA programs and will result in academic achievement of American Indian students.

Without adequate flexibility and funding to address heritage language instruction programs and the needs of American Indian students, current law has a chilling effect on the ability of tribal communities to provide linguistically, culturally, and academically rich curricula for American Indian students. As such, APA supports the language included under Title VII that provides additional support for language immersion schools and restoration programs, in addition to language activities inside the classroom. Native language immersion programs have been proven to dramatically improve American Indian student achievement both in English and in Native languages.

Civic Education

(for specific legislative language, please see attachment, page 3)

APA is grateful for the renewal of this important program. Increased student engagement would strengthen program effectiveness. To this end, APA recommends directing civic education programs to include topics of direct consequence and importance to students’ daily lives in both content materials and simulated congressional activities such as committee hearings. Also, groups identified under section 5703(a)(3), as reordered in the discussion draft, would benefit from a clarification of the standards they must meet to receive grant funds under this program. Furthermore, program development and implementation, as well as the design of performance measures, would be served by the inclusion in section 5705, as reordered in the discussion draft, of scientists who study civic and economics education.

Elementary and Secondary School Counseling

APA supports current statutory language regarding the group of professionals identified to participate under this section and appreciates the Committee’s maintenance of this language in the reauthorization draft bill.

21st Century Community Learning Centers

(for specific legislative language, please see attachment, page 4)

Research shows that how students view intelligence can have a positive effect on their academic achievement. Researchers have studied the effects of a “growth mindset” point of view, which focuses on the concept that the brain, like a muscle, grows stronger with use and that ability is something that can be developed, not something inherent. Students who have been taught under the “growth mindset” model report higher levels of appreciation and enjoyment of academics. They have higher grade point averages and higher achievement scores. When students view intelligence as something that can be developed, rather than something that is fixed, they are more likely to pay attention to and learn from their mistakes, which allows them to develop academic and personal resiliency. APA recommends an inclusion of a provision in the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program that will encourage eligible grantees to adopt effective research-based programs that promote students’ motivation to learn and that increase students’ academic achievement.

Character Education

(for specific legislative language, please see attachment, page 5)

The character education program is a critically important component of Title V. APA strongly urges the Committee to include social and emotional learning programs in this section. Such programs correspond broadly to character education programs in their aim and function and have been identified by the APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance as an effective means of violence prevention. Also, we ask that “tolerance” be added to the list of elements of character found in current law and that character education programs model principles of cultural and linguistic sensitivity. These are essential concepts for individuals who live in a highly interconnected, multicultural social environment. Evaluation results and proven practices should be made widely available to improve existing programs and to help schools develop new programs.

Bullying Prevention

 (for specific legislative language, please see attachment, page 8)

We are grateful for the inclusion of bullying, harassment, and gang prevention language in the amendments to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. More than two-thirds of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying behavior. Bullying is a widespread problem, with 30 percent of students either bullying others or being victimized by bullies. Victims of bullying experience depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and increased likelihood of suicidal thought. Students who bully are at greater risk of developing a criminal record later in life. The APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance identified bullying prevention as an efficacious means of reducing bullying and its attendant symptoms.

Threat Assessment

 (for specific legislative language, please see attachment, page 9)

Threat assessment programs have been identified by the FBI, Secret Service, Department of Education, and the APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance as an effective means of reducing the incidence of school violence and shootings. Such techniques address problems before they escalate into violence and do not treat all threats as an actual precursor to violent acts. Instead, they evaluate threats on a case-by-case basis, responding proportionally to the seriousness of an individual threat. This approach benefits all students involved in threats of violence.

Research on the Sexualization of Girls

(for specific legislative language, please see attachment, page 10)

Under Section 505 of the staff discussion draft, APA respectfully requests the inclusion of research regarding the effect on girls of the sexualization of girls in media, as well as the promise of media literacy education to moderate these effects. Recent research shows that girls, not just women, are being sexualized more frequently and across many media types. Acceptance by girls of idealized representations of sexualized girls has been linked to deficits in cognitive performance and mental and physical health. More specifically, sexualization is linked to negative consequences for cognitive and emotional functioning (including impaired performance on mental activities), mental health (including eating disorders, low self esteem, and depression), physical health, and healthy sexual development.

Physical Education

APA supports the inclusion of provisions requiring physical education in schools. In its 2004 report, Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, the Institute of Medicine recommended that schools ensure children’s participation in a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity during the school day. Along with lowering the risk of health complications that may be linked to obesity, research indicates that physical activity may benefit cognition across the lifespan and may decrease the risk of depression in students.

In closing, APA would like to thank you once again for your longstanding leadership and commitment to all the students of this nation. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this discussion draft. We look forward to working with you to implement these and other initiatives to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education. If we can be of further assistance to you during this process, please contact Annie Toro and Jennifer Smulson at 202-336-6166.

Sincerely,

 
L. Michael Honaker, PhD

Deputy Chief Executive Officer

cc: The Honorable Dale Kildee, Chairman, Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education

The Honorable Mike Castle, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education