Cover Story

As the nation's elementary and secondary students head back to school this fall, they will be facing much higher stakes than ever before due to a newly revamped federal law that ties federal funds to academic performance.

The "No Child Left Behind Act," historically known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was reauthorized earlier this year and will make its mark in nearly every classroom across the nation. The legislation calls for annual testing in grades three through eight, with schools and school districts that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" toward statewide proficiency goals subjected to varying levels of reform interventions.

ESEA contains many significant legislative changes with which students, parents, educators, pupil service personnel and others involved with educational research will need to familiarize themselves. This new federal mandate for our nation's elementary and secondary schools and students serves as a lesson about the extraordinary reach of federal policy. It serves as a reminder to each of us that often, seemingly far-removed federal policies do make a difference in our lives. Finally, it brings home the point that learning is a lifelong process--there are constant and important reasons to continually educate ourselves about what is really going on around us, in our communities and our government.

Our message, therefore, is simple: There is no time like the present to brush up on our civics and to roll up our sleeves and get involved in the policy debates of our time.

The good news is that APA has long been involved in the business of advocacy. APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) is actively engaged on Capitol Hill, both in educating members of Congress and their staffs about the important role that psychological science should play in decisions related to terrorism, national defense, counselors in schools, graduate financial aid and teacher training, as well as weighing in on behalf of our membership on legislative language that affects psychology, psychologists and psychological research.

More good news: APA has nurtured and maintained a keen interest in education issues. For years, PPO has actively created and pursued opportunities to make federal aid available for graduate study in psychology. We have promoted and initiated efforts within a wide array of federal programs in a host of agencies, ranging from the Department of Defense to the National Institutes of Health, to ensure and secure opportunities for growth in the field.

EDUCATION ISSUES TO WATCH

In the year ahead, APA will be weighing in on and monitoring the following education issues--all of which cross directorates:

  • Implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)/No Child Left Behind Act. In response to an announcement in the Federal Register in February, APA provided comments on the implementation of ESEA on topics related to validity and reliability in testing; appropriate use of test scores, including their potential for highlighting educational needs; the implications of testing on children with anxiety disorders; and the inclusion of mental health services--areas of interest in all four APA directorates.

  • Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress is in the early stages of considering the reauthorization (or extension) of IDEA, the federal law that mandates that all students have access to "a free, appropriate public education." Consistent with this mission, IDEA provides resources for special education and related services to about 6 million students nationwide. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have begun the hearing process, and their work will continue throughout this year. The Bush administration convened a commission that issued a report in July with its suggestions to improve the program, including educational vouchers for necessary supplemental services. APA has provided written comments to the Department of Education and has been working across directorates to provide research-based information to members of Congress in an effort to improve the existing law and better address children's mental health needs. APA will continue to communicate to Congress and the Bush administration on important issues, such as personnel, testing and assessment, eligibility for services, and discipline.

  • Reauthorization of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). OERI directs most of the federal education research dollars, as well as defines the structure of the federal entities designated to carry out, develop and disseminate educational research. APA, again in a coordinated effort, is working both within the association and with other organizations to provide leadership on the issue of educational research and OERI reauthorization, which is currently under consideration by Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its reauthorization bill in April; at press time the U.S. Senate has yet to introduce such legislation. Congressional staff have expressed an interest in completing action on OERI this year, though time is running out for this session of Congress. In recommendations to the House and Senate committees working on this issue, APA has stressed the need for increased funding for OERI, greater support for field-initiated research, improved peer review process and strengthened scientific rigor.

  • Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The Higher Education Act is also in the queue for reauthorization. While congressional and administration staff have already started getting up to speed on the provisions of this legislation, as well as formulating policy, action on this bill will not begin in earnest until the next Congress to begin in January. Education PPO will work across directorates in an effort to best represent all aspects of psychology throughout this legislation. First and foremost, APA will advocate for greater resources to be directed toward graduate education. In addition, APA will press to ensure that research-based psychological science gets due consideration and weight during the training of prospective teachers.

YOUR ROLE

What can you do to better position psychology in the 21st century? APA members already contribute every day by pursuing high-quality research, practice and teaching. Your work is critically important, and greater knowledge of your work will assist PPO in educating members of Congress and their staff about the vast, diverse and important science that is psychology. It will help our association provide leadership in policy debates where psychological science has something to say.

We are in good company in many respects. The Bush administration has appointed psychologists to key posts within various federal agencies, as well as turned to psychologists to lead policy discussions (both formally and informally) on learning readiness, educational research, special education, teacher training and school mental health services. We must be prepared to provide timely information to executive branch leaders who are charged with developing and implementing important education policy. We have leaders and champions on Capitol Hill as well--both at the member level and the staff level--who, because of their understanding of the role that psychological science can play in education, have become vocal advocates for our cause. Like other policy-makers, they simply need access to the right research and information to make the case to their colleagues.

Just as students from pre-kindergarten to graduate and professional school are opening their minds to new ideas this fall, we, too, should get that "back-to-school" bug. Learn something more about federal policy-making, about better informing those around us, about how psychology and psychological research can make a difference in policy--and in your life.

Further Reading

Contact APA's Public Policy Office by calling (202) 336-5500, or visit the APAPO Web site.