Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The George W. Bush Years: Research and Resources
In addition to the design and passage of NCLB, education research-one of the original and most underutilized areas of federal education effort-achieved a new prominence with the passage of the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002. As part of this legislation, Bush transformed the Office of Educational Research and Improvement into the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES), an agency on the same level as the National Science Foundation. Headed initially by Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, IES promotes "scientifically based research" in education and the use of its findings to identify a menu of educational improvement programs from which schools and districts may select. The agency developed the What Works Clearinghouse as a resource "to promote informed education decision making through a set of easily accessible databases and user-friendly reports that provide education consumers with ongoing, high-quality reviews of the effectiveness of replicable educational interventions (programs, products, practices, and policies) that intend to improve student outcomes."
Even with the additional support that the federal government was trying to provide, the key question for the future was whether all schools would have sufficient resources to help students succeed on the tests. NCLB attempted to address this issue with several measures. In one measure, it allowed states to shift resources from non-Title I federal programs into the Title I budget to help pupils achieve AYP. A separate law, the State and Local Flexibility Demonstration Act, permitted states to transfer administrative and activity funds from other ESEA programs to supplement learning programs (for up to five years at a time), so long as students continued to meet AYP goals. Finally, like previous federal legislation, NCLB targeted aid at the neediest schools, particularly those in urban areas, and increased the total allocation for Title I by 20 percent. This boost in aid was welcome, but it was not enough to quell complaints that the NCLB was yet another unfunded federal mandate.
These complaints have now reached the courts: school districts in several states, as well as the National Education Association, have initiated lawsuits against the federal government over the unfunded-mandate issue. The state of Connecticut has challenged the legality of No Child Left Behind, claiming that it will cost the state millions of dollars per year but limits states from spending state money to implement federal requirements. While other states, such as Utah and Virginia, have considered forgoing their federal education funds to avoid the NCLB requirements, Connecticut is the first to pursue the validity of the law through the courts.