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What are Special Educational Needs?

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002, is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the central federal law in pre-collegiate education. Since the law was first enacted in 1965, it has been reauthorized and renamed several times, and it is up for reauthorization again in 2007. It is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive federal education law: more than 90 percent of America’s school districts receive funding for more than 40 federal educational and supportive services programs covered by the act.
Background
NCLB programs supplement state and local efforts to provide all children with a high-quality education. Programs target funds to address specific national priorities that are not being met at the state and local level. Below are brief descriptions of some of the key sections of the law:

  • Title I is the federal government’s primary aid program for disadvantaged students.
  • Title II funds teacher and principal training and recruitment efforts.
  • Title III assists limited English proficient (LEP) students in acquiring the language skills needed for academic achievement.
  • Title IV supports safe and drug-free schools programs, school-based before- and after-school learning programs, rural schools, and school districts impacted by federal activity.

NCLB emphasizes flexibility and accountability, with the overall purpose of improving student achievement so that all students meet challenging academic standards. The law significantly expands the federal role in education by placing very specific demands on states and school districts to set high standards of proficiency for all students. NCLB requires each state to establish a statewide accountability system and proficiency goals. All children in all public schools must take annual assessments, and all children and all subgroups are expected to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) by incrementally increasing their proficiency scores. The law expects all students to reach proficiency by 2014. Subgroups include low-income students, minority students, LEP students, and students with disabilities.
Schools and districts receiving Title I funds that fail to meet the accountability requirements are subject to sanctions ranging from being required to provide supplemental educational services, to being required to offer public school choice, to the restructuring of schools and districts that are persistently underachieving. Accountability will be demonstrated through expanded testing requirements, new standards for teacher quality, strict measures of student achievement, and reporting of data.
The parent involvement provisions in NCLB are designed to strengthen parents participation in their children’s education. For the first time, a federal law defines the term parent involvement.NCLB defines parent involvement as the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication with the school regarding student academic learning and other school activities. In implementing the NCLB parent involvement provision, school districts should ensure that parents:

  • Play an integral role in assisting their children’s learning;
  • Are encouraged to be actively involved in their children’s education at school;
  • Are full partners in their children’s education; and
  • Are included, as appropriate, in the decision making and on advisory committees to assist in the education of their children.

In addition, states and schools must report their parent involvement practices with regard to safe and drug-free schools, education technology, and professional development activities. While legislative changes are unlikely until reauthorization in 2007, the U.S. Department of Education has provided some much-needed flexibility. For example:

  • Permitting states to calculate the progress of some students with disabilities using alternative assessments that are not pegged to a grade-level standard (the 2 percent rule). parate subgroups of displaced students for this school year only, and not count those students in any other subgroup in calculating progress under the federal law.
  • Approving a pilot program in Virginia that lets several districts reverse the order in which public school choice and tutoring are offered to students in schools identified for improvement. The Department of Education also has permitted a handful of urban districts to continue providing their own tutoring even if the districts themselves have been identified for improvement.
  • Giving states an extra year to ensure that, all of their classes in the core academic subjects are taught by highly qualified teachers, as long as they can show a good-faith effort in meeting the law’s requirements for such teachers.

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