A Zero-Base Reauthorization
Marshall S. Smith
instein said that the deﬁ nition of insanity is doing the same thing over
and over again and expecting different results. Over the past forty-six
years, the U.S. Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act (ESEA) six times and made numerous other changes without ever challenging the fundamental assumptions and elements of the act.
Although ESEA has carried at least two major changes to national policy
(more on that later)—and at least once, in 1994, the act was entirely rewritten—at no time has Congress or an administration started with a clean
slate rather than with the concept of amendments.
In this chapter, I carry out a thought experiment in which I build a new
ESEA starting with a set of goals and with what we have learned over the
past forty-six years about what the government can and cannot do well and
about how to improve education systems and teaching and learning.1
Why do we need a thought experiment now? In 1965, Title I was designed to provide supplemental educational services to low-achieving children in low-income schools in almost all of the districts in the United States.
Now, almost a half-century later, is this the way, with a $16 billion yearly
budget, that the federal government can most effectively help to close the
achievement gap? This question has not been asked.
Other questions have been asked but little change has happened. ESEA,
providing less than 6 percent of the national K–12 budget, has more than
ﬁ fty program authorities. 2 Many have relatively small budgets, provide
modest services, reach a small fraction of the target audience, and lack evidence of effectiveness. Moreover, the multiple programs create incoherence,
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
fragmentation of policy, and substantial administrative and complianceoriented administrative burdens at all levels of education governance. For
these reasons, almost every administration (Democratic and Republican)
has tried to substantially reduce the number of programs using the appropriation and/or reauthorization process.3 Yet, during most reauthorizations, new, generally small programs are added to the act. In addition,
most existing programs are retained and slightly modiﬁed according to
some combination of the latest research, the ideologies of our political
leaders, and the advocacy politics of small but insistent constituencies.
Some of these programs may deserve retention on their merits. My intent
is not to claim that all are failures. It is to ask the hypothetical question of
whether the funds might be better spent to accomplish the nation’s goals of
improving achievement and attainment for all of our students.
The content and underlying theories of many of these programs reﬂect
the knowledge and practice of earlier times. In a thought experiment, we
can set aside the practicalities of vested interest politics and program inertia and focus on approaches that build on past lessons and new knowledge.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT THE ROLE OF THE
One consideration when thinking about the effects of federal legislation is
the legal structure of education in the United States. The Tenth Amendment
to the Constitution constrains the role of the federal government and legitimates a prominent state role, unlike many of our smaller competitor nations. The constrained federal role and the three tiers of governance have
inﬂuenced both the development and the implementation of federal law.4
Advocates of the Tenth Amendment might ask the question: if we are to
rethink the federal approach to education, why not respond by turning
education over to the states and getting the federal government out of the
business? There are three main reasons.
By and large, major federal legislation and Supreme Court decisions have
focused on national crises generally around economic issues and the implementation of civil rights. The Vocational Education Act, introduced in 1917
to help give World War I veterans the opportunity for a working wage, is
an early example of a national economic crisis. More recently, there has
been a lot of rhetoric, and some minor programs have been authorized, to
improve science and mathematics education in response to economic challenges from other nations. The 1965 passage of ESEA was in response to
the challenges set forth in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the
Civil Rights Act of 1964. The passage of ESEA was the beginning of an
extraordinary collection of legislation that addressed the nation’s inequities in schooling. ESEA was soon followed by Title IX in the 1972 ESEA
Amendments banning sex discrimination in schools and the Education for
All Handicapped Children Act passed in 1975, which dramatically improved education opportunities for over 10 percent of our young people
who had not been treated fairly by our school systems.
At its heart, ESEA addresses economic and social inequities and has
stood for years as a symbol of our nation’s commitment to a fair education
for all. While a belief in fairness and equity for all children now motivates
the work of most educators, the issues of inequities of access and quality
continue to remain very relevant today among and within states and districts. For this, if for no other reason, there continues to be great need of a
federal role. Moreover, the very fact that deep inequities continue to exist
after forty-six years is an excellent reason to reexamine ESEA from the bottom up: in the next half-century, we must be far more productive in these
areas than we have been in the past.
A second critical reason is that the challenges of a global economy, a
complex and changing international environment, and the technology and
communication revolutions have dramatically increased our collective national need to ensure our future prosperity. As a nation, we are ever more
dependent on the quality of our human capital to carry us into a productive
and safe future. Our schools are better than many think, but we must ask
them to change and become smarter.
A third reason is efﬁciency and effectiveness in research, innovation, and
development and in gathering and publishing information about the health
of the U.S. educational system. Rather than ﬁ fty separate state efforts, a
smart federal role makes a lot of sense.
Thus, the question I pose here is not whether or why the federal government should be involved, but how should it be involved in the twenty-ﬁ rst
century. A ﬁ rst step is to establish what we have learned about the ways in
which the federal government and its policy instruments are effective or ineffective so that we can explore how to improve.
RULES: LEGISLATION AND REGULATION
When federal legislation, such as ESEA, seeks to alter something in classrooms, schools, districts, and states, the legislation is not transmitted
alone. For a variety of reasons, including legislative ambiguity and even
contradictions in the legislative language arising often as an odd product
of political compromise, the laws are generally interpreted by federal regulations and guidance.
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
The combination of legislation and regulations can be daunting to read
and interpret. In the current version of ESEA, the reauthorization in 2002
and its regulations (updated almost yearly), there are tens of thousands of
words. The words represent federal intent in legal, restrictive, and narrow
language, with the goals of ensuring clarity and uniform implementation
in the schools and of creating a more or less quantiﬁable way of monitoring the use of federal funds. This approach has one fundamental problem:
it leads to educational decisions and behavior by people at the local level
that are based on their view of faithful implementation of the federal rules
rather than on their professional judgment about how best to carry out the
intent of the legislation in their particular environment. It creates a fear of
innovation, which limits thoughtful adaptation of the legislation’s intent.
Yet, rules are sometimes necessary to protect the recipients and to provide general guidance. For example, the U.S. government and its agencies
have sets of general rules and guidance around the expenditure of federal
funds. Moreover, regulation is sometimes absolutely necessary to interpret
Unfortunately, all too often the speciﬁcations and one-size-ﬁts-all construction indicate a lack of trust in teachers, principals, and superintendents
to exercise good judgment in meeting the intent of the legislation. There
were times and conditions in our history, such as during the civil rights era
and the years preceding the passage of the Education for All Handicapped
Children Act, when that distrust was justiﬁed, but this distrust now often
ultimately cripples meaningful and continuous system improvement. Even
if the writers of the legislation and the detailed regulation of activities and
inputs are not driven by mistrust, they often ignore important variations in
context. Moreover, the acts of creating legislation and regulation can impart a sense of ownership to the authors and foster a climate of compliance
in the government where the focus is more on what grant recipients do with
the funds rather than whether the grant is having a positive effect.
Specifying the Processes/Inputs
It is useful to separate this discussion into two parts: the speciﬁcation of
processes/inputs and the regulation of outcomes. There are many examples of the problems of over- or misguided speciﬁcation of inputs from legislation and regulations. For example, in reaction to evidence of relatively
few misuses of Title I money in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Congress
created legislative language and the education department created regulations that together restricted the use of money in fairly rigid ways. The
intent was reasonable, but Congress and the education department (then
the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) failed to anticipate the
possibly harmful implications of the new rules.
One rule, the so-called supplement-not-supplant provision, was used to
ensure that no Title I money could pay for services that might support non–
Title I children. Thus, in a reading lesson in a classroom in a school with
Title I and non–Title I students, Title I money could only be used for Title I
students. The application of this rule across the nation led to pulling Title I
students out of regular reading lessons and placing them in special reading
classes for only Title I students. They were thus denied the opportunity to
have reading instruction from their regular teacher, who was often better
qualiﬁed than their “pull-out” instructor.
By the mid-1970s, some 60 percent of Title I children who received special reading instruction were in pull-out classes, which added, at best, a
little extra time to their reading instruction. Segregated by reading level,
Title I students often missed out on the positive effect of a social class mix
of students, shown to be important by a variety of studies, including the
Coleman Report in the mid-1960s.5
Even now, there are many rules that could lead to such unintended consequences. For example, from the federal level, we regulate permissible
models for turning around “failing” schools in every state, the kinds of
professional development that federal monies can pay for, the speed with
which English language learners are expected to learn English, and, often
in great detail, the percentage of federal funds to be allocated by a state or
district among various agencies or purposes. All of these are areas where
context plays an important role; it interacts with the nature of the intervention. All of these are areas where adaptations of rules may be necessary to
create effective activities.
A possible response to these problems is not to regulate the means or inputs but to only regulate the hoped-for outcomes. However, an important
problem with this approach is that the metric chosen for an outcome takes
on huge meaning if there are important consequences to success or failure.
Campbell’s law holds that “when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status
and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”6 In a well-documented unintended effect of No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability
system, many teachers in the weeks before state testing are asked to focus
mainly on students whose achievement is very slightly below proﬁcient at
the expense of other, lower achieving students.7 In another example, studies
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
indicate that the elementary and middle school curriculum has been narrowed because of Title I’s focus on holding schools accountable almost entirely for only the reading and mathematics achievement of their students.8
A third example that shows the political power of NCLB is that over the
past few years, a number of states have reduced the level of assessment
scores necessary to meet the proﬁciency goals on their state examinations.9
These examples of unintended consequences of NCLB and its accountability system only scratch the surface of a large literature taking fault with
NCLB and, in general, with rigid and penalty-driven, performance-based
accountability. Over the past dozen years, the literature on performancebased accountability and test-based incentives has grown increasingly sophisticated. This literature looks at technical issues, including statistical
reliability; issues of theory and breadth and validity, including the need
for multiple measures for complex goals; the use of incentives, both positive and negative; issues of implementation, including the lack of capacity
in some settings to accurately make measurements and to carry out consequences; unintended consequences; and political implications.
An important recent report from the National Research Council concludes that “the available evidence does not give strong support for the use
of test-based incentives to improve education and provides only minimal
guidance about which incentive designs may be effective.”10 It goes on to
suggest that careful research on the nature and use of performance incentives be initiated and that successful implementation and use of incentive
systems requires substantial capacity and, implying a feedback loop, that
the “incentive system include provisions to promote that capacity.”11
The themes of the value of using multiple measures and improving capacity and quality as part of accountability systems are echoed in a Rand
study that examines forms of accountability and organizational improvement in a variety of sectors.12 David Cohen and Susan Mofﬁtt critically address the use of value-added measures (VAM) for assessing teacher quality
and conclude that using VAM is an ill-judged effort to “short circuit the
underlying problems of teaching quality in U.S. schools.”13 Overall, Cohen
and Mofﬁtt and Michael Fullan are skeptical about the use of incentive
systems to improve schools, and they focus on issues of policy coherence,
capacity building, social capital, and implementation as more integral to
school improvement than is performance accountability.14
There is no good way of knowing whether or not the school performance accountability system legislated in ESEA since 1994 has helped improve test scores, much less student achievement. There are too many other
variables involved. However, there was a distinct change in the accountability system when NCLB was enacted in 2002. NCLB more than dou-
bled the amount of required testing, established an impossible long-term
goal to be reached, and created a set of penalties that were more likely to
punish diverse schools. This change gives us the opportunity to contrast a
modest accountability system (1994–2002) with a more aggressive system
The main independent source of information in the United States about
the gains associated with the 1994 and 2002 amendments is the National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). There are two NAEPs. One,
called the longitudinal NAEP, was started in the 1970s and measures basic
skills in reading and mathematics. The other, the main NAEP, was designed
in the late 1980s to assess “making complex inferences” and “problem solving and reasoning.”15
On both NAEPs, when the data are accurately analyzed by subgroups,
they show strong average gains during the overall period from 1994 to
2009. 16 On the main NAEP, the rates of gain of scores in reading and mathematics at both the fourth and eighth grades were somewhat greater in the
period from 1994 to 2002 than from 2002 to 2009 (the NCLB years). On
the longitudinal NAEP, the rates of gain for reading for nine- and thirteenyear-olds was slightly greater during the NCLB years and for mathematics
for both age groups was very slightly greater prior to NCLB. The reading
result for longitudinal NAEP could be due to the emphasis on the Reading
First program in the NCLB years, a program that emphasized basic skills.
Overall the NAEP data show mixed effects on the rates of growth with a
slight nod to the time prior to NCLB. The lack of reading gains during the
NCLB period on the main NAEP for eighth grade is particularly discouraging. These comparisons only give us a rough idea about the possible effects
on student achievement of performance accountability; but they do suggest
that more is not necessarily better.
One ﬁ nal component of the NCLB accountability system should be
noted. NCLB requires that achievement scores of subgroups of students, divided by racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds, be made publicly available. This is an important and positive use of transparency as a mechanism
of accountability, which has resulted in heightened public attention to how
well their schools were doing and the importance of the achievement gap.
The idea of subgroups was also extended in NCLB to be part of the general accountability system by a requirement that unless all subgroups in a
school reached required levels of achievement over two to three years, the
school was labeled as being in danger of failing. In a sad irony for those
who believe in desegregation, this provision made the accountability challenge more difﬁcult for schools with diverse student bodies than for racially
isolated schools, because there were more subgroups that could fail. The
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
careful use of transparency to exhibit subgroup scores and gains as a mechanism of soft accountability, however, can be a very powerful incentive.
LEVERAGING AND COMPETITIVE INCENTIVES
In each of the last two ESEA reauthorizations (1994 and 2002), Title I was
reauthorized as a major funding program that supported programs and
schools with high percentages of low-income students. In both years, the
Title I legislation required that states make major changes in their systems,
changes that inﬂuenced all students and all schools, not just those in Title
I, as a condition of receiving Title I funds.
In 1994, the Title I legislation speciﬁed that to receive funding, states
had to have content and performance standards for schools receiving Title
I funds and that the standards had to be the same that were required for
other schools in their state. Most states did not have content and performance standards at the time of this act’s passage. However, by requiring
that Title I schools have standards as a condition of taking Title I funding
and that the standards were the same as those in non–Title I schools in the
state, the legislation made it necessary for every state to adopt the same
standards for all of its schools.17
The 2002 ESEA version, NCLB, kept the structure and requirements for
standards-based reform from the 1994 amendments and added important
requirements to Title I. Using the same language that was used in 1994,
the 2002 amendments added a much more aggressive federal accountability system.
One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that leveraging works
to change behavior. States carried out major reforms that they otherwise
might not have carried out unless large amounts of money were conditional on adoption of the reforms. However, it is possible that the reforms
were actually desired by many states, and the fact that Title I was involved
may have given the states the political ammunition to adopt and implement
them. Nonetheless, that states can be induced to adopt and try to implement complex reforms under the not particularly realistic threat of losing
Title I resources is an important lesson.
The Race to the Top (RTTT) competition in 2009 and 2010 is a second
example of the power of leveraging. At over $4 billion, RTTT was far and
away the largest grant competition that the Department of Education has
ever managed. Forty-seven of the ﬁfty-one eligible jurisdictions prepared
and submitted lengthy and detailed proposals; eleven won. In order to gain
points in the competition, states had to commit to carrying out the reforms
and also show that they had already made policy decisions that supported
many of the reforms. As a consequence of the requirements for prior commitment, a number of states passed legislation, changed regulations, or otherwise moved in the policy directions that would accumulate points before
the competition ended. Moreover, many of the jurisdictions that did not
win have since committed themselves to one or more of the reforms.
This suggests to some that money buys reform. Yet, that is only part of
the story. Even though the dollars involved were considerable, they were
hardly worth a state committing itself to a policy direction that its leaders didn’t generally agree with. For example, the average RTTT-winning
state has one million students and received a little under $400 million to
be spent over four years. This amounts to roughly $100 a student a year,
about the cost of one textbook. A conclusion that these actions were taken
entirely for the money is not plausible. My sense is that a majority of the
state policy makers wanted to enact at least some of the suggested policies
and used the possible resources as political leverage. This interpretation,
arguably, is supported by the actions of the states that lost in the competition, which, even in this dire economic environment, are moving to implement the reforms.
In short, we have learned that:
1. The relevance of programs can change over time as conditions change
2. Overregulation of inputs can become a disease that distorts local behavior, sometimes very badly, and may represent a failure of trust and
lead to compliance-based cultures at the federal, state, and local levels
3. Regulation of outcomes is fraught with danger from unintended consequences and apparently has little positive effect on productivity
4. Transparency can be a powerful mechanism for accountability
5. Levers and incentives (from large funding programs and competitions) work to change behavior and may provide local and state leaders with an excuse to do what they would like to.
WHAT WOULD A CLEAN-SLATE ELEMENTARY AND
SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT LOOK LIKE?
In this section I sketch a design for a new ESEA that builds on what we
know about how federal programs and actions seem to have worked, or
not, and integrate this knowledge with what we have learned from research
and experience about system and organizational development and teaching
and learning. The result is one version of a new ESEA.
The new ESEA would have a preamble, three titles, and a total of seven
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
The new ESEA would support state and local systems that aim to improve
student achievement, graduation, college going, and student readiness for
the earliest grades; to close gaps in achievement and attainment; and to
meet clear targets for national growth on international assessments. This
legislation will guide rather than direct; address the problems that cause inequalities; build capacity and infrastructure; focus on implementation and
continuous improvement; use the power of transparency to serve as an accountability mechanism; and enable a strong and useful program of applied
research, with speciﬁc attention to harnessing the potential of technology.
The legislation will build on the lessons learned from past federal experience summarized earlier in this chapter.
The act will not support a collection of small programs or try to address
speciﬁc local problems. The track record of the federal government is not
good in this regard.
Goals will set out the aspirations for legislation and can direct national
attention to important purposes. In this legislation, the ﬁ rst four goals
would apply at all levels of government. The ﬁve goals are:
1. Continuous and substantial growth of student achievement and gap
closure on state tests, preferably on assessments developed for the
common standards that would facilitate comparability among states
2. Continuous and substantial growth and gap closures in graduation
3. Continuous and substantial growth and gap closing of rates of students entering kindergarten and ﬁ rst grade with the skills, knowledge, and habits needed to succeed in school
4. Continuous and substantial growth and gap closing in college-going
and graduation rates
5. Continuous and substantial growth nationally, by state, and by district on the NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA assessments.
Each part of the three titles will be in two sections: the ﬁrst section will
provide a rationale for the part based primarily on research, and the second
part will describe possible legislative language.
Title I: Creating Opportunity and Success for All
This new Title I focuses on the single most important problem in U.S. education: the extraordinary amount of inequality in the system. In theory, a
state or district system that embraces continuous improvement while simultaneously holding the value of equality should be able to reduce gaps in a
steady and effective way. However, as with other important characteristics
of our society, such as income, the reduction of inequalities in education
is hard to accomplish. Educational opportunity and performance inequalities exist at all levels of the system. This title addresses state inequality in
resources by stimulating the use of state ﬁ nance formulae that take into account the special needs of low-income and other students. The title would
also provide funds directly to districts with the 20 percent of schools that
have the highest concentrations of poverty. It would also initiate and support efforts to improve early school readiness for over a million low-income
young people and/or English language learners by explicitly focusing on the
development of language and self-regulation.
Part A: Reducing funding inequalities within states. The purpose of this
part is to address the great disparities within states and districts in the distribution of general support funds. The theory is that a distribution formula that is sensitive to the needs of low-income students, English language
learners (ELLs), and children with disabilities would provide a greater than
average proportion of available resources to the districts and schools with
students most in need. This would not solve the problems of inequality, but
it would create a base of support and opportunity for students with the
Many states will have to ﬁ nd innovative solutions to create a school ﬁnance formula that requires student-weighted levels of resources, because
their districts provide a substantial percentage of education funding and
wish to maintain local control. In states where most of the resources are
distributed from the center, the technical aspects are easier. But in either situation, a transition problem arises because some schools or districts could
lose funds in the redistribution process and it would take some time to
reach new equilibrium. Resources from this legislation could provide the
incentive that states might need to adopt a distribution formula based on
weighted pupil factors.
My sense is that the most effective mechanism to stimulate interest in this
effort would be a wide-open competition. This activity could make a very
important contribution to equal opportunity in many states. As a start, it
would need a budget of $4 billion a year for ﬁve years with a carry-over provision. The funds would help address state inequalities in at least a quarter
of the ﬁfty states. If the program is successful and there was the chance of
more states entering the competition, the program would be extended for
another ﬁve years. The overall goal would be to have all states achieve a
greater and sustainable level of equality in their school ﬁnance system.
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
Part B: Reform the highest-poverty schools. This part would allocate
funds in schools that have the largest poverty density. The legislation
would assume that the schools and districts would have resources from
Title II of this act for the implementation of standards-based reforms and
a continuous improvement system and may have resources from Title I,
Part A. The mixture of funds should be fully integrated and fungible.
The goal for a school receiving funds under this part is to create a highquality, engaging, effective, and sustainable educational environment focused on substantially improving achievement and attainment and closing
the gaps. To do this will require that the districts and schools develop a
strong culture of continuous improvement as well as adopting innovative
strategies, chosen by local educators, to ensure that all students are motivated and learning.
The Part B funds would support the combination of continuous improvement and innovation. One approach might be to adopt and implement
proven models such as Success for All, America’s Choice, Core Knowledge,
or charter management organization models such as KIPP, Aspire, or HiTech High. In secondary schools, challenging alternative pathways, such as
career and technical education for students who are not motivated by traditional curricula, also might be effectively used. Technology applications,
including open full courses, tutoring, and performance projects, should
be available for all students. The use of rigorously certiﬁed human tutors
to support classroom learning out of school is a promising strategy, one
widely used in Asia. At the middle and secondary levels, steps to support
the odds of students’ graduating should be taken, including strong counseling and providing young adult mentors.
The legislative language would be spare, stressing the overall goals and
the importance of a coherent long-term commitment, the adoption of effective strategies, and the use of transparency to engage parents and the community. For states that adopt weighted student formulas, there would be
no ﬁscal regulations other than targeting for these funds; for other states,
a strong “comparability” ﬁscal regulation for districts would be required.
The funds would go to districts with schools that have the highest percentages and numbers of low-income families. The focus would be on
reaching the highest-poverty elementary, middle, and high schools that
contain a total of 20 percent of the nation’s school population.
The appropriation would be $10 billion, roughly $1,000 per student for
ten million students. Districts could use up to 10 percent of the funds for
activities that support the purposes of Part B. All eligible schools would receive Title I, Part B money. Schools would be guaranteed the funds for six
years. Over the subsequent four years, the resources would be phased out
of schools that had become ineligible because of changing populations, and
other, newly eligible schools would be funded.
After the second year of the program, another $1 billion each year would
be appropriated as incentive funds for districts with eligible high schools
that improve graduation rates. For example, an increase of four percentage points in graduation rates (for example, from 70 to 74 percent) averaged over two years would be worth a 15 percent increase in funds, while
an increase of six percentage points in graduation rates would be worth an
increase of 25 percent.
During the ﬁ rst ten years of the programs, the schools and districts receiving funds would be carefully evaluated with three sets of reports that
provided evidence about overall effectiveness and information that could
be used by district and schools for improvement. The ﬁ nal report would be
received by the federal government at the end of the eighth year, in time for
Part C: Prepare students from low-income families to enter school ready to
succeed. The purpose of this part is to increase the likelihood that children
from low-income families and ELLs enter school with the cognitive and
noncognitive skills and knowledge they need to do well in school.
Extensive bodies of research show vividly that many lower income (and
some other) children arrive at school with substantially inadequate oral
language skills, including very small working vocabularies, and without
the skills of self-regulation that are necessary to beneﬁt from school. These
children start out far, far behind in kindergarten and ﬁ rst grade and rarely
catch up. The sizes of working vocabularies of students in welfare homes,
for example, are, on average, one-third the size of students in middle-income homes. In general, they do not catch up. By the time they reach ﬁ fth
or sixth grade and are faced with math word problems, the language embedded within the problems can give them as much trouble as the mathematics. Science and social studies texts are even more challenging. Children
from low-income families that speak a language other than English have an
even harder time. Unless the nation meets this problem head on, we will not
close the achievement gap.18
At the preschool level, part of the resources might be used to substantially augment and extend local preschool and Head Start programs to give
high-quality training and practice in oral language skills, vocabulary, and
self-regulation using well-trained teachers, with the expectation that the
changes would be extended to other students as well. At the kindergarten
and ﬁ rst-grade levels, the resources could support intensive training and
coaching for teachers and special afterschool, weekend, and summer school
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
programs focusing on student language and self-regulation skills. Programs
to engage parents to help support the language and self-regulation training
of their children would be important. As the programs progress at a local level, they would be expected to change as more and more knowledge
is developed about effective practice. Student progress would be based on
unobtrusive but reliable and valid measures given at the end of preschool,
kindergarten, and ﬁ rst grade.
This component of the legislation would focus on improving oral language and self-regulation skills of children in preschool, kindergarten, and
ﬁ rst grade who have not yet developed them to the levels needed to achieve
I am not sure how best to do this. One way of starting would be a competition among the large urban and rural school districts that meet the requirements for the new Title I, Part B grants program. The reason for a
competition would be to reward those districts that are most prepared to
serve the students well. The districts could compete for grants to serve students across three cohorts—preschool, kindergarten, and ﬁ rst grade cohorts. The overall target for the ﬁ rst year would be 180,000 students at
$3,000 per student—roughly $540 million. Over the next ﬁve years, the
totals would increase to one million students per year (333,000 per cohort) costing $3 billion, and, if evaluation results were clearly positive, the
program would be expanded to $7.5 billion to serve 1.5 million students
(roughly 20 percent of the total population).
The program would be authorized for ten years and then reauthorized
if the results were positive. Eight percent of funds would be spent on local,
district, and national evaluations that tracked progress with yearly metrics,
reported every three years, and fed back information for program improvement. In addition, the National Academies of Sciences and the National
Academy of Education would be jointly asked to establish a standing committee to keep track of the progress of the effort and to provide formative
advice to the government and grant recipients on a yearly basis. If the evaluations show positive results, this program would pay for itself many times
over within ﬁfteen years.
Title II: Implementing State Standards-Based Reform and
Establishing Continuous Improvement Systems, Supporting
Nongovernmental Expertise, and Creating Performance-Based
This title focuses on stimulating and supporting high-performance education systems in all states. The ﬁ rst part combines the goals of implementing
new standards-based reforms and of supporting continuous improvement
systems in all states, districts, and schools. These goals complement each
other and are combined in one grant program. Part B builds expert capacity in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help states and districts
carry out their reforms. Part C provides support for a performance-based
accountability system for schools, districts, and states that focuses primarily on the soft power of transparency and the improvement of practice.
Part A: Implementing common standards based reforms and continuous
improvement systems. NAEP data indicate that achievement scores have
grown substantially over the past ﬁfteen years. This suggests that the current
state standards-based reform systems have at least supported improvements
in student achievement, even though they are often badly implemented and
have mixed quality. Over this period of time, research and development
about understanding organization effectiveness and improving teaching and
learning has increased at a substantial pace. While there is still much to
learn about how best to implement standards-based reform and continuous
improvement systems, our new knowledge and the push for common new
standards provide the nation right now with an extraordinary opportunity
to accelerate the quality and equality of the education system.
One goal of Part A is to provide resources to support states to fully and
thoughtfully implement state standards-based reform, hopefully anchored
by the new Common Core State Standards. Coherent and challenging standards-based systems provide structure for state and local agencies as they
work and steadily improve to meet federal, state, and local goals.
The Common Core standards effort led by the states is very promising.
The high quality and coherence of the common standards and the strong
possibility of aligned and challenging assessments with a mix of performance and short answer items is a good start toward a much more robust
and effective standards-based system than we have now. In addition, the
recent progress toward rational and useful science standards is promising. Over time, our nation can do the same for history, the arts, and foreign languages. A broadened curriculum that recognizes the importance
of these content areas is a critical feature of an improved system. Finally,
full implementation of this reform by a state would include a variety of
aligned but different curricula that offer choices of pedagogy and a serious upgrading of the human resources system, including the teacher training institutions.
To sustain trust, allow for variation in context; and to promote creative
adaptation and a sense of responsibility, states should have substantial discretion in their strategies for implementing standards-based reforms. The
new common standards would not be required, though all states would be
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
required to publicly review their standards, curricula, and assessments to
determine if they meet today’s and tomorrow’s requirements.
This part would also provide support for the development of a culture
of continuous improvement practice in state and local school systems. The
challenge of implementing a new standards-based system using the common standards provides a ready platform for all states and districts to develop the capacity for implementing continuous improvement processes as
The arguments for bringing continuous improvement practice to all of
our districts and states are straightforward. Our children will not learn
well unless the adults in the system are also learning through collaboration
with each other, strong professional development, ongoing and supported
teacher networks, and the steady gathering and use of information about
the quality of their practice. Many states and districts never advance beyond putting so-called aligned systems in place and talking about improvement. It is quite another thing to create the climate, policies, and practices
that continuously support and improve the implementation of standardsbased reform throughout the entire system. Improving systems requires
sustained practice as well as the capacity to make substantial changes when
necessary—innovation, experimentation, and openness to the extraordinary opportunities that technology will bring to schooling must be part of
The processes of continuous improvement and system learning must be
embedded in every part of the system. Huge strides in this direction can be
seen in well-run businesses (HP, GE, Google), successful national education systems (Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland), leading U.S. school districts
(Long Beach, Atlanta, Ocean Grove, Austin), school model organizations (KIPP, Teach for America, Hi-Tech High, Success for All, America’s
Choice), and states (Massachusetts, Minnesota). Steady, long-term leadership combined with smart and sensible policy management seems to be the
cornerstones of these organizations.
Finally, the substantial success that Massachusetts has had in improving
NAEP scores over the past ﬁfteen years and its high ranking in the 2007
International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments are notable. In both math and science on the TIMSS assessments, Massachusetts
placed in the top six, of roughly forty-ﬁve countries, in the fourth and
eighth grades, including three scores in the top ﬁve. Over this period of
time, Massachusetts has had high-quality standards and assessments and
strong and committed leadership steadily focused on a process of improvement. The point here is that states do not need a radical makeover to become internationally competitive. Building a learning capacity, holding the
course, and steadily improving is not easy. It is not sexy. There is no magic
bullet. It is hard, serious, important work.
The federal strategy would be a soft monetary incentive (a state grant
program) to implement the new standards-based reforms and a continuous improvement system and processes. There would be no mandated approaches and no regulations. States and districts would be required to
create plans and metrics and to make them both public and easily available, ﬁ rst for comment and improvement and second so that they public
may easily understand them. The states and districts would also track and
publicly report explicit measures of progress in their implementation of
both the standards-based reforms and the continuous improvement processes. Plans would have to be updated yearly with changes based on the
prior year’s experiences.
Additionally, each state would be required to have an external review
every three to ﬁve years to provide guidance about the progress of their
reforms. The federal government would provide clear examples of strategies and processes that seem to have worked in U.S. cities and states and
in other parts of the world. It would not disapprove or approve plans, reports, or data.
For these purposes, federal funds would be distributed to states, with
85 percent delivered by the state to districts. The appropriations authority
would provide $6 billion per year for eight years, then $4 billion, and $2
billion, with no money or authority after the tenth year. States would have
the option of not taking the grants, which initially would be roughly $110
per student per year—not an amount that should dramatically alter signiﬁcant policy calculations. The purpose of the choice would be to ensure that
the states have bought into the reforms and strategies. The Department of
Education would support and report immediately on receipt three national
reviews by independent sources of the progress of these activities during the
Part B: Supporting nongovernmental expertise. Most education governments’ (state and local) capacity to support the implementation of standards-based reform and of continuous improvement processes is very weak.
There is some capacity to support organizational improvement and improved teaching and learning in existing NGOs, but this sector also is very
lean. This part would stimulate and partially support the maintenance and
development of NGOs and other service providers to provide appropriate
expertise to states and local districts to help them implement the reforms
and create effective continuous improvement systems. The purpose would
be to strengthen existing organizations and start new ones.
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The mechanism would be a competition open to all organizations and
agencies for resources to be used to provide necessary expert assistance to
states and districts in their reform work. In the ﬁ rst year, the appropriation
would be $200 million for forty organizations for ﬁve-year grants. In the
second year, another $200 million would support forty more organizations
for ﬁve years. There would be no resources in future years. Organizations
that receive awards would have to use other funds, particularly from state
and local education agencies, to survive after their federal funds were fully
used. Awards would specify that no federal funds could be spent to work
with a district or state unless the district or state provided at least 25 percent of the costs as matching funds.
Part C: Student performance accountability. This part provides support for
state and local outcome accountability systems. The literature on performance accountability, the data on unintended consequences of the current
federal accountability system, the NAEP data, and the sense of frustration
and angst in the ﬁeld provide convincing evidence that the NCLB accountability provisions should be substantially changed.
The goal for this act is to support a coherent and vibrant standards-based
system that is focused on the steady improvement of student achievement
and attainment and adult learning. Trust and buy-in by the people doing
the basic work of teaching is crucial. Alienated employees do not build and
improve strong organizations. The balance between accountability and support should be weighted on the support side much more than it is now.
The new system would use full transparency of student performance
data and local and state plans and progress as its primary accountability
mechanism. States and districts would be expected to pay careful attention to making the reporting very available and very easy to understand.
The achievement data would be presented overall and disaggregated by
student subgroups on the measures for each of the goals set out in this act.
All metrics would be an average over two years in order to gain stability in the measures. The system would feature public and rapid reporting
of student achievement on state assessments in at least four subject matter areas at selected grades, as well as attainment and gap closure metrics each year. Regular reports would speciﬁcally show progress toward
a school’s, district’s, or state’s version of the goals set out in the preamble. Finally, the federal and state governments would publicly report their
scores and explanatory information on NAEP, TIMSS, and the Programme
for International Student Assessment (PISA) as accountability metrics.
Schools would be expected to make use of the assessment and other data
in two ways. The primary way would be to use the data to help teachers, in-
dividually and collectively, improve their work; even the best teachers can improve. This improvement feedback loop should be carried out as quickly as
possible on receipt of data. The cornerstone of the system must be improvement. The data might also be used in the evaluations of individual teachers, but only very carefully. Until we have a much better understanding of
the problems of value-added methodology set out by the National Research
Council, the data on teacher effectiveness should only be used for formative
purposes or to help corroborate conclusions reached from other data.
Local districts would be required to use the data to identify and provide
support and expertise for schools to improve. With scarce resources, districts should focus on those schools that fail to improve. States also would
be required to report their efforts to support districts that show signs of not
meeting their goals. If states and districts did not meet their goals over a
three-year period, they would be required to provide a report to the public
about what steps they are taking to improve their progress. Finally, states
would be free to add other accountability provisions.
The federal authorization for this effort would support state and local
implementation and execution of the accountability systems required in
this part. The federal government would provide $2 billion per year for
this work, work that affects every school, teacher, and child in the system.
States would have to evenly match their appropriation using state funds.
The total is roughly $75 a student per year. Fifty percent of the funds would
be distributed to the local districts to help support their implementation of
assessments, other data gathering, and to develop and oversee constructive intervention strategy for schools that do not meet their targets. The remainder would be used by the states for administrative and district support
services, which might include something like an inspectorate for helping
districts meet state and federal requirements.
Title III: Research, Development, and Innovation
The third title would establish an effective applied research, development,
and innovation effort focused on ways of achieving the goals of the act.
Part A: Support NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA. Goal ﬁve challenges the nation
and states to improve performance on NAEP, our national and state assessment, and two international assessments, TIMSS and PISA. This part of
Title III provides funding for the administration, data gathering, analysis,
and reporting for these assessments.
NAEP provides an independent measure to assess national status and
growth, for among-state and among-districts comparisons. TIMSS, an assessment that Massachusetts and Minnesota excelled on in 2007, provides
Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit
a measure that is used by many nations and serves as a useful yardstick to
assess progress for the United States and some states in mathematics and
science relative to the rest of the world. PISA, another international assessment, is speciﬁcally designed to assess students’ capacity to solve new problems, to synthesize, and to be able to transfer knowledge and use it in new
environments. That is why PISA is so important to the United States and
why we should be particularly concerned that we do poorly on the test as
compared with other nations. It is intended to be a measure of a student’s
capacity to apply what some call “twenty-ﬁ rst-century skills.”
Part A would authorize the National Center for Educational Statistics
to administer, score, interpret, and report on NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA
on a regular schedule. The authority would include resources for all of the
NAEP administrations and for TIMSS and PISA participation by the nation, states, and cities. The results of these assessments and studies of the
nations should be fully integrated into the national and state reporting systems. The authorization for resources is in Part B of this title.
Part B: Research, development, and innovation. Part B would establish an
applied research, development, and evaluation program around the core
questions and challenges of effectively reaching this act’s goals for student
progress and gap closing. A signiﬁcant part of the funds would be allocated
to ﬁgure out how to use information technology to improve results for all
Our understanding of how people learn and how to improve schools and
teaching has grown over the past few decades, but not enough. While basic
research continues to be necessary, we need to improve our ways of solving
pressing problems in schools by applying research knowledge. This process
has a lot in common with engineering, but it is more complex in education
because the laws that give direction toward improvement in complex social
and political situations are far more ephemeral and daunting than the laws
of nature. For example, we need to know how to:
1. Convert a school district into a learning organization that deliberately and expertly practices continuous improvement
2. Ensure that all children entering kindergarten have the breadth of vocabulary, language skills, motivation, and self regulation necessary
to succeed in school
3. Build curricula and design instructional methodologies that enable
ELL students to develop strong skills in English as well as in their native language.
Research on the use of technology to improve educational outcomes is especially critical. In 2020 we will look back on 2011 and ask, “How could
someone have imagined that technology would have little effect on education?” Technology is on its way to being a powerful tool in the hands of
educators, parents, and students to accomplish ends in teaching and learning that are difﬁcult for us now to imagine. We already have very effective
programs for teaching algebra, and on the drawing boards are artiﬁcial intelligence tutors that will bring novice students of algebra or introductory biology to a superior level of learning in weeks rather than months. For most
middle and secondary school subjects, there will be very high-quality courses
available free on the Web for home or school. Soon teachers will have ready
online access to powerful video examples of teaching based on the new common standards. The implications for improving the odds for students with
special needs, for amplifying the learning for ELLs, for credit for schooling
to be based on performance rather than seat time, and for providing experiences that enhance creativity and deepen understanding are extraordinary.
Serious applied research, development, innovation, and evaluation will be
needed to ensure that these new opportunities beneﬁt all of our students.
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is currently working toward research that provides information about good and smart practice on similar
problems, but its pace is much too slow. Researchers need to feel the same
urgency that parents and teachers feel when their children and students are
The legislation would support applied research and development on the
challenges of education practice that are addressed in Titles I and II of this
legislation. One-third to one-half of the funding would be focused on effective uses of information technology. The legislation also would repeal the
measures that forbid the Department of Education from creating curriculum.
The appropriation for this entire Title (both Parts A and B) would be set
at one-ﬁfth of 1 percent of the annual U.S. (federal, state, and local) expenditures on education. It would supplement the IES, Education ARPA, and
Innovation funds to increase the level for research and development for our
largest industry to just a little under one-half of 1 percent of annual expenditures of the entire K–12 system, far less than is allocated to research for
other national priorities.
I would be shocked if Washington even considers such a proposal as this.
After all, it does not reﬂect the realities of politics. It does, however, suggest
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a set of legislative strategies that are based largely on evidence and that focus entirely on improving the quality of our education system and closing the gaps between rich and poor, minority and majority, and in student
achievement and attainment. It points directly at the future, which will be
determined by how well our young, often poor, and often English language
learners succeed in school, and to the important role that technology will
hold over the next decade.
I thank Eugenia Kemble, Rick Hess, Daniel Lautzenheiser, Joanne Weiss, and
Alan Ginsburg for careful readings of earlier drafts and for their thoughtful suggestions. Very special thanks go to Brenda Turnbull and Jessica Levin. Brenda
was a primary author of the administration’s proposal for the 1978 ESEA amendments, and Jessica played a similar role for the 1994 amendments. I thank them
both for their advice, wisdom, and attention to detail to make this a better essay
and for all of the work they have done to improve ESEA over the years. I am responsible for errors, misunderstandings, and odd perspectives in this paper. I also
thank the Spencer Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching for their support.