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Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Legislation To Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

May 21, 1999

To the Congress of the United States:

I am pleased to transmit for your immediate consideration the "Educational Excellence for All Children Act of 1999," my Administration's proposal for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and other elementary and secondary education programs.

My proposal builds on the positive trends achieved under current law. The "Improving America's Schools Act of 1994," which reauthorized the ESEA 5 years ago, and the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act" gave States and school districts a framework for integrating Federal resources in support of State and local reforms based on high academic standards. In response, 48 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have adopted State-level standards. Recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show improved performance for the economically disadvantaged and other at-risk students who are the primary focus of ESEA programs. NAEP reading scores for 9-year olds in high-poverty schools have improved significantly since 1992, while mathematics achievement has also increased nationally. Students in high-poverty schools and the lowest-performing students—the specific target populations for the ESEA Title I program—have registered gains in both reading and math achievement.

I am encouraged by these positive trends, but educational results for many children remain far below what they should be. My proposal to reauthorize the ESEA is based on four themes reflecting lessons from research and the experience of implementing the 1994 Act.

First, we would continue to focus on high academic standards for all children. The underlying purpose of every program within the ESEA is to help all children reach challenging State and local academic standards. States have largely completed the first stage of standards-based reform by developing content standards for all children. My bill would support the next stage of reform by helping States, school districts, schools, and teachers use these standards to guide classroom instruction and assessment.

My proposal for reauthorizing Title I, for example, would require States to hold school districts and schools accountable for student performance against State standards, including helping the lowest-performing students continually to improve. The bill also would continue to target Federal elementary and secondary education resources on those students furthest from meeting State and local standards, with a particular emphasis on narrowing the gap in achievement between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers. In this regard, my proposal would phase in equal treatment of Puerto Rico in ESEA funding formulas, so that poor children in Puerto Rico are treated similarly to those in the rest of the country for the purpose of formula allocations.

Second, my proposal responds to research showing that while qualified teachers are critical to improving student achievement, far too many teachers are not prepared to teach to high standards. Teacher quality is a particular problem in high-poverty schools, and the problem is often exacerbated by the use of paraprofessionals in instructional roles.

My bill addresses teacher quality by holding States accountable for stronger enforcement of their own certification and licensure requirements, while at the same time providing substantial support for State and local professional development efforts. The Teaching to High Standards initiative in Title II would help move challenging educational standards into every classroom by providing teachers with sustained and intensive high-quality professional development in core academic subjects, supporting new teachers during their first 3 years in the classroom, and ensuring that all teachers are proficient in relevant content knowledge and teaching skills.

The Technology for Education initiative under Title III would expand the availability of educational technology as a tool to help teachers implement high standards in the classroom, particularly in high-poverty schools. My bill also would extend, over the next 7 years, the Class-Size Reduction initiative, which aims to reduce class sizes in the early grades by helping districts to hire and train 100,000 teachers. And the Title VII Bilingual Education proposal would help ensure that all teachers are well trained to teach students with limited English proficiency, who are found in more and more classrooms with each passing year.

Third, my bill would increase support for safe, healthy, disciplined, and drug-free learning environments where all children feel connected, motivated, and challenged to learn and where parents are welcomed and involved. The recent tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, reminds us that we must be ever vigilant against the risks of violence and other dangerous behaviors in our schools. Our reauthorization bill includes several measures to help mitigate these risks.

We would strengthen the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act by concentrating funds on districts with the greatest need for drug- and violence-prevention programs, and by emphasizing the use of research-based programs of proven effectiveness. Moreover, with respect to students who bring weapons to school, this proposal would require schools to refer such students to a mental health professional for assessment and require counseling for those who pose an imminent threat to themselves or others; allow funding for programs that educate students about the risks associated with guns; expand character education programs; and promote alternative schools and second chance programs. A new School Emergency Response to Violence program would provide rapid assistance to school districts that have experienced violence or other trauma that disrupts the learning environment.

My High School Reform initiative would support innovative reforms to improve student achievement in high schools, such as expanding the connections between adults and students that are necessary for effective learning and healthy personal development. This new initiative would provide resources to help transform 5,000 high schools into places where students receive individual attention, are motivated to learn, are provided with challenging courses, and are encouraged to develop and pursue long-term educational and career goals.

Fourth, in response to clear evidence that standards-based reforms work best when States have strong accountability systems in place, my proposal would encourage each State to establish a single, rigorous accountability system for all schools. The bill also would require States to end social promotion and traditional retention practices; phase out the use of teachers with emergency certificates and the practice of assigning teachers "out-of-field;" and implement sound discipline policies in every school. Finally, the bill would give parents an important new accountability tool by requiring State, district, and school-level report cards that will help them evaluate the quality of the schools their children attend.

Based on high standards for all students, high-quality professional development for teachers, safe and disciplined learning environments, and accountability to parents and taxpayers, the Educational Excellence for All Children Act of 1999 provides a solid foundation for raising student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. More important, it will help prepare all of our children, and thus the Nation, for the challenges of the 21st century. I urge the Congress to take prompt and favorable action on this proposal.


The White House, May 21, 1999.

William J. Clinton, Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Legislation To Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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