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ESEA/NCLB Newsletter #127

Darling-Hammond and Hess call for more coherent federal role

In a surprise pairing, Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond and American Enterprise Institute education policy studies director Frederick Hess published a joint op-ed piece in the New York Times suggesting that the federal role in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization should be defined by realism about what the government can do effectively. They outline four functions that the government can do well: (1) encouraging transparency for school performance and spending; (2) protecting basic constitutional rights; (3) supporting basic research; and, (4) supporting voluntary, competitive federal grants to promote innovation. Saying that NCLB should be a lesson in humility, the authors warn against going beyond these four roles: “Under our system, dictates from Congress turn into gobbledygook as they travel from the Education Department to state education agencies and then to local school districts. Educators end up caught in a morass of prescriptions and prohibitions, bled of the initiative and energy that characterize effective schools.”

Jack Jennings: Have We Gotten It Right on School Reform?

Writing in the Huffington Post, Jack Jennings, head of the Center on Education Policy, says a new book about the education systems of high achieving nations raises questions about whether America is heading in the right direction in the reauthorization of ESEA. The book is titled Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World's Leading Systems by Marc S. Tucker. According to Jennings’ summary, quoted below, Tucker identifies six critical factors for high-performing education systems in countries where students are outperforming Americans academically:

  • Funding schools equitably, with additional resources for those serving needy students
  • Paying teachers competitively and comparably
  • Investing in high-quality preparation, mentoring, and professional development for teachers and leaders, completely at government expense
  • Providing time in the school schedule for collaborative planning and ongoing professional learning to continually improve instruction
  • Organizing a curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • Testing students rarely but carefully—with measures that require analysis, communication, and defense of ideas

Jennings notes that America is not only failing to adequately address these factors, it is “unique in pursuing so much testing, punitive measures against schools and teachers, and the creation of so many independent charter schools. At the same time, we are ignoring financial inequality among schools and school districts, not paying our teachers a comparable wage, and encouraging practices that lead to incoherence.” Jennings urges us to ask whether we are on the right path to school reform. “If not, we had better change fast if we want to be competitive in the world.”

New Democrats outline reauthorization goals

The moderate New Democrat Coalition, a coalition of 42 House Democrats, released an ESEA reauthorization framework, stating that “every student deserves a first-rate education that equips them with the tools and skills to compete and succeed in the global economy.” The framework provides detailed goals in four areas: (1) access to a quality, well-rounded education for all students; (2) high school graduates who are well prepared for college and jobs in the global economy; (3) outstanding educators in the classroom of every student; and, (4) innovative and creative approaches that improve student learning. The framework was developed by the coalition’s Education Task Force, cochaired by Representatives Susan Davis (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

Individual state NCLB waiver applications available online

The Department of Education (ED) posted copies of the 11 state applications for waivers submitted by the November 14 deadline. The lengthy applications—Indiana’s is 502 pages—can be found at the following links: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. ED plans to respond to the applications by mid-January or earlier. Twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have indicated that they will apply by the next deadline, February 21, 2012.

ED funding study says schools serving poor children shortchanged

Using data collected under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA),  ED released a report and policy brief on school-level expenditures in an effort to determine if Title I schools receive the same level of state and local funds as non-Title I schools in the same district, otherwise known as “comparability.” The Title I comparability requirement is intended to ensure that federal Title I funds provide additional resources to high-need schools and do not compensate for unequal state and local funds. Schools can demonstrate compliance in a number of ways and are not required to use actual school-level expenditures.

The report found that 40 percent of Title I schools had lower state and local personnel expenditures per pupil than did non-Title I schools at the same school grade level. In addition to the report, ED released a policy brief that attempted to extend the analysis. ED projected that 18 to 28 percent of Title I districts would be out of compliance with an expenditures-based comparability requirement, depending on its specifications; but contended the cost of complying with such a requirement would be only 1 to 4 percent of school-level expenditures in the affected districts. If their districts were in compliance, low-spending Title I schools and higher-poverty schools would benefit by seeing their per-pupil expenditures rise by an average of 4 to 15 percent, according to ED's estimates.

Obama administration provides guidance on promoting diversity in schools

The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released a joint letter and new guidance highlighting ways in which school districts can promote diversity and reduce racial isolation consistent with Supreme Court decisions on the consideration of race by schools. The Departments also issued new guidance for colleges and universities. “The guidance announced today will aid educational institutions in their efforts to provide true equality of opportunity and fully realize the promise of Brown v. Board of Education,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a press release. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel applauded the new guidance, which contains practical examples that districts can follow. “It’s clear that President Obama and his administration understand that quality and equality are essential for ensuring the success of every child in America,” said Van Roekel. “Diversity helps students prepare to compete and succeed in a global society.”

ED allows for greater sharing of student data

ED has modified its privacy regulations to allow for greater sharing of individual student data. In a new rule amending its Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations, ED allows for “greater access by appropriate and authorized parties to information on students in order to evaluate the effectiveness of education programs.” For example, a state educational agency (SEA) is now authorized to conduct studies on behalf of local educational agencies (LEAs), using research organizations with which the SEA has a written agreement. The rule also seeks to deter the release of individual student data through stronger enforcement mechanisms. The department released a short guide on the new rule for SEAs and LEAs.

Eight states apply for Race to the Top Round 3 funds

Eight states applied for Race to the Top Round 3 funds: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Though eligible to apply, South Carolina did not submit an application, and California’s application was rejected as incomplete.

Take Action: Tell Your Senators to Fix America's Schools

While Congress debates ways to hold schools accountable for student outcomes, far too many students are learning in schools with leaky roofs and peeling paint in overcrowded classrooms with out-of-date or no technology. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced the Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) Act (S. 1597/H.R.2948), which would provide needed funds to ensure students the learning environments so essential to their success. Tell your Senators to put Americans back to work and ensure our children the education they deserve by supporting school and campus modernization.

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