Betsy DeVos Approves ESSA Plans for Alaska and Iowa

Betsy DeVos Approves ESSA Plans for Alaska and Iowa

Education Week logoU.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has given the thumbs up to two more state Every Student Succeeds Act plans: Alaska and Iowa.

That brings the total number of states with approved plans to 44, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Still waiting for the OK: California, Florida, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah.

Alaska is working local interim tests into its accountability system, as a measure of school quality or student success for elementary schools. The state will also consider chronic absenteeism and literacy by 3rd grade. High schools will be measured on chronic absenteeism, “on track” freshmen, and how many students are eligible for “Alaska Performance Scholarships,” which are based on GPA, completion of a certain curriculum, and achieving a certain score on tests such as the ACT. The state also makes it clear it can’t ‘”coerce” a parent to make a child take standardized tests…

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Source: Education Week Politics K-12

Districts Are Supposed to Use Evidence to Improve Schools Under ESSA. Will They?

Districts Are Supposed to Use Evidence to Improve Schools Under ESSA. Will They?

Education Week logoThe Every Student Succeeds Act is supposed to bring about a big change in school improvement. The law says states and districts can use any kind of interventions they want in low-performing schools, as long as they have evidence to back them up.

But the provision has some experts worried. They’re concerned that there just aren’t enough strategies with a big research base behind them for schools to choose from. These experts also worried that district officials may not have the capacity or expertise to figure out which interventions will actually work.

Districts, they’ve said, may end up doing the same things they have before, and may end up getting the same results.

“My guess is, you’ll see a lot of people doing the things they were already doing,” said Terra Wallin, who worked as a career staffer at the federal Education Department on school turnaround issues and is now a consultant with Education First, a policy organization that is working with states on ESSA implementation. “You’ll see a lot of providers approaching schools or districts to say, ‘Look, we meet the evidence standard,'” Wallin said…

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Iowa review teams release recommendations to reform developmental education

Iowa review teams release recommendations to reform developmental education

DES MOINES – Two work groups charged with studying ways to reduce the need for developmental college coursework today released recommendations that support Iowa’s vision for all students to graduate from high school ready for college and for college students to have the support they need to complete a degree or credential.

Developmental (or remedial) education refers to undergraduate instruction that does not count toward a degree, but typically must be completed by students who are considered underprepared before advancing to college-level coursework. More than one out of every five Iowa students (21.6 percent) who enroll in an Iowa public college or university within one year of high school graduation take at least one developmental English or math course the first year of college. The rate is almost twice as high for black and Hispanic students (39.1 percent) as it is for white students (19.6 percent).

“Reducing the need for developmental education is a high priority because students who are placed in these courses are at risk of failing to progress and never completing a credential or degree,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise. “These recommendations expand on efforts underway in our schools and colleges to further enhance student success and strengthen Iowa’s workforce talent pipeline.”

Two work groups were established in response to recommendations released last year by the Future Ready Iowa Alliance aimed at reaching the goal of 70 percent of Iowa workers having education or training beyond high school by 2025. One of those recommendations specifically calls out the need to improve remediation at both high school and postsecondary levels.

The High School and Community College Developmental Education Partnerships Working Group focused its recommendations on identifying and closing gaps in reading, writing, and math in high school. The group identified strong partnerships between high schools and community colleges, use of diagnostic tools to identify learning gaps, and meaningful course-taking during the senior year as components for effective transition from high school to college.

The Developmental Education Working Group evaluated best practices for supporting students who aren’t ready for college coursework and focused its recommendations on ways to improve advising, assessment, placement, teaching and delivery methods.

“The length of time spent in developmental courses can impede college persistence, increasing the time and cost it takes to earn a degree,” said Linda Allen, a work group member and Hawkeye Community College president. “Our goal is to identify gaps early and improve instruction and support services in order to make sure all students have a clear path to successful degree completion.”

The groups’ final reports emphasize the need for a statewide commitment to strategically reform developmental education to increase student completion and offer evidence-based strategies to better support Iowa’s increasingly diverse student population.

The work groups also recommend maintaining and nurturing partnerships between high schools and community colleges, with a shared definition of college readiness that outlines expectations of students ready for postsecondary coursework and experiences.

Recommendations include:

  • Adoption of a common diagnostic tool to determine appropriate senior-year interventions in high school to get them back on track.
  • Requiring all high school students to complete a math course during the senior year to reduce the erosion of math skills between high school and college.
  • Use of multiple measures to assess college readiness for student placement in college-level coursework.
  • Providing holistic and intrusive advising and academic supports in college to address individual student needs.
  • Implementing strategies that efficiently mainstream underprepared students into college-level courses while providing the supports they need to be successful.

Community college leaders have expressed commitment to implementing this reform and will lead continued efforts to improve and accelerate developmental education in Iowa. Additionally, the recommendations will be shared with the Iowa State Board of Education.

Visit the Developmental Education Work Group webpage for more information.

IOWA: Johnston High School’s Financial Literacy Journey

IOWA: Johnston High School’s Financial Literacy Journey

The Johnston Community School District began a journey to provide its students with quality financial literacy learning.

Financial literacy surfaced as a focus from our community roundtable conversations, as well as the new Social Studies standards. Discussions focused on potential benefits of a full semester course versus an integrated approach across multiple courses. They wanted all students to have a quality experience of depth of content, fidelity of topics, and the opportunity to be taught by teacher experts.

Johnston staff agreed that a deep, authentic course was needed for all of our learners to be successful in understanding financial literacy. The team decided the class would be taken by juniors, and last fall a course on Financial Literacy became a graduation requirement.

The semester-long Financial Literacy course uses Next Gen Personal Finance materials, supplemented with teacher choice materials, all of which are free to access and use.

Students will be expected to learn about financial goal setting, budgeting, banking services, paying for higher education, insurance, investing, credit and debt, and buying a home and car. In learning these topics, students do a variety of activities, ranging from games and simulations to creating videos and other multimedia. The key was ensuring that an otherwise dry topic was presented in a fun, engaging and realistic manner.

A recent survey of the first students who went through the course showed that 99 percent of them said that Financial Literacy will help them in their adult life.

Students also take part in the H & R Block Budget Challenge. It is a 10-week simulation where students receive and pay bills, keep a budget, contribute to their 401k, and manage a credit card. Students enjoy the challenges that come along with managing a realistic budget.

Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge Senior Scholarship

Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge Senior Scholarship

Registration is ongoing for a scholarship that offers Iowa high school seniors a chance to receive one of 30 scholarships worth $2,000 for college while learning important financial literacy skills.

In addition, each recipient’s high school will receive a corresponding $500 award.

High school seniors may register for the Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship between now and Feb. 16. Iowa Student Loan® will award $2,000 scholarships to 30 students who complete two online financial literacy tutorials and score highest on a related assessment. Registered students also receive emails highlighting financial literacy tips, such as the importance of early career and college planning and ways to reduce student loan indebtedness. For more information go here.

United Negro College Fund helps students across the nation attend college

United Negro College Fund helps students across the nation attend college

(Jonika Stowes/MSR News)
Shamarr McKinney-VanBuren

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logo

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” is the signature slogan at the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), led by President and CEO Michael L. Lomax.

Local UNCF offices across the country are mandated to raise funds for the Washington, D.C. office where scholarship funding for students is distributed. Funding comes from varying sources including special events, workplace campaigns, and individuals who are committed to the mission of UNCF.

Laverne McCartney-Knighton took on the initiative of helping UNCF raise scholarship funds in June 2017 as the new regional development director of the Minneapolis location. With 24 office locations in the Twin Cities, each is poised to bring in substantial funding to help students across the nation attend colleges. Since raised funds are distributed through the Washington, D.C. office, local offices can focus on fundraising.

McCartney-Knighton says, “Most of what we do is relational. We build relationships with key executives within corporations such as Medtronic Foundation, Cargill, 3M and so forth.” McCartney admits that this is her first time as a development director but points out that her previous positions have been in developing relationships with companies.

After 13 years at Target Corporation as a community relations executive for cities such as Chicago, Seattle and Detroit, McCartney went to work for a small nonprofit organization in the Twin Cities before taking the position at UNCF.

Here in the Twin Cities, UNCF’s two major funding events are, first, the Marin Luther King breakfast, a fundraiser through a partnership with General Mills that happens yearly on MLK Day. The other major fundraiser is the Twin Cities Masked Ball, which takes place in May of each year and in 2016 raised $770,000 in scholarship funds for students in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. In other states this is called the Mayor’s Masked Ball, and even with these large amounts raised, according to UNCF’s website the funds provide scholarships to only one out of 10 students who apply.

UNCF is clear on its brochure that African Americans continue to show among the lowest rates of college attendance “…due to high costs of college compared to lower African American income levels and to the fact that many African Americans are not given the education before college for success in college.” Students not only receive funding to pay for tuition but can also earn scholarships towards textbooks, housing and other college expenses.

The myth of UNCF, founded in 1944, is that it only provides scholarships to students attending HBCUs. Although it significantly supports students attending one of its 37 member HBCUs, UNCF provides its scholarships to any low-income students regardless of race or ethnicity. In 2017 at the MLK Legacy Scholarship dinner, six students received funds to attend their college of choice.

One recipient, Shamarr McKinney-VanBuren, knew she wanted to stay close to home for college as the first in her family to attend. McKinney-VanBuren applied to three other in-state colleges and chose Augsburg College in Minneapolis to study computer science.

Born and raised in the Twin Cities, McKinney-VanBuren said, “This is a brand new journey for me and my family. As a first-generation college student, I was looking for ways to pay for college and came across UNCF online.”

The Gates Millennium Scholars Programs, one of UNCF’s largest funders, supports all students of color attending any college in the United States. Another myth about UNCF, due to lack of graduate-level programs at its 37 HBCUs, is that scholarships aren’t given out towards master’s and doctoral programs. Koch Scholars started in 2014 at UNCF with a $25 million dollar grant from Koch Industries, Inc.

UNCF has a national program called the Empower Me Tour that kicks off yearly in September coinciding with the school year; the Minneapolis Empower Me Tour is held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. In 2016 Caine Knuckles, a graduate of Southwest High School, left the Convention Center with a $50,000 scholarship to Philander Smith College and is now in his freshman year after being accepted at three HBCU, according to Southwest Journal.

Many students who attend this event across the nation get accepted to HBCUs on the spot, having done work prior to the event through their public high schools in making sure they are armed with their résumés and academic transcripts.

UNCF provides a host of scholarship funds for students of color who want to attend a college in the United States at any level of their academic career.

Visit to scroll through all scholarships and requirements. For more information, visit Health Fair 11’s website at This story is made possible by a grant from the Medtronic Foundation.

Jonika Stowes welcomes reader responses to

IOWA: Director Wise convenes state team to recommend computer science standards for schools

IOWA: Director Wise convenes state team to recommend computer science standards for schools

DES MOINES – Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise today convened members of a new team that will review and recommend statewide standards for computer science education.

The Computer Science Standards Review Team has been established as part of Senate File 274, which former Gov. Branstad signed into law in 2017. The legislation encourages computer science in every Iowa school, establishes voluntary computer science standards and creates a computer science professional development incentive fund to help prepare teachers.

The review team is an extension of the Computer Science Education Work Group, which met last year. That group’s recommendations in November included immediately convening a team to begin reviewing computer science standards.

“Computer science is a basic skill in today’s economy, and the goal behind this new law is that every Iowa student will have had computer science before they graduate from high school,” Wise said. “One of the ways we can ensure high-quality instruction in computer science is to set high-quality standards for what students should know and be able to do.”

Today’s meeting included discussion of state and national context with regard to computer science standards, as well as a review of conceptual guidelines for computer science education.

In the coming months, the review team will seek public feedback and offer recommended standards to the State Board of Education for consideration. If adopted, the computer science standards will be optional for school districts.

When the standards-setting process is complete, Wise hopes to make available the professional development incentive fund. This would allow school districts to reimburse their teachers for participation in professional learning with the goal of preparing to teach computer science. The fund’s availability is contingent upon a state appropriation.

list of team members is available on the Computer Science Standards Review Team webpage.

The team’s meeting schedule is as follows:


  • February 7
  • March 8
  • April 17
  • May 17


Grand View University
Student Center
2811 E 14th St
Des Moines

Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

By Stephen Sawchuk, Alyson Klein, and Andrew UjifusaEducation Week logo

EDUCATION WEEK — This week, Education Week is bringing its trademark analysis to the remaining state plans for fulfilling requirements of the Every Student Succeeds law. On Monday, we had a look at the states’ proposed “school quality” indicators, €”the required but nonacademic portion of each state’s plan to judge schools. Today, we’re going to take a look at states’ goals for raising student achievement and their timelines for doing so in the plans awaiting federal approval.

One thing we’ll keep stressing again and again this week: how far federal policy has moved since the days of the No Child Left Behind Act (ESSA’s predecessor). Read on.

So, what kinds of goals are states setting?

Some states chose fixed goals that aim for all students, and all subgroups of vulnerable students, such as those qualifying for subsidized school lunches or English-language learners, to reach the same target (such as 80 percent proficiency). What’s nice about this kind of goal is that it sets the same endpoint, making it easier to see over time how achievement gaps are expected to close. States in this category include: Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, (grades 3-8 only), Ohio, Minnesota, New York, Rhode island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

Source: Education Week Politics K-12

IOWA: When a student lacks access to communication…

IOWA: When a student lacks access to communication…

CHARLES CITY – Though the vast majority of students who are deaf or hard of hearing have no additional disabilities, an astounding percentage of them are falling behind their peers in the areas of language and literacy skills. The problem? Lack of access to interpreters and limited access to daily instruction from staff who are specially trained to teach the students.

While larger districts with deeper pockets can provide full-time access to interpreters, smaller districts are often left blowing in the wind, relying on services by itinerant teachers provided by their Area Education Agencies. While that’s sufficient for some students who are deaf or hard of hearing, it creates an educational barrier for others.

“We are talking about access to education,” said Jay Colsch, regional director for the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Iowa School for the Deaf. “If the student cannot communicate with teachers and their peers, how are they going to learn?”

It is estimated that the number of deaf and hard of hearing students in the state is nearly 1,600. While the state offers full-time class instruction at its School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs, for many parents the notion of sending their child far away isn’t an option.

And to that end, a state leadership team consisting of administrators from the Iowa Department of Education, Area Education Agencies, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Iowa Educational Services for the Blind/Visually Impaired, Iowa School for the Deaf and the Des Moines Public Schools has developed a plan to create what’s known as regional academies. Regional academies are designed to be dotted across the state for the purpose of providing interpreters and full-time teachers of the deaf to students with hearing impairments. In addition, plans are under way to provide full-time teachers of the visually impaired and vision assistants (paraprofessionals) to students who are blind/visually impaired at various locations throughout the state.

The purpose of regional academies is to expand the continuum of services to students with sensory impairments by providing instructional services that supplement itinerant services currently provided by Area Education Agencies and Iowa Educational Services for the Blind/Visually Impaired.

At present, there’s only one regional academy – North East Iowa Regional Academy – located in Charles City, and it currently only serves students with hearing impairments. But the academy, known by its acronym NERA, is the pilot.

“The AEAs provide support through itinerant teachers,” Colsch said. “But they are limited with the time they can spend with each student and cannot provide full-time itinerant teachers. All too often I have been at IEP (Individualized Education Programs) meetings where the amount of service received is based on the availability of itinerant teachers, not based on what the student needs.”

If the itinerant teacher cannot provide sufficient support – typically, itinerant teachers can spend no more than one hour a day, twice per week, with individual students – those who are deaf or hard of hearing are often staffed into multi-disability special education programs.

“There is a seismic gap in the continuum of services” Colsch said. “If the amount of support from an itinerant teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing isn’t sufficient, the student often is placed in multi-disability special education programs taught by special education teachers who have little or no educational background or experience teaching students with sensory impairments. Special education teachers are inclined to rely on instructional strategies that are effective with students with learning disabilities or cognitive impairments rather than evidence-based strategies that are specially designed for students who have sensory impairments.”

Academic achievement data being collected by local school districts would suggest that the overall rate of progress among students with sensory disabilities is not sufficient to keep pace with their non-disabled peers.

“Deafness does not preclude children from learning at a rate commensurate with their peers,” Colsch said. “But it does require that they are taught in a different manner.”

In 2013, only 39 percent of Iowa students who were deaf/hard of hearing achieved proficiency in reading as measured by the Iowa Assessments. Another study was conducted last year of reading proficiency among Iowa’s children in grades K-3 who are deaf/hard of hearing using FAST Assessment results and other measures of early literacy skill development. Preliminary results indicate that less than 30 percent of Iowa’s children with significant hearing loss achieved proficiency.

“Our state leadership team recognizes that we can’t embrace the status quo,” Colsch said. “There is too much at stake here. Regional academies represent a systems change that is much needed.”

Susan Rolinger, director of extended learning for the School for the Deaf and Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said it comes down to the matter of the law for providing all students free and appropriate public educations, known as FAPE.

“What is appropriate for a child who is deaf?” she said. “How you know something is appropriate is access – communication access. We have a communication plan for our IEPs. There is a reason for that. Now, if you have a student who is hard of hearing and they are falling farther behind, putting them into a special education room gets them in with a teacher with more hours dedicated, but it isn’t necessarily appropriate. The child needs education access, but the teacher doesn’t have the ability.”

In no way is the regional academy concept meant to impinge upon the work going on at the AEAs. Rolinger, whose daughter Madeline is deaf, thrived under the itinerant teacher model.

“But many kids who are deaf and hard of hearing are at significantly higher risk of having behavior problems,” she said. “The regional academy offers a critical mass where students who are deaf and hard of hearing have access to education, access to communication. We’re not saying that every deaf or hard of hearing child should be educated at a regional academy. But there is a significant chunk of students who need more.”

“During IEP meetings, the concept of an appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment must be considered,” he said. “Least restrictive environment isn’t a specific place; it is a learning environment where the child can receive an appropriate education with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. If a child is the only one who is deaf or hard of hearing, their communication needs must be addressed in an environment where learning is not restricted by lack of communication access. Placement in a regional academy is less restrictive than placement in a child’s home district, general education classes and multi-disability special education programs where they don’t have access to effective communication with their peers.”

As for Rolinger’s daughter, Madeline is attending the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., where she is studying public policy with the goal of becoming a disability rights attorney.

“She has critical mass for the first time in her educational career,” she said. “There are 1,200 deaf and hard of hearing students there. You can imagine she loves it.”

Rolinger considers her daughter lucky to have thrived in the mainstream. But she worries about those who don’t.

“Let’s not wait for them to fail before we send them to the regional academy,” she said.