ESSA’s Growing Pains Evident Amid Progress

ESSA’s Growing Pains Evident Amid Progress

By Mike Bomster

Education Week logoIf the Every Student Succeeds Act were a schoolchild, it would be a preschooler—not much more than 3 years old, making steady progress, but still stumbling a bit along the way.

The first major rewrite of the nation’s main K-12 law in more than a decade, ESSA was signed into law at the end of 2015, replacing and updating the groundbreaking—but problematic—No Child Left Behind Act.

In theory, the last couple of school years should have been enough time for states and districts to begin making good on ESSA’s promises. Chief among them: a loosening of the federal reins in favor of greater local and state leeway over setting K-12 policy and satisfying the law’s demands for strict accountability, school improvement, and public transparency.

This latest Education Week special report recaps what’s been achieved by states and districts…

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Civics Education Must Put Racial Equity First

Civics Education Must Put Racial Equity First

Education Week logoCivics education is popular again. As our democracy itself sits on a historic precipice, people from around the country are calling for a national renewal of civics education. However, more civics education by itself is not sufficient. This new political moment requires a new civics: one in which a quest for racial equity is front and center.

When it is taught at all, civics is predominantly presented as a stale and monotonous topic, in which democracy feels irrelevant to the majority of students’ lives. Conventional civics focuses primarily on how government works and does not acknowledge the lived experiences of many of today’s students.

That approach can harm our very politics. By definition, an effective democracy requires equal representation from all segments of the population. It demands the robust political participation from all voices and communities—a goal that we can only achieve through a shared commitment to racial equity. That promise does not yet ring true in our country.

A new civics education, which centers racial equity as a cornerstone of American democracy, must explicitly address the political and social marginalization of communities that have traditionally been excluded from the formal democratic process. In doing so, we can begin to dismantle the barriers to civic identity and participation faced by so many young people in this country, particularly by young people of color. In this equity-focused civics education, students can develop an understanding of democracy’s relevance to their own lives.

Unfortunately, the word “equity” itself is now widely understood as a partisan ideal. In consequence, many education leaders and civics educators choose to approach the subject from a broad perspective, believing that a rising tide in civics will lift all boats. Without an explicit focus on educating for the promise of racial equity, however, there is a danger in perpetuating a democracy led by a privileged, often white minority, instead of a diverse, inclusive majority.

“Civics education should reflect the needs and demographics of the nation’s public school children…”

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K-12 Funding in Spotlight as Bitter Rivals Do Battle for Wis. Governor’s Seat

K-12 Funding in Spotlight as Bitter Rivals Do Battle for Wis. Governor’s Seat

Last fall, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker used Southern Door High School’s newly installed 3D printing lab in this small town near Green Bay as a backdrop to propose a $639 million increase in public school funding.

“We know that ensuring our students’ success, both in and outside the classroom, is critical to the state’s continued economic success,” said Walker, now in a fierce campaign for a third term against long-time state schools chief Tony Evers.

The Southern Door County schools, administrators say, got almost none of that money. In fact, the 1,029-student district—rural, losing students, and hampered by tax revenue caps put in place more than 20 years ago—had to make severe budget cuts this year and pull an extra $200,000 out of its savings account. If a referendum on the county ballot this fall allowing the district to exceed its revenue cap fails to pass, there will likely be more cuts next fiscal year.

The intricacies of Wisconsin’s school spending and whether districts like Southern Door need more or less money from the state has come to dominate the gubernatorial contest between Walker and Evers, both of whom have made their education records a high-profile piece of their pitch to Wisconsin voters in the November election.

Walker says that by leading the charge to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state with the passage of legislation in 2011 that stripped the bargaining rights of public employee unions including teachers, he’s saved the state more than $3.5 billion, while keeping property taxes low and expanding school choice. He has claimed his most recent budget provided districts with $200 more per student, though many dispute that fact.

Under Walker between 2011 and 2013, the state cut education funding by some $800 million, hitting some districts harder than others. Spending has rebounded since then, but Walker’s critics say it hasn’t been enough to keep up with inflation.

Evers says Walker’s budget cuts over the years crippled school districts’ ability to provide students with basic resources, causing massive layoffs and a teacher shortage across the state. He has proposed to boost spending by more than $1.7 billion…

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New Money and Energy to Help Schools Connect With Families

New Money and Energy to Help Schools Connect With Families

It’s indisputable that most students perform better academically when they have parents or adults to help with homework and to be advocates with teachers and principals.

But in many communities, parents who juggle multiple jobs, don’t speak much English, or have low levels of education often don’t have the time or resources to make meaningful connections to their child’s schooling experience.

That’s why some leading-edge districts have made it their job to reach out to families and create more welcoming and accessible ways for parents to be part of their children’s schooling.

In Washoe County, Nev., for example, the school district’s family-engagement work includes organizing home visits by teachers—and training those teachers to make the most of those face-to-face encounters in students’ homes.

In Federal Way, Wash., the leader of family-engagement efforts taps a diverse array of parents to serve on committees or task forces that inform major decision making in the district, including high-level hires.

Still, the specialized field of parent and family engagement has mostly been driven by ambitious leaders at the district level. And even in districts with robust programming, resources to support the work are often tight.

But new and potentially bigger forces are building around the need for schools and educators to forge deeper connections with parents and community members.

Philanthropists—in particular the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York—are championing the flow of more money into family-engagement initiatives, including research to identify what efforts are effective.

And the federal budget has set aside $10 million to help fund efforts by several state education agencies and outside partners to develop strong parent and community programming.

The Every Student Succeeds Act also directs states and districts to develop plans to work with families and surrounding communities—a requirement that has spawned a multistate endeavor to create guidelines and exemplars for schools and districts to follow.

Advocates for building strong ties between schools and families say it’s a major opportunity for a proven, yet underutilized strategy to make schools better.

“There is a lot of excitement, and more of an evolution in where both policymakers and funders feel like they want to increasingly put their money,” said Vito Borrello, the executive director for the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement…

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The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

A dispute over pay and class size in Chicago boiled over into the nation’s first charter school strike this month, raising questions about how teachers’ unions, going forward, will reconcile their longheld opposition to charters with their need to pick up more dues-paying members. 

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The historic walkout—and the concessions won by the Chicago Teachers Union on behalf of the striking charter school teachers—was welcome news for unions, which are predicted to potentially shed substantial members and revenue after the fateful U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision earlier this year.

Soon after the strike started, people began asking whether cracks were starting to show in the charter movement, the first viable public alternative—and challenge—to traditional public schools. For so long the charter movement has steadily expanded in many American cities, propelled by some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists.

The Chicago teachers’ strike has been largely cast in the media as a major symbolic win for teachers’ unions and a warning sign for charter schools and their supporters.

But there are equally fraught—if less examined—questions facing unions as they simultaneously decry charters as the tools of billionaires trying to privatize public education and encourage charter teachers to join their ranks. A growing unionized workforce in the charter sector may very well require changes from teachers’ unions as well as charter schools.

Anti-Charter Policy Pushes

Unions have longed positioned themselves as the defenders of traditional public schools, and have used their considerable political and financial clout to stymie charters. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all new charter schools. Elsewhere, unions have lobbied to block additional state funding for charter schools, backed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of charter schools, campaigned to keep caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open, and called for bans on charter management groups and companies…

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On ‘Teachers Pay Teachers,’ Some Sellers Are Profiting From Stolen Work

On ‘Teachers Pay Teachers,’ Some Sellers Are Profiting From Stolen Work

Julie Reulbach doesn’t sell resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace where educators can make money on their lesson plans and classroom materials. Even so, she often sees her work for sale there.

“Everytime I check, I find something,” said Reulbach, a high school math teacher at a private school in Concord, N.C., who has published an instructional blog since 2010. She scans TpT for work from her blog about once every six months. Her site is under a NonCommercial Creative Commons license, so anyone can use, edit, or share her materials—but they are not supposed to sell them.

It’s happening anyway. And Reulbach’s experience isn’t unique. Education Week logo

Nearly a dozen educators who have used or are knowledgeable about the site told Education Week that TpT has a widespread problem with copyright infringement. Teachers said sellers had lifted passages verbatim from their lessons and copied entire pages without permission. While the company provides a reporting mechanism for infractions, it leaves the policing to the rights holders themselves.

The controversy over stolen work has also fueled a larger ideological rift in the teaching community: the division between those who think it’s fine for teachers to make money off their hard work, and those who believe educators should share materials with their colleagues for free.

In a statement, TpT CEO Joe Holland said that the company takes the protection of intellectual property seriously.

“TpT strictly prohibits its sellers from listing material that infringes on the intellectual property rights of others, and we have no desire to have such material on TpT,” he said.

But educators and authors say the company should be doing more to combat what they see as a systemic failure to protect teachers and others who create materials.

‘They Shouldn’t Be Selling It’

When Reulbach sees sellers attempting to make money off of lessons she’s created, she reaches out to them and asks them to take her materials down. “Usually, people contact me and say, ‘I’m really sorry,’” and remove the resource from their store, she said…

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Four Things to Watch For in the Trump School Safety Report

Four Things to Watch For in the Trump School Safety Report

A federal panel led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that’s charged with making policy recommendations on school shootings in the wake of the massacre at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School last Valentine’s Day promised to have its report out by the end of the year. That means we will see the commission’s report any day now. Education Week logo

So what do we already know about what may be in it? And what should we be watching for? Here’s your quick preview.

The report will almost certainly call for scrapping the Obama administration’s 2014 guidance dealing with discipline disparities. So what happens next?

Almost every advocate watching the commission believes it will recommend ditching Obama guidance, jointly issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. (The Washington Post reported that this is a for-sure thing last week.) The directive put schools on notice that they may be found in violation of federal civil rights laws if they enforce intentionally discriminatory rules or if their policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students in one racial group, even if those policies were written without discriminatory intent. You can read about the arguments for and against the guidance here.

The big question will be, how do school districts react to the change? How many will decide to keep using the practices they set up to respond to the guidance, which supporters say has helped school districts revise their discipline policies to benefit of all kids? And how many will decide to make changes, in part because some educators say the guidance has hamstrung local decision-making on discipline? And will Democrats in Congress, who will control the House as of January, move to somehow formalize the guidance in law? It’s unlikely that would pass a Republican-controlled Senate, but it would send a message and keep the debate going in Washington.

What does the report say about arming teachers and about guns in general?

President Donald Trump said that the massacre at Stoneman Douglas might not have been as bad if educators had been armed. “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” Trump said, referring to Nikolas Cruz, the former student who is accused of the slayings.

Since this is Trump’s commission, after all, it’s hard to imagine the report would come out against arming teachers. But it’s an open question how strong the language will be on this topic. Will the report encourage districts to arm educators, and point out that, under the department’s interpretation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, federal funds can be used to arm educators? (Democrats who helped write the law have a different take.)…

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COMMENTARY: Arne Duncan: Betsy DeVos Turns a Blind Eye to Injustice

COMMENTARY: Arne Duncan: Betsy DeVos Turns a Blind Eye to Injustice

Education Week logoBy Arne Duncan
Originally published September 4, 2018

I am deeply troubled by the waves of distressing and insensitive policies emanating from the office I once occupied. Some recent ones even have Republicans shaking their heads.

While the U.S. Department of Education has sent mixed signals, it appears the department would tacitly approve the use of federal education funds by districts to buy guns. That’s a long way from the 1965 law that brought the federal government into the world of education.

The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act was part of a package of civil rights laws aimed at advancing equity and justice in the classroom. It followed a decade after the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision to end legal segregation. It was America at its best, raising our sights and uniting us behind common goals.

Secretary Betsy DeVos’ position on the use of guns is part of a pattern that takes us backwards. In recent days, she has announced plans to roll back guidance we issued on campus sexual assaults. More than 1 in 5 young women and more than 5 percent of men, report being assaulted; yet, she acts more concerned with the rights of the accused than the rights of victims…

The Trump administration also weakened protections for student borrowers and reversed the rules we developed for holding for-profit schools accountable. Our young people are drowning in debt, delaying home purchases, and filing for bankruptcy, but DeVos seems more concerned with protecting for-profit colleges that are ripping them off.

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More Than a Quarter of Schools Could Be Flagged as in Need of Improvement Under ESSA, Experts Say

More Than a Quarter of Schools Could Be Flagged as in Need of Improvement Under ESSA, Experts Say

Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act has been officially in place for a whole school year, states are beginning to release their lists of schools that need extra help. And there’s a particular group of schools that experts are watching closely: Additional Targeted Schools.

That’s a wonky term for a particular set of schools that need improvement, but it’s one to watch: It could end up describing anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of schools, according to preliminary observations by the Center for Assessment, a nonprofit that works with states on testing and accountability. (Although that may be the typical range, many states will be under the 30 percent threshold, the Center said.) Education Week logo

This bears out in individual states, too. In California, at least a quarter of schools would qualify, according to a report compiled by the state board of education earlier this year. (Check out page 429 of this document for more.) And a plurality of those schools would qualify because of struggling performance among students in special education.

Similarly, Louisiana found by using data from 2015 and 2016 that about 42 percent of its schools would fall into the category. Most would be identified because of poor performance of students in special education. (Check out page 66 of the state’s ESSA plan for more).

So what exactly are Additional Targeted Schools and what’s required of them under ESSA? Under the law, states must flag Title I schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of performers in the state for what’s called “comprehensive support and improvement.” In those schools, the district is required to come up with an evidence-based plan to fix the school’s problem, monitored by the state…

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Betsy DeVos Says There’s a Higher Education ‘Crisis,’ But Experts Dispute Her Explanations

Betsy DeVos Says There’s a Higher Education ‘Crisis,’ But Experts Dispute Her Explanations

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that the country’s higher education system is in “crisis” thanks in part to a “government takeover of the student lending system” put in place by the Obama administration. But her contention was quickly fact-checked by a former GOP Senate staffer and other higher education experts. Education Week logo

“Our higher ed system is the envy of the world, but if we, as a country, do not make important policy changes in the way we distribute, administer, and manage federal student loans, the program on which so many students rely will be in serious jeopardy,” DeVos told the Federal Student Aid Training Conference in Atlanta in prepared remarks on Tuesday “Students are taking out tens of thousands of dollars in debt but many are misinformed or uninformed as to the implications of taking on that debt and their responsibilities to pay it back.”

Student debt, she said, is now 10 percent of national debt. “The student loan program is not only burying students in debt, it is also burying taxpayers and it’s stealing from future generations,” she said.

DeVos offered solutions for ballooning student debt, including giving students the opportunity to pursue the postsecondary path that’s right for them, even if that’s not a four-year college degree. She also called for boosting “innovation.” And she appeared to take a swipe at the free-college movement, whose champions include Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.

“Nothing is free,” DeVos said. “Someone, somewhere ultimately pays the bills.”

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