States Hunt for Evidence to Underpin School Turnaround Efforts

States Hunt for Evidence to Underpin School Turnaround Efforts

Education Week logoBy Alyson Klein

Allendale County’s school district sits in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, in an impoverished, rural region near the coast known as the “corridor of shame” for the chronic poor quality of its education system. Until recently, three of the district’s four schools were considered among the lowest performing in the state.

But after an assist beginning more than a year ago from the state—which is working to rebrand the area as the “corridor of opportunity”—two of those schools made it off the state’s list of the lowest performers….

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Puerto Rico’s Outgoing Education Secretary: ‘We Need the Help…’

Puerto Rico’s Outgoing Education Secretary: ‘We Need the Help…’

Education Week logoBy Julia Keleher

Seventeen months ago, and eight months after I became the secretary of education in Puerto Rico, the worst hurricane in over a century decimated much of the island, dislocating thousands of families and bringing daily life here to a halt. Our school buildings were no exception; those that weren’t destroyed suffered damage ranging from power outages to missing roofs. We continue to wait for approval from FEMA to address most of our physical infrastructure needs and are hopeful that the federal government will honor its promise to ensure all students have access to a safe, healthy, and engaging learning environment.

The storm created an opportunity for the world to see the challenges confronting Puerto Rico’s schools. Hurricane Maria and its economic repercussions exposed the negative impacts of poor decision-making and the politicization of the public education system. The operation of the public schools was largely ineffective and inefficient and characterized by a mass exodus of students and teachers. Over the years, the system neglected to prioritize the provision of basic resources, such as books and technology, or allow for the development of innovative and more effective instructional practices.

Since then, Puerto Rico has made dramatic improvements in the quality of its public education system. Dedicated families, communities, teachers, and students have made it possible for great things to take place since the hurricane left our shores.

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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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DeVos’ Team: Arizona Could Lose $340 Million For Skirting ESSA’s Testing Requirements

DeVos’ Team: Arizona Could Lose $340 Million For Skirting ESSA’s Testing Requirements

By Alyson Klein

Education Week logo

Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding because the state hasn’t followed the Every Students Succeeds Act’s rules for testing its students, Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the state in a recent letter.

This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level.  ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.

For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test.

Arizona “hasn’t provided evidence that it has completed any of this work,” Brogan wrote.

The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote…

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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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COMMENTARY: Trump Wants to Merge the Ed. and Labor Departments. Here’s Why That’s a Bad Idea

COMMENTARY: Trump Wants to Merge the Ed. and Labor Departments. Here’s Why That’s a Bad Idea

July 19, 2018

President Donald Trump has proposed combining the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. After asking educators for their opinions about the merger, Education Week reported that “educators, by and large, don’t seem to be fans of this idea.” Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has a different view. In a June 22 Washington Post op-ed defending the merger, he wrote, “Because education and careers are inextricably bound, we need to take an ‘all one system’ perspective that connects the education and career dots from middle school through college and early careers.”

Carnevale is right that a large majority of students—and their families—value education primarily because they want better careers. In a 2015 national poll of incoming college students from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, 85 percent of respondents ranked being “able to get a better job” as a very important reason for pursuing a college degree. But he is mistaken when he advocates merging the departments of Education and Labor. Too many of education’s other gifts are at stake.

Education’s purpose is more than career preparation. Leaving curricular decisions up to employers is not healthy for America. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s rationale for supporting public education was the need for an informed citizenry in a healthy democracy. Today, the lack of an informed citizenry may be our country’s biggest problem. Only 36 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the last midterm elections four years ago.

“Leaving curricular decisions up to employers is not healthy for America.”

Schools are responsible for preparing students for active roles as public citizens, as I have argued in these pages before. The 2018 “Brown Center Report on American Education” from the Brookings Institution shows very wide gaps in students’ knowledge of civics by race, ethnicity, and income. As racial and ethnic minorities grow in population and well-deserved political power, these gaps remain persistent and troubling…

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How Do Districts Plan to Use Their ESSA Block Grant Money?

How Do Districts Plan to Use Their ESSA Block Grant Money?

Education Week logoMany districts are about to get a big boost in funding for the most flexible piece of the Every Student Succeeds Act: the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, better known as Title IV of the law. The program just got a big, $700 million boost from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2018, bringing its total funding to $1.1 billion. And it could get even more money next year, because the House appropriations subcommittee in control of federal education spending is seeking $1.2 billion for the program in new legislation.

Districts can use Title IV funding for a wide range of activities that help students become safer and healthier, more well-rounded, or make better use of technology. And districts have a lot of leeway to customize Title IV to their needs. However, districts that get $30,000 or more must do a needs assessment, and spend at least 20 percent on an activity that makes students safer, and 20 percent on something that makes kids more well-rounded.

So how do districts plan to spend the money? Three education groups—AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Federal Program Administrators, and Whiteboard Advisors—surveyed districts to find out. Since May, 622 districts have responded to the survey…

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Want more on Title IV? Check out this explainer. And if you want to dive even deeper, check out an archived version of this webinar.

What’s in ESSA’s Big Flexible-Spending Pot – Education Week

What’s in ESSA’s Big Flexible-Spending Pot – Education Week

Education Week logoJune 5, 2018

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants—better known as Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act—is one of the most flexible federal programs around. And it just got a huge increase, from $400 million in the 2017-18 school year to $1.1 billion for the 2018-19 school year. The program is closely watched by advocates and district officials alike, in part because the dollars can cover such a wide array of needs—from school safety training to drama clubs to science programs to suicide prevention.

Here’s a look at how the program works and how districts might spend that considerable increase:


What is Title IV of ESSA and why did Congress create it?

Title IV, Part A of ESSA, or the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, was intended to give district leaders more flexibility when it comes to federal funding. The program was created by collapsing a bunch of smaller programs aimed at physical education, arts education, math and science instruction, counseling, Advance Placement course fees, and school safety. Congress authorized up to $1.6 billion for the program in its first year. That would have made it the third-largest program in ESSA. But lawmakers only provided $400 million for federal fiscal year 2017, which generally covers the 2017-18 school year. This spring, in the fiscal year 2018 spending bill, Title IV got a boost of $700 million, bringing it to $1.1 billion.

What can the money be used for?

The money flows to districts from state education officials through a formula. Districts have broad discretion to use the aid for a wide range of programs aimed at making students safer and healthier, more well-rounded, or to enhance the role of technology in learning. Activities aimed at improving student health and safety include things like promoting parent and community involvement, establishing or improving dropout prevention programs, and putting in place or bolstering health and nutrition programs, or programs to combat the opioid crisis. Well-rounded activities can include initiatives to bolster foreign-language courses, college counseling, dual enrollment, musical theater, and computer science. Districts can also use the money for technology, including blended learning and building technological capacity…

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