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Legislative Update: April 4, 2013

In the early hours of Saturday, March 23, the Senate adopted a budget resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2014. It is a very different proposal from the budget adopted by the House of Representatives earlier in the week. Many senators offered amendments to the budget resolution, and all but a handful failed. The final vote on S. Con. Res. 8 was 50-49. With respect to available appropriations for programs under the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Services programs, the difference between the House and Senate resolutions will be tens of millions of dollars

Immediately after finalizing the budget for FY 2013 and adopting FY 2014 budget resolutions, Congress vacated the Capitol for a two-week recess. With the impact of the budget cuts required by the sequester hitting states and localities, members were uncertain what kind of reception they would receive from constituents. If threats of shutdowns at small airports around the country and long lines at airport security checkpoints become realities, they are sure to annoy the voting public. Information about how each federal agency will implement its cuts is just being released. For education, most of these cuts won’t hit until mid-summer because the programs are forward funded, but they will be significant for programs such as Title I and the funds that fall under the auspices of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The final budget for FY 2013 directs all federal agencies to implement the $85 billion in sequester cuts. It provides specific funding instructions for some agencies, but many are left with a continuing resolution (CR) for the year, which means programs are funded at the FY 2012 level, minus the cuts. A few exceptions were made. Head Start got a $33.5 million bump, and the National Science Foundation saw its funding increase by $221 million. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) was pleased to have the bill passed before the March 27 deadline and said she would save the fight to restore cuts forced by the sequester for the FY 2014 cycle.

The White House announced that the president’s budget would reach Capitol Hill on April 10. That is just one day before Education Secretary Duncan is due to appear before appropriators to defend the president’s education budget. Little or no information has been released about the proposal, but curiosity is intense about what will be included for early childhood education and whether or not some of the school violence prevention proposals in the Biden Report will be funded. Although education advocates do not anticipate a generous budget in this fiscal climate, they remain optimistic that the president’s commitment to education funding has not faltered and that his spending recommendations for the department will reflect his support.

Role of Governors in Implementing Common Core StateStandards
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted a daylong research conference on March 25 to discuss the complications that may arise during the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their compatibility with school reform agendas. Panelist Dane Linn, who was formerly director of the National Governors Association Education Division and is now at the Business Roundtable, led the discussion on the role of state governors in CCSS’s future. Because of the state-led nature of the Common Core, governors were active participants in the creation of the standards and thus will have a role within their states in the implementation process and the upcoming 2014 assessments. Faced with limited resources, the cost of the implementation and assessment of the CCSS will require states to collaborate across borders to save money and improve government operations. More info  

Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps  

On March 25, Education Trust, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a briefing on “Education Policy in a New Era: Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps.” A set of “federal policy levers” was recommended to assist in closing achievement gaps. Recommendations included the following:

  1. Building accountability in relation to achievable goals for all students, schools, and districts
  2. Ensuring equitable access to education funding by closing loopholes in Title I funding
  3. Promoting efforts to increase the availability of high-quality teachers and ensuring that low-income students have access to their fair share
  4. Identifying consistently low-performing schools and promoting conditions for improvement by holding them accountable
  5. Investing in the development, dissemination, and implementation of high-quality instructional tools aligned with college- and career-ready standards and assessments

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“Deeper Learning”
The Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF), in partnership with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, recently hosted a summit at the National Press Club. The event featured experts commenting on BHEF’s national agenda with respect to three goals:

  1. Incorporating 21st-century competencies into K–16 education
  2. Developing proof points of how effective networks can help focus policymakers’ and the public’s attention on essential workplace competencies
  3. Demonstrating how businesses can influence internal and external stakeholders and align education and the workforce

More info  

STEM in Early Education
On March 27, Change the Equation held a discussion on the importance of investing in early childhood science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to preserve America’s global competitiveness, as outlined in a recent report from ReadyNation, Tomorrow’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Workforce Starts with Early Education. The brief cites research that finds a correlation between early education and later achievement. Specifically, the findings indicate that the foundation for later achievement must be laid prior to kindergarten. If early education is not a priority during this crucial time, the child’s education and higher cognitive capabilities essential to STEM education will suffer long-term effects. Furthermore, exposure to mathematics during early childhood education predicts children’s later achievements in multiple subjects. Research is proving that effective practices improve the quality of early childhood STEM programs, but the amount of federal funding allocated to early childhood learning is insufficient, failing to provide the needed resources to educators. To build the STEM workforce of the future, policy must make the investment in early childhood education so that prekindergarten learning is accessible to all. Specifically, schooling funded by the state should include early education programs rather than starting at the kindergarten level. More info  

2013 Investing in Innovation Competition
The Department of Education (ED) announced on March 27 the start of the 2013 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition with the release of the program's invitation for pre-applications for the i3 “Development” grant category and the notice of final priorities for the entire i3 program. ED launched the i3 program in 2012 to develop and expand practices that accelerate student achievement and prepare students to succeed in college and careers. The program includes three grant categories: development, validation, and scale-up. This year’s final priorities for the i3 program reflect ED’s commitment to improving education for all students by including subparts under each priority that target specific areas of need. The priorities for the “Development” grant category include the following:

  1. Improving the effectiveness of teachers or principals
  2. Improving low-performing schools
  3. Improving STEM education
  4. Improving academic outcomes for students with disabilities
  5. Improving academic outcomes for English learners
  6. Improving parent and family engagement
  7. Making effective use of technology
  8. Serving rural communities

ED also revised the program’s evidence standards and definitions to alleviate previous confusion concerning i3’s evidence requirements. More info  

State Implementation of Next Generation Science Standards
The release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is expected next week, and a number of groups are already working to help states implement them. Earlier in March, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) announced that it is taking on a yearlong initiative to provide state board members with information, analysis, and resources about the new standards so “they are fully prepared to make the best, evidence-based decisions for their states.” The project is supported by a $319,000 grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Last week, NASBE hosted a webinar on the standards and their implementation. The development of the science standards—now in their second draft—is being spearheaded by Achieve in conjunction with the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “State education policymakers, like many others, are working hard to answer the national call for greater emphasis on science, and the Next Generation Science Standards will provide them with a critical tool to do this,” said NASBE Deputy Executive Director Brad Hall. “But the existence of the NGSS is just a first step. More info 

Use of Research within State Education Agencies
On March 22, the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) held a briefing, “The Use of Research within State Education Agencies,” to showcase findings on how research is used to inform policy and practice decisions within state education agencies (SEA). Five key findings from the study follow:

  1. SEA staff actively sought and were receptive to research ideas.
  2. The primary source of research advice was within SEA offices.
  3. SEA staff reached out to a broad array of external organizations for research information on school improvement.
  4. Broad research networks, with many singular connections to knowledge sources, facilitated the flow of new ideas.
  5. Research-based knowledge informed the design of school improvement frameworks, indicators, strategies, tools, and other forms of school improvement assistance.

Learn more.

School Improvement Grants Awarded to 10 States
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced that 10 additional states will receive funds to turn around their persistently lowest-performing schools. Four states—Indiana, Nebraska, Colorado, and Louisiana—will receive School Improvement Grants (SIG) to administer new competitions for schools that have not previously received funding. Six states—Alaska, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming—will receive funding to continue the third year of implementing a SIG model. “When schools fail, our children and our neighborhoods suffer,” Duncan said. “Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work, but it’s our responsibility. We owe it to our children, their families, and the broader community. These School Improvement Grants are helping some of the lowest-achieving schools provide a better education for students who need it the most.” More info  

New Analysis of Teacher Preparation Data
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) recently released a new report on the teaching profession, providing a look at the progress and challenges in higher-education-based teacher preparation. The Changing Teacher Preparation Profession: A Report from AACTE’s Professional Education Data System (PEDs) provides an analysis of three years of data collected annually from nearly 95 percent of AACTE’s more than 800 teacher preparation program members. According to Sharon Robinson, AACTE president and CEO, the report “paints a picture of a preparation profession that is in the midst of change … that is and will result in a better education for our nation’s PK–12 students.” Some of the findings counter common myths about higher education-based preparation programs while others show that work remains to be done. In response to these findings, AACTE offered the following recommendations for further improvement in higher education-based teacher preparation:

  1. Federal, state, and philanthropic entities must make greater investments in higher education preparation programs—and not just alternative certification pathways—to effect systemic change.
  2. Performance-based exit measures should be promoted for all teacher candidates.
  3. One-year residency programs must be expanded; access to PK–12 student performance data must be improved.
  4. A diversity agenda must be implemented to change the face of the profession to reflect current classroom demographics.
  5. The alignment between the production and capacity of educators to the specific needs of school districts must be strengthened.

View the full report.

New Report on Professional Development
The School Improvement Network hosted an event on March 20 to discuss professional learning and its relation to teacher effectiveness. The School Improvement Network is dedicated to educator effectiveness, resources, and training, and the event featured the latest independent research findings, which demonstrate how a teacher’s participation in online professional development may improve student achievement. The featured study, Predictors of Success: Linking Student Achievement to School Educator Successes through On-Demand, Computer-Based Professional Learning, analyzed year-by-year changes in student achievement at 734 schools with online and computer-based professional learning applications for teachers. Report findings showed that schools with higher participation and engagement in on-demand professional development by educators significantly out-performed their counterparts who displayed a lower engagement in professional learning. Schools with teachers who were more engaged than their peers had greater gains in student achievement and outperformed less-engaged schools in four key school-and educator-related measures:

  1. Teacher retention
  2. Dropout rates
  3. Student discipline
  4. Rate of students with college-related goals

Overall, the study found a correlation between online professional development and student achievement. This linkage brings attention to the need for a better implementation of professional learning tools in schools so that the investment made in professional development resources yields the highest possible return and maximizes educator professional development. More info  

Education Technology
The Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution held an event, “Education Technology: The Next Generation.” The event also served as the launch of a new report, Education Technology Success Stories, which includes several case studies that highlight innovative uses of technology to help students learn and educators teach. All the panelists agreed that simply having computers available to students is not the answer. A systemic change, including changes in organization, operations, and cultures in schools, is necessary to allow this wave of technology in schools to be truly productive. Learn more. 


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