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Legislative Update: October 3, 2013

Chamber of Commerce Hosts Education and the Workforce Summit
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Chamber Foundation, and Institute for a Competitive Workforce recently cosponsored a full-day event highlighting the importance of connecting education policy and the workforce. Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education and president of the George W. Bush Institute, said in her opening remarks that doing so would “unlock the potential for each of us.” Spellings reiterated what she has said before—“ensuring students get the education they need is more than a moral issue; it is a civil rights issue, and, expecting less for some children who need more is not only wrong, it is a risk for those of us who care about business and the future of our society.” To further frame the discussion of the day, she shared U.S. workforce data showing that close to 4 million jobs go unfilled each day because there are not enough qualified individuals to fill them. Spellings emphasized that aligning U.S. education and workforce systems must be a policy priority by citing newspaper articles and quoting business and education leaders, and she concluded by stating, “A return on investment and accountability are important. Shared vision, shared goals, and prioritizing our students’ opportunities are keys to the future of our country and our economy.”

Andrew J. Rotherham, cofounder and partner of Bellwether Education, facilitated the first panel of the day, on “Cutting to the Core: The Business Case for Common Core State Standards,” featuring Carlos Contreras, U.S. director, Intel Corp.; Patrick McCarthy, executive director, Exxon Mobil Foundation; and Renee Patton, director of education, Cisco Systems. The business leaders each shared their company’s approach to supporting and educating both their employees and the public about the importance of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—each reiterating that CCSS is not curriculum. Rotherham queried the group on how they are influencing education practices in schools. Patton explained that Cisco has invested more than $500 million in networking academy programming to equip more than one million students in information technology training. Each panelist stated that their foundation is investing in public-private partnerships and in the e-rate effort urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide more funding so that students have connectivity in their buildings. Both Contreras and McCarthy emphasized that math and science are integral now to any technical job. The panel concluded in agreement that soft skills are critical in today’s workplace, and CCSS will ultimately ensure that more students leave high school ready for career training or postsecondary education.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam addressed the group and opened with stark and troubling data from Tennessee showing that by 2025 more than 55 percent of Tennessee jobs will require a postsecondary credential of some kind. Currently, only 32 percent of the state’s population has obtained this type of education. Today, nearly two-thirds of high school graduates require remedial classes when they go to college, and furthermore, of students entering remedial classes, only 5 percent will go on to complete college, the data show. The state has funded several key laws to boost college completion, including the Complete College Act, which calls for funding colleges on the basis of completion rate, rather than enrollment. Tennessee also makes scholarship funding available to create better access to college and help families avoid debt. The state is encouraging competency-based testing to help bring more young adults into the college setting and also supports online learning in colleges and universities. Governor Haslam concluded by stating, “The biggest thing we can do is give every child the opportunity to have a good education, to have a great teacher, regardless of where they live.”

Author Amanda Ripley shared highlights from her book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, describing her experience of following three American students during their study abroad opportunities in Korea, Poland, and Finland. She focused on the stark differences between the American system and others, sharing both the positives and the negatives from her own survey data, from the three students’ personal experiences, and from international education benchmarking. She concluded by stating, “Despite politics, bureaucracy, antiquated union contract, and parental blind spots—the surprising universal plagues of all education systems everywhere—it can be done. These countries can help show us the way.”

The afternoon shifted to a focus on “Addressing the Skills Gap,” which included a panel moderated by Andy Van Kleunen, executive director of the National Skills Coalition, with panelists Bill Allen, president and CEO of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce; Balaji Ganapthy, head of Workforce Effectiveness, Tata Consultancy Services; Peter Hutchinson, management consulting strategy lead, Accenture; and Will James, president of Toyota Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc. Their discussion targeted the critical need to have chamber and business leaders working together to address the skills gap and what can be done to amplify current efforts.

The final speaker, Campbell Brown, journalist and cofounder of the Parents’ Transparency Project, shared her perspective on the importance of including parents in the discussion, especially for children and families in poverty. She advocated for more support and investment in school choice and education reform and concluded the day’s event by asserting that the “watchdog” work—such as that done by her nonprofit, can help parents make more informed choices and engage as a force in the discussion about the quality of their local school.

Visit here for more information about the event.

Technology in Education 

On September 17, the Brookings Institution held a two-panel discussion on the topic “Mobile Learning: Transforming Education and Engaging Students and Teachers.” The purpose was to define the critical issues related to mobile learning and to explore possible solutions to increase access and effective use of the technologies. Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., and president of Global Market Development, outlined the cultural transitions that our society will need to make to compete globally in education. These transitions include the following:

  • Implementing professional development programs for teachers to learn how to effectively use technology in the classroom
  • Investing in education infrastructure such as national broadband service
  • Using more digital content and daily diagnostic assessments
  • Overcoming privacy and security initiatives that downgrade a student’s ability to use his or her mobile device.

Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, asserted that “implementing mobile technology into our current education system would be like putting a jet engine on a stage coach.” He further explained that the American education system continuously tries to slightly alter the way in which students learn instead of implementing an entirely new system that could fully integrate mobile technology in K–12 education. S. Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, expressed the need to educate students in innovative ways that will engage them and get them to think outside the box to prepare them for the careers of the future.

The second set of panelists discussed their firsthand successes in implementing mobile technology in classrooms throughout the nation. Kathy Spencer, former superintendent of Onslow County Schools in North Carolina, acknowledged the power of mobile technology in her schools. She agreed with other panelists that the use of technology fosters and engages student learning, both inside and outside the classroom in real-time situations that can connect multiple subjects into one assignment, thus tearing down the silos currently separating school subjects. She also mentioned that mobile classrooms in her district often outperformed students in classrooms with traditional textbook learning.   

For more information and to listen to the archived event, visit here.

Next Generation Science Standards Symposium
The K–12 Center at ETS recently hosted a two-day symposium bringing together more than 250 leaders in science, education, and assessment to analyze the skills and curriculum associated with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The symposium consisted of eight sessions, including panel discussions, breakout groups, and analyses of research findings. One session, “Policy and Practice Implications of the Next Generation Science Standards,” featured a five-member panel that addressed the need for a standard science assessment and how science improves students’ cognitive learning. More info 

Aspen Institute Discusses the Common Core 
The Aspen Institute’s Education and Society Program, in partnership with the Achievement Network, hosted a panel discussion on September 19 featuring leaders of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in districts and schools. Panelists reflected on their personal experiences working with CCSS and explained that the rigorous standards have engaged students and teachers and resulted in meaningful changes in their schools. According to Amalia Cudeiro, partner at Targeted Leadership Consulting, success with CCSS will take a system-wide effort with leadership at the district level. Panelists discussed the stigma of the word “rigor,” which has been often associated with CCSS. In response to the criticism of CCSS’s high expectations for students, Tracy Epp, chief academic officer of the Achievement First Public Charter Schools, stated that children are capable of more than adults expect, and whether or not the standards succeed will instead depend on teachers’ instructional capacities. Drawing from his experiences as principal at Liberty Middle School in Tampa, Florida, James Ammirati spoke of the professional development efforts in place at his school to ensure that teachers can properly execute the standards. More info  

Grant to Establish a Center on Technology and Disability 
The Department of Education (ED) announced on September 23 that Family Health International (FHI) will receive a $1.4 million grant to establish a center on technology and disability. According to an ED news release, the center will aim to “increase the capacity of families, schools, and providers to obtain and help children with disabilities use assistive and instructional technology to improve learning.” The news release also highlights the importance of assistive and instructional technology in enabling children to participate fully in school and have access to the general curriculum. The technologies also help improve student academic achievement. “Enhancing the infrastructure and increasing the capacity for our schools and providers to help all students learn to high standards and become college and career ready is an important part of our education agenda,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “This center will provide information and technical assistance on assistive technology and instructional technology to many audiences, including providers and families, to help them implement effective programs.” The grant was made under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act program, Technology and Media Services for Individuals with Disabilities. FHI will work collaboratively with the American Institutes for Research and the PACER Center to establish and run the center. More info 

Lessons in Urban School Reform
On September 24, the Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a panel discussion titled “Lessons in Urban School Reform.” Opening remarks included the observation that “there have been isolated examples of success [in urban school districts] but all in all, we have been disappointed, and the successes seem to fade. Collectively, however, all of these experiences have gotten us to a place where there is real evidence of what works in urban schools.” The panel discussion focused on the school reform efforts demonstrating sustained improvements in both New York City and Houston, Texas. More info 

Career and Technical Education Programs
The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing on September 20 to discuss the topic “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs: A Discussion on Career and Technical Education and Training Programs.” Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) chaired the hearing and explained that the committee will be meeting to discuss proposals to amend and improve the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. “As we begin our discussions on improving the Perkins Act, we must first assess the federal role in career and technical education,” Rokita said. “To receive funding through the Perkins Act, states with career and technical education (CTE) programs must comply with a series of federal reporting requirements, some of which are duplica­tive to those under the Workforce Investment Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We cannot allow redundant federal mandates to make it harder for states to offer the career train­ing opportunities that young people need.” More info 

U.S. Department of Education Awards $30 Million in SEED Grants
On September 18, the Department of Education (ED) announced six award recipients of $30 million to improve student achievement by increasing the effectiveness of teachers and principals. The grants, funded through the Supporting Effective Educators Development (SEED) program, are estimated to serve approximately 27,000 teachers and principals as well as a significant number of students across all 50 states. The six grantees received the following awards:

  1. The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) in Arizona, in partnership with the Mary Lou Fulton School of Education at Arizona State University, was awarded $2,752,879.
  2. Teach for American was awarded $8,176,325.
  3. WestEd was awarded $1,670,341.
  4. The National Writing project was awarded $7,305,964.
  5. The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching Texas was awarded $4,730,050.
  6. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was awarded $5,167,985.

More info 

Sparking a Conversation on Digital Tools
The National Writing Project (NWP) recently hosted a special briefing on Capitol Hill featuring a panel of NWP teachers and leaders who are working with a range of partners to re-imagine learning in the digital age. In her opening remarks, Sharon Washington, executive director of NWP, stated that there has never been a more important time to think and talk about writing and the teaching of writing because “not only is writing a serious strand in the Common Core standards, but it also is the signature means of communication in the digital age which must be taught at every age and every grade.” She emphasized that education, like all other sectors, must embrace change to remain relevant and transformative in the interconnected world. All the panelists agreed with this sentiment and went on to highlight the innovation that is occurring in classrooms around the country with the help of digital tools. The panelists agreed that resources must be made available to teachers and that now, more than ever, schools need to be viewed as part of an ecosystem of learning with students at the center. More info 

Higher Ed Affordability
On September 18, the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing, “Keeping College within Reach: Improving Access and Affordability through Innovative Partnerships.” Panelists discussed efforts to curtail the rising costs of higher education and improve career preparedness by working proactively with businesses. Jeffery R. Docking, president, Adrian College, described how he helped transform Adrian from a failing institution to one of great promise by making strategic investments, revamping the college’s internship program, and updating its curriculum to focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Most notably, Adrian College worked closely with local business leaders to successfully integrate its pupils into the workforce. More info 

Child Care and Development Block Grant
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee met on September 18 for what has become an increasingly rare event—a truly bipartisan markup of a bill that has not been reauthorized since 1996. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) was part of the welfare reform bill that revamped federal support for families struggling with unemployment. By providing vouchers for child care, CCDBG was created to help families get off welfare and into the workplace. The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2013 (S. 1086) moves beyond vouchers to pay for child care to a program of supports that will help make high-quality early care and learning available to eligible low-income children. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chair and ranking members of the Subcommittee on Children and Families, worked together to develop the new legislation over the past several years with the goal of changing the focal point to the needs of children, ignoring the budget battles that had stymied progress in the past. The bill received strong bipartisan praise during the markup and was adopted on a unanimous voice vote. More info 

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