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Capitol Report: February 18, 2014

 U.S. Capitol Building (small)By Della B. Cronin

Since the president delivered his State of the Union address in late January, NCTM and education advocates in Washington have been working hard to determine which elements of his ambitious education agenda might get some traction on Capitol Hill. It’s clear that the White House feels strongly about increased access to early childhood education, and many elected policymakers feel the same way. With reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) stalled, exiting esteemed education legislators Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) want to use their last year on the Hill to create more opportunities for young learners. In recent weeks, hearings have been held in the House and Senate on the issue, and staff members are busy developing legislative proposals.

The issue of early childhood education is important to all teachers and educators, but when the National Mathematics Advisory Panel delivered its report on how to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics in 2008, its members asserted that arriving at kindergarten or first grade ready to learn and be successful in math was crucial to achievement in the subject throughout a student’s educational career. NCTM will be watching the debate closely and visiting offices involved in the effort.

During the State of the Union address, President Obama made it clear that he would be doing what he could to further his goals with or without Congressional support whenever and wherever possible. In that spirit, the White House recently held an event to announce that a number of technology companies are committed to providing devices and content to schools and educators. As part of the larger ConnectED initiative, they will be combining these tools with increased broadband access for schools and new professional development support for teachers. Although the increased access and contributions from industry are happening without action from the House and Senate, details of the professional development elements are expected when the president delivers his FY 2015 budget request to Congress next month in two installments. The first details will be unveiled March 4, and education advocates are busy mining for information, but it is clear that if resources are needed to create new supports to enable teachers to use the new devices and content effectively, the White House will need Congressional support.

Events are unfolding in other education policy areas. Staff working for House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) report that he would like his panel to mark up legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act next month. Furthermore, education leaders in the Senate are gearing up to figure out how federal career and technical education programs should be improved. The Higher Education Act continues to be the subject of hearings in the House and Senate. Student aid programs are the focus of these efforts, but NCTM and other groups representing the interests of teachers will be weighing in on how to strengthen federal investments in teacher preparation programs as part of that process.

With the Department of Education continuing to implement and modify its agreements with more than 40 states to waive particularly burdensome requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in return for other reforms, and persistent partisan differences on how to change the law in Congress, action on a new law this year is increasingly unlikely. The increased rancor related to the Common Core Standards in the states and on Capitol Hill doesn’t help. Of course, events can be surprising. In the meantime, NCTM will be busy in a number of education policy debates and the annual budget and appropriations process.

Della B. Cronin is with Washington Partners, LLC. 

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