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Legislative Update: March 5, 2014

This week, President Obama will send his budget recommendations for FY 2015 to Capitol Hill. In anticipation, members from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol have released information to bolster their positions in response to the president’s new spending plan, before the ink on the document has had time to dry. Democrats hit the administration hard for offering cuts to entitlements in FY 2014 as an olive branch to the GOP. The president’s staff has made it clear that it won’t happen again. The House leadership has announced it will vote on a budget resolution this year, despite the fact that the overall spending cap has already been set. Leaders in the House want to make it clear that they will reject any new schemes by the administration to find new funds for new initiatives. Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote to her colleagues today, reminding them that more than $3.3 trillion in deficit reductions have been put in place over the past few years, which should provide space for funding Democratic priorities in this election year:

We cannot expect to lead in the 21st century without a workforce that is
prepared to compete successfully in the global economy. This means all
children must start on a level playing field and have access to high-quality
education from preschool through their chosen careers. But unfortunately,
it is very clear that we are not doing enough to prepare our young people
for academic and professional success.

All this posturing means that in spite of the pleas from Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and her House Appropriations Committee counterpart Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) to move the 12 funding bills through “regular order,” the gloves are coming off, and the games will soon begin.

This year the president’s budget is coming in two installments. On March 4, Congress will receive the top line numbers and an overview of the funding request for all federal agencies. Then, on March 11, the justifications and other critical backup material will be forwarded. While general Budget Committee hearings have already been held on the health of the economy and the employment picture, once the budget is released, hearings can be scheduled for the heads of all agencies. The budget release will also spark announcements from House and Senate offices and committees of due dates for “Dear Colleague” letters, letters of support for various programs, and report language to accompany the bills. In other words, the FY 2015 budget and appropriations season will go into high gear. Get ready for a rough ride.

Discovery Education Discusses the Digital Transition
Discovery Education hosted an all-day event, “Future@Now: Roadmap to the Digital Transition,” that discussed district-level digital transitions that prepare students for citizenship, college, and careers. S. Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, gave opening remarks on how his system—one of the largest school districts in the nation with more than 108,000 students—has made the transition to digital learning. He noted that it was a team effort and involved every person in the school district, including school janitors, with an “All Means All” attitude, regarding a high percentage of success as not enough. Illustrating his point, Dance said, “Baltimore County Public Schools has achieved an 86 percent graduation rate, but that still leaves 14 percent of students that are not graduating, which are someone’s kids, and nobody would want that to be their child that was forgotten about.” Dance closed his remarks by mentioning that the number one mission for schools is to ensure that their students are globally competitive when they graduate, an outcome that he said is possible only through digital (one to one) learning and giving every student the opportunity to learn another language. Toward the end of the event, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined by means of live-stream video from a digital classroom on Wheatley’s Education Campus in the District of Columbia, where students provided feedback on their easy-to-use, individualized digital devices. Duncan responded to the students’ comments by asking students to speak up about what they like and need in their learning environments and encouraged adults to pay more attention to students because they often know more about technology. More info 

NAGB Celebrates 25 Years and Looks to Continued Innovation
The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) hosted its 25th Anniversary Symposium to discuss the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s (NAEP) innovation and technology, as well as changes and challenges in assessing students with disabilities. The panelists praised for NAEP’s progress and pointed to four promising areas of action for NAEP:

  • To lead innovations in assessments
  • To guide and confirm the work of consortia
  • To ensure that K−12 assessments measure the “right stuff”
  • To catalyze the marketplace to enhance and propel greater innovations

After the panel discussion, Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education policy, and James H. Shelton III, acting deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, addressed the audience. Rodriguez spoke of the need to “harness innovation” and to remain “focused on special populations,” such as students with disabilities and English language learners, while Shelton praised NAEP and encouraged further innovation for the nation’s students. More info 

“Digital Citizens:” Connected Communities Create Opportunities for All
The New America Foundation hosted an event, “Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning,” to discuss the modernization of the E-rate program as well as the importance of Internet connectivity as a community building tool. Reed Hundt, CEO of Coalition for Green Capitol and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), gave the opening remarks and noted that libraries have become the number one “Internet access point in the civics landscape,” a situation that he found especially significant since one-third of all American households do not have access to broadband Internet at home. As a result, community Internet access points are “vital arenas for exchange, growth, and involvement,” Hundt said. He remarked that people “cannot participate in society without Internet,” and that with a modern approach to E-rate, “we have an opportunity to be hugely successful.” The panel discussed the importance of innovative technology and Internet access as a learning tool for students and citizens at large. In addition to promoting digital literacy and wider access to quality broadband, the panel agreed that it is of utmost importance that people strive to be “digital citizens.” More info 

Teacher Preparation
The House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a joint hearing, “Exploring Efforts to Strengthen the Teaching Profession.” The hearing focused on the importance of the teaching profession and how to give teachers better preparation to influence the nation’s youth, both before they step in a classroom and while they are serving as licensed teachers. Research shows that “teachers have an enormous influence on student learning and performance.” However, according to one panelist, Marcy Singer-Gabella, professor at Vanderbilt University, teacher preparation programs are underperforming and failing to ensure that educators are ready for success in the classroom. Singer-Gabella began by noting three challenges that the teaching profession faces:

  1. A growing gap in student outcomes, based on the deepening divide of wealth and opportunity
  2. A shift in years of teaching experience from a norm of fifteen years to one year
  3. An increasing reliance on temporary teachers rather than career teachers

Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island commissioner of elementary and secondary education, noted that her state’s department of education has adopted new standards and qualifications for teachers through a review and approval process of all educator-preparation programs in the state. She commented that the new standards are modeled on those of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and include five key elements:

  1. Classroom practice
  2. Diversity in teacher recruitment
  3. Certifications based on criteria and assessment
  4. Data collection on newly graduated teachers through their first year of teaching
  5. Analysis of the collected data to be shared with and reported to the public.

More info 

American Youth Policy Forum Ties Research to Policy
The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) held a webinar, “Research, Policy, and Practice: The Role of Intermediaries in Promoting Policies,” to discuss how education research can better inform policy decisions. Chris Lubienski, professor at the University of Illinois, discussed an example from the New Orleans public school system, in which opposing sides used the same set of research to validate their arguments. Kevin Welner, professor at the University of Colorado and director of the National Education Policy Center, reiterated Lubienski’s point that “research can be made to say anything.” He emphasized the distinction between evidence and high-quality research and the importance of being able to communicate evidence to non-researchers in common language. He cautioned that policymakers often want to see that their pet projects work and are not typically addressing an audience that closely scrutinizes research. Kim Nauer, education project director at the New School for Public Engagement, Center for New York City Affairs, discussed the way that her center conducts research by using a strategy that she calls “action-oriented research.” Her approach, using a journalistic style of information gathering, has resulted in significant education and poverty policy changes in New York City. Learn more, including materials from the webinar.

FirstSchool Data-Based Research Improves Experience for Teachers
The New America Foundation hosted a webinar, “What Do Pre-K−3rd Reforms Look Like? FirstSchool’s Approach in North Carolina and Michigan.” The webinar highlighted the work of FirstSchool, a teacher professional development support organization that relies on local data-based research to empower teachers to improve their teaching practices and the educational experiences of African American, Latino, and low-income children and their families. Sharon Ritchie, senior scientist at FirstSchools, noted that the FirstSchool program uses “snapshots” to collect data that detail the time spent on specific content and activity areas for future teacher professional development. The three teachers participating in the webinar unanimously agreed that FirstSchool’s professional development data helped them improve their teaching methods and more effectively communicate common problems with course material to school administrators. Ritchie emphasized FirstSchool’s philosophy that educators need a climate that promotes improvement, collaboration, and analysis through data and research-guided instruction. Harris noted that the program encourages teachers to feel valued as professionals and takes into account their expertise and ability to meet the needs of their students rather than creating a culture of fear and isolation, which can often occur within schools when best practices are not promoted. Learn more about FirstSchool.

STEM Salon on the Engineering Emergency

Change the Equation (CTEq) and multiple partner organizations held a Capitol Hill STEM Salon, “Engineering Emergency: African Americans and Hispanics Still Lack Pathway to Engineering,” to discuss equity issues in engineering and the disappointingly small numbers of African American and Hispanic students earning engineering degrees and certificates. Linda Rosen, CEO of CTEq, began the discussion by presenting CTEq data that show that “African Americans and Hispanics comprise a third of the college-aged population, yet together they earn less that 16 percent of all engineering degrees and certificates.” Rosen further noted that the imbalance between the numbers of African American and Hispanic students entering engineering programs and the numbers of white students can be attributed to the inequities of the nation’s elementary and secondary schools with respect to access to resources in math and science. A higher percentage of African American and Hispanic students attend high schools that do not offer calculus or physics courses, a deficiency that creates barriers to these students entering the engineering pipeline, Rosen said. Gayle Gibson, director of engineering at DuPont, followed Rosen’s opening remarks by agreeing that engineers are in short supply because of a flawed education pipeline of courses that prepare young students for engineering degrees and careers. Gibson later offered an alternative solution to the problem, stating, “Companies need to increase their outreach to K−12 students and change the way they talk about the engineering profession” in order to attract more African American and Latino students to the field of engineering. Ioannis Miaoulis, president and director of the Boston Museum of Science, echoed similar remarks about the engineering career shortage and called the problem a “numbers issue”: youthful ethnic minorities are starting to become a larger portion of America’s population (40 percent), and over time will become a majority of America’s population. Miaoulis noted that an increase in the ethnic minority population will not translate to more employment for minorities but exactly the opposite (increased unemployment) if these students are not educated for the growing career fields—like engineering—that are currently predominately filled with white males, who will soon become the minority population in America. More info  

States Struggle to Use Data to Inform Early Childhood Efforts
The Early Childhood Data Collaborative released a report, The 2013 State of States’ Early Childhood Data Systems, which assesses the coordination of data systems in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey finds that while 26 states are linking early care and education child-level data across two or more publicly funded programs, only Pennsylvania is linking early care and education child-level data across all programs and to the state’s K−12 data system. Based on the results of this survey, the collaborative recommends a series of actions for policymakers to take to improve data coordination, including expansion of state efforts and collaboration across programs. Read a summary and the full report.

Research That Promotes Nontraditional Classroom Distribution 
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute hosted an event, “Expanding Access to Great Teachers,” to discuss a recent paper by Michael Hansen, senior researcher for the American Institutes for Research, Right-Sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers. Hansen created a nontraditional classroom model of student-to-teacher ratios based on the merit of teachers in elementary and middle schools in North Carolina. He found that student learning can be improved when the best teachers teach larger classes and the weakest teachers teach progressively smaller classes. Opponents of Hansen’s teaching model noted the tension that further teacher ranking systems would create and the negative effects that such a model could have on teacher morale. Other panelists stressed the importance of elevating the teaching profession and giving the opportunity for successful teachers to lead and mentor their new—and less experienced—colleagues. They also noted drawbacks to Hansen’s model, if implemented in schools, but agreed that Hansen’s research opened a valuable discussion that created a climate for innovative methods to classroom reform. More info 

Engineering and Computer Science 
The Afterschool Alliance hosted a webinar, “Engineering and Computing in Afterschool,” to discuss after-school programs that engage in robust engineering and computing learning. Melissa Ballard, STEM research associate at the Afterschool Alliance, began the discussion with an overview of the computing and engineering career fields, which are often misperceived by students and adults owing to the lack of programs and schools that incorporate either field in the school day. Ballard noted that despite the availability of well-paid computing and engineering jobs, only a small percentage of college freshmen (1.5 percent in computer science and 10.3 percent in engineering) intend to major in computer science or engineering as a result of a lack of exposure and experience during the K−12 years. Jen Joyce, director of professional development at Techbridge, acknowledged the student and adult misperception of engineers and explained programs at Techbridge work to dispel the stereotype that all engineers are white males like Albert Einstein. Instead, Joyce noted, Techbridge uses a multifaceted approach to engage girls, teachers, families, role models, and partners in hands-on activities that apply engineering development methods to normal tasks. Joyce mentioned that a key initiative for Techbridge’s programs is to redefine engineering as a broad field that reflects the reality that engineering is everywhere. More info 

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