The English language has a magnificent tradition of doublespeak. Where in the 1980s, “peacekeeping devices” (bombs) were sufficient to stave off war, today we respond to attacks with “pain compliance techniques” (torture). A generation that endured the most severe economic conditions in nearly a century has come to know mass layoffs as “rightsizing.” And how did “No Child Left Behind” turn out?

January 25–31 is “National School Choice Week,” a rhetorical gem to which George Orwell himself would tip his hat. This annual event presents private school voucher proponents with the opportunity to tout the supposed benefits of “school choice,” a-downright-friendly-sounding moniker that ostensibly clusters public school choice like charter and magnet schools into its privatization agenda. But the public school options are mere window dressing. Pull back the curtain and you see that the real focus of this event is a push for private school vouchers, a scheme designed exclusively to funnel public funds to private and for-profit schools without regard for educational equity or quality.

First, private school vouchers do not provide students and parents with real and meaningful choice. Under private school voucher schemes, the ultimate choice rests with the school, not with the students and their families. Voucher programs usually allow participating private schools to reject students based on numerous factors, including economic status, gender, religion, academic achievement, sexual orientation, and even disability. Public schools, on the other hand, are required to accept all students.

Some students have even less choice than others. Students with disabilities often aren’t guaranteed the same services in the voucher school that they would ordinarily receive in a public school and can find few voucher schools that offer them the services they need. That is likely why they number only 1.6 percent of the city’s voucher school students, although students with disabilities comprise almost 20 percent of the Milwaukee public school population. And, students who want to attend a secular school are also left with few options, as the vast majority of schools that accept vouchers are religious schools.

Second, voucher programs don’t provide students and families with quality options. Studies consistently show that private school vouchers don’t improve reading and math achievement.   For example, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—the country’s oldest voucher program—a recent study shows that the students in the voucher program do no better in reading or math than their peers in public schools. Similarly in Louisiana, 67 percent of public school students pass their standardized tests, whereas only 44 percent of voucher students do.

Unfortunately, parents often don’t know and can’t discover these problems in voucher schools. Without oversight, access to records and test scores, or public meetings—all hallmarks of public education—parents are often denied the pertinent information required to make a good choice.

Nonetheless, states continue to create and expand voucher programs. There are currently private school voucher and tuition tax credit (backdoor voucher) programs in 23 states. And as states begin their 2015 legislative sessions, we are already seeing the introduction of numerous voucher bills.

Congress will likely debate private school vouchers too, as it attempts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In fact, the Senate bill already includes a scheme called “Title I Portability”—a clever name, but not quite clever enough to steal the crown from DC’s “Opportunity Scholarships”—which proposes that Title I funds should follow the student from school to school.

First, Title I funding was designed to promote equity. Funds are directed to schools with high concentrations of poverty, allowing schools to pool funds to mitigate the compounded effects of poverty. Portability would dismantle Title I and crush the ESEA’s equity agenda. To be clear, the current proposal limits the portability of funds just to public schools. But there is no masking the agenda: Clear the first hurdle by getting Title I funds assigned to the student instead of the school, then expanding choice to private school vouchers becomes a much easier—and more lucrative—endeavor.

During this National School Choice Week, it is important to remember that private school vouchers are not true school choice, and they do not offer any real benefit to the children most in need of better educational opportunities. That’s why voters in several states have voted down vouchers at the ballot box. Take the time to let your legislators know that you don’t support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs, including Title I portability.

So during National School Choice Week, we do indeed have a choice: Use the NASSP Principal’s Legislative Action Center to alert your members of Congress that Title I must remain intact to preserve the equity goal inherent in ESEA. Otherwise, we could soon see schools with the greatest need suffering under conditions that are, well, “less than optimal.”

 

Fulfilling his promise to make reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) a top priority in the 114th Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) released a discussion draft to improve the law as his first action as the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Similar to the bill he introduced in 2013, the purpose of the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act is “to restore freedom to parents, teachers, principals and other school leaders, States, Governors, and local communities so that that they can improve their local public schools.” To do so, the legislation would prohibit the U.S. Secretary of Education from prescribing the standards or measures that states use to establish state standards, assessments, accountability systems, systems that measure student academic growth, measures of other academic indicators, teacher and principal evaluation systems, or indicators of teacher and principal effectiveness.

In order to receive Title I funding, which is authorized at $14.9 billion, states must provide an assurance that they have adopted challenging academic content standards and academic achievement standards in math, reading/language arts, science, and any other subjects as determined by the states. States may also adopt alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities provided that the standards align with state subject standards and promote access to the general curriculum.

Because proliferation of testing has become such a hot issue, the discussion draft offers two options for discussion by the HELP Committee. One option is to continue the requirement for annual assessments in math and reading. The other option is to require assessments in math, reading, and science, but states would be given flexibility over their assessment timelines. They could keep the current schedule for assessments (every year in grades 3-8 and once in grades 9-12) or they could implement grade-span testing, which would require only one assessment in grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12. Districts may also seek approval to administer their own assessments with approval from the state.

State plans must include a single, statewide accountability system “to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce without the need for remediation.” They system should annually measure academic achievement of all public school students, annually identify and differentiate all public schools in the state, taking into consideration achievement gaps between student subgroups, overall performance of student subgroups, 4-year cohort graduation rates, and extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rates.

Districts with schools identified for assistance are required to conduct a review of the school’s data and the policies, procedures, personnel decisions, and budget decisions that impact the school before developing “evidence-based assistance strategies and activities” for the school. Districts must continue to provide students an option to transfer to another public school and musty pay for the transportation costs.

The draft bill would include a new portability provisions that would give districts the flexibility to ensure that Title I funds follow low-income children to whatever public school they attend. In a letter to the Senate HELP Committee leaders, NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Federation of School Administrators expressed our opposition to any proposal to transform Title I into a private school voucher program. This portability provision is designed to make it easier implement private school vouchers as a next step.

Just over $3 billion would be authorized for Title II, and the allowable state activities look very similar to current law with regard to principals and other school leaders: reforming principal certification and licensure systems to ensure that principals have the instructional leadership skills to help teachers teach and to help students meet challenge academic content standards, developing and improving evaluation systems that “are based in part on evidence of student academic achievement” and may include student academic growth and other measures determined by the state, establishing alternative routes for principal certification, recruiting and retaining principals who are effective in improving student achievement, developing new principal induction and mentoring programs, implementing high-quality professional development programs for principals, developing school leadership academies, supporting efforts to train principals to effectively integrate technology into curricula and instruction, and improving principal preparation programs.

The allowable local activities include professional development for principals, which is a priority for NASSP, but it’s in the same bucket as school libraries; AP, dual enrollment, and early college high school programs; extended learning time; and liability insurance for teachers. It seems very unlikely that any of the funding would actually be used for principal professional development since only 4% is used for that purpose under current law.

$1.6 billion is authorized for Safe and Healthy Students under Title IV. Districts may use the funding for drug and violence prevention activities, before and after school programs, school-based mental health services, mentoring programs for at risk students, school counseling programs, and positive behavioral interventions and supports among other activities.

The draft bill would also eliminate Maintenance of Effort (MOE), which helps ensure the continuity of state and local funding efforts. Current MOE provisions provide the greatest protection to low-wealth districts that generally educate more low-income students. We’re concerned that if states are allowed to cut funding for education, the most vulnerable districts that serve the neediest students could be hurt disproportionately.

Providing flexibility in the use of federal funds, the draft bill would allow states to transfer 100% of their funds between Title II and Title IV.

Comments on the discussion draft should be e-mailed to the Senate HELP Committee at FixingNCLB@help.senate.gov by February 2. NASSP will submit comments and meet with staff for Sen. Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to ensure that the bill supports principals and the teachers and students they serve. For updates on ESEA hearings and the pending markup in February, follow @akarhuse and @balljacki on Twitter.

Providing a sneak preview of priorities that will be highlighted in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama gave a speech at the Federal Trade Commission on January 12 where he outlined initiatives to protect consumers from identity theft and ensure that student data is used only for educational purposes.

President Obama urged Congress to act on student data privacy in 2015 and will soon release a legislative proposal titled the Student Digital Privacy Act. The bill would be modeled on legislation approved in California last year that prohibits education technology companies from selling student data to third parties for purposes unrelated to the educational mission and targeted advertising to students.

President Obama also noted that the Privacy Technical Assurance Center at the U.S. Department of Education will develop model terms of service and teacher training assistance that will “enhance our ability to help ensure educational data is used appropriately and in accordance with the educational mission.”

NASSP is encouraged by the president’s proposal to safeguard student data, which echoes the recommendations that will be finalized by our Board of Directors in February 2015. The power of technology to support education is undeniable, and NASSP has long been an advocate for maximizing the opportunities that technology presents. At the same time, principals must be able to attest to parents that the data collected for educational purposes is used only for educational purposes. Absent a mandate, principals would have to either negotiate their own guidelines with vendors or withhold crucial data from technology partners, which limits the effectiveness of the tool.

In 2014, a congressional hearing was held to address student data privacy issues and a Senate bill was introduced to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. While it seems most likely that Congress will consider this issue independently, there are some rumors that it could be rolled into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is already moving quickly through the hearing process.

NASSP hope the new legislation on student data privacy will ultimately have the effect of reducing the confusion created by the patchwork of guidelines from FERPA, state regulations, and the educational technology industry itself. We look forward to working with the White House and Congress on the Student Digital Privacy Act in the months to come.

 

St. Paul, Arkansas principal Daisy Dyer Duerr was invited to speak before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on behalf of rural schools prior to their successful 3-2 vote to increase funding for the E-Rate program. The vote will ensure that an additional 408,000 in her state will have access to high-speed broadband Internet and Wi-Fi access in their classrooms.

Duerr, who was named an NASSP Digital Principal earlier this year, shared the story of her school’s success in using technology to greatly improve student achievement. When she became the principal of the 225-student K-12 campus in 2011, the high school was being targeted by the state for poor test scores in literacy and math, and the elementary grades had just been removed from Arkansas’ school improvement roles.

Through grants to purchase digital devices and intensive professional development for teachers, the school has started a bring-your-own-device program and the high school is no longer under state supervision. But with more than 80% of students on free and reduced meals and only 10% with Internet access at home, Duerr said that the E-Rate program allows her to provide accessibility they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

Even though Duerr’s students use digital devices on a daily basis, she noted that one of her biggest struggles has been bandwidth. She praised the FCC for their action to increase funding for the E-Rate program because not every rural school “has a little bulldog fighting for them.”

The order approved today by the FCC raises the spending cap on the E-Rate program from the current $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion annually. The commission also took steps to improve the overall administration of the program and maximize the options schools and libraries have for purchasing affordable high-speed broadband connectivity. For more information, go to: http://www.fcc.gov/e-rate-update.

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Tuesday night, the House of Representatives released a massive omnibus appropriations bill that combined 11 of the 12 individual appropriations bills into one large spending bill that covers every facet of federal spending—including investments in education. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will be under a Continuing Resolution (CR) until March 2015. The House is expected to take action on the spending bill on Thursday with the Senate to follow suit on the weekend or early next week. There will likely be a one to two day CR to allow enough time for both the House and Senate to act since the current CR expires on Thursday, December 11.

Unfortunately, due to budget caps established in December 2013, many education programs did not see any increases in funding, and several were cut, including two programs NASSP has consistently advocated for: the School Leadership Program and the High School Graduation Initiative. Title II, Part A funds for improving teacher and principal quality and career and technical education state grants were flat-funded at their FY14 levels, leaving those programs at $2.3 billion and $1.1 billion respectively.

However, NASSP was pleased to see that two foundational investments for high-need students, Title I and IDEA, each saw a $25 million dollar increase from the last fiscal year. Additionally, the Striving Readers program, which supports comprehensive literacy programming for students from birth to grade 12, received a $2 million dollar increase in FY 2015.

While research shows the impact of school leadership on student achievement and its importance on school climate and culture, Congress once again cut the School Leadership Program. NASSP worked with Congress in 2001 to create this federal grant program which focuses on recruiting, mentoring, and training principals and assistant principals to serve in high-need schools. Since FY12, this program has seen decreases in funding. Unfortunately, it was cut once again by $9.4 million. These continued cuts are disappointing considering the expanding roles and responsibilities of principals, including implementing new teacher evaluation systems, college and career ready standards and new online assessments. The program will be reduced from $25.8 million to $16.4 million in FY15.

Despite the cut in the School Leadership Program, NASSP and principals got a big advocacy win in the report language accompanying the omnibus spending bill. The report language is similar to the language NASSP secured with NAESP and AFSA in the Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-Ed) Appropriations Committee report.  The committee and omnibus report recognized the importance and impact of school leadership on student achievement. Within the report, Congress has directed the U.S. Department of Education to provide guidance to state education agencies to ensure principals are receiving “sufficient professional development opportunities” to support their instructional leadership capacity.

Lastly, NASSP was disappointed to see that the High School Graduation Initiative program was zeroed out in the FY15 omnibus. This is the only federal investment dedicated to reducing the nation’s dropout rate. We were also disappointed that despite the attention on digital learning over the last year and a half, that there was no funding allocated for education technology and related professional development programs.

NASSP will continue to advocate for investments in school leadership that support the profession and benefit students. NASSP is particularly concerned with the impending return of sequestration in FY 2016 if Congress does not take action to replace the sequester in the 114th Congress.

 

Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Tom Wheeler today announced that the FCC will increase funding for the federal E-Rate program by $1.5 billion, bringing the annual total to just under $4 billion. The FCC is expected to consider the proposal at their next meeting on December 11.

“Chairman Wheeler’s proposal recognizes that students cannot engage in 21st century learning without 21st century tools,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “Increasing the funding level of the E-Rate program brings us closer to the promise of connecting students with peers and resources around the globe, of empowering students to lead their own learning, and of amplifying their voices as creators of content. The simple bandwidth of a fiber optic line conveys not just bits of data, but boundless opportunity for each student it reaches.”

NASSP has long supported the E-Rate program and urged the FCC to provide additional funding to meet the growing need for Internet broadband and Wi-Fi services in our nation’s secondary schools. Over the past year, we have called on the FCC to immediately and permanently increase the program’s annual funding level.

Funded at $2.25 billion annually since 1999, the E-Rate was level-funded until 2010, when it began receiving annual inflationary increases. Total funding for the program in FY 2013 was $2.43 billion, less than half of school and library demand for that year. An increase of $1.5 billion equates to just 16 cents per month per telephone line, or less than a penny per day.

Without the ability to access greater bandwidth speeds in classrooms, our nation’s students would be hamstrung in their efforts to use digital textbooks, participate in online and distance learning courses, and take online assessments. In addition, we have consistently maintained that the E-Rate’s annual funding cap, essentially unchanged from its inception, is grossly inadequate to fund the bandwidth increases so many schools require with the growing use of laptops and digital devices.

Through the Education and Libraries Network Coalition (EdLiNC), JoAnn Bartoletti and NASSP’s advocacy staff attended meetings with Chairman Wheeler and his staff to advocate on behalf of the E-Rate beneficiaries—your schools and the students you serve. We also submitted comments in response to proposals to modernize the program that were released earlier this year and have urged principals to talk about the importance of the E-Rate programs in meetings with their federal legislators. Our advocacy efforts will continue as we expect the new Congress to review the FCC actions in 2015.

For more information, view the FCC’s fact sheet here.

 

ED Officials Get Schooled in School Leadership

On October 31, 2014, in School Leadership, by Amanda Karhuse

For the third year in a row, NASSP, NAESP and New Leaders have collaborated with the US Department of Education (ED) to conduct shadowing visits of principals as part of our celebration of National Principals Month. This year, more than 50 principals across the nation opened up their schools to ED officials so they could “walk a day in their shoes.”

On October 30, principals from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia convened at ED headquarters for a debrief session where US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials shared their experiences. Duncan shadowed Principal Ambassador Fellow Rachel Skerritt who is the principal of Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC. Nearly 100% of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, and the school is undergoing the transformation model under the School Improvement Grants program.

Duncan greeted students as they entered the building and helped Principal Skerritt take attendance and collect cell phones, which are not allowed in the classroom. He also sat in on a faculty huddle in the gym and got a glimpse into the principal’s ever-growing email inbox. Duncan even volunteered to call a parent when there was a challenge with a student.

ED officials also shared their “aha” moments, which included the loneliness of the job for elementary school principals who may be the only administrator in the building and the need for good mentoring programs. They were pleased to witness collaborative leadership in action and now better understand how the principal helps build a safe culture in schools.

Principals were asked what hurdles get in the way of maximizing their role as instructional leaders. A middle school principal from Maryland shared with a small group that he always conducts classroom visits and teacher observations in the morning because he never knows what may happen that day. While being shadowed by the ED official, a student who had been suspended was seen on campus and the principal spent a good part of the day tracking down his parents. Other principals lamented that they often hear teachers say they would never want their job, which makes them very concerned about succession planning and the future of their profession.

Duncan posed for a group photo with the principals and one middle school principal even got a selfie with the secretary, which she immediately tweeted to her students. Duncan thanked the principals for their hard work and ended the discussion with his oft-used quote, “I have yet to see a great school that didn’t have a great principal.” Those words are so true!

Check out the #prinmonth hashtag on Twitter to see photos of the shadowing visits or read the Department’s Storify of the week.

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On Tuesday, October 7, 2014, NASSP member Everett Davis, principal at Redland Middle School in Montgomery County, MD, participated in a series of briefings and meetings with congressional staff and US Department of Education officials to discuss the importance of profession-ready teachers and principals for each and every student.

Research reveals that teachers, principals, and other school leaders are the most important school-based influences on student learning, and every student deserves to be taught and led by excellent teachers and school leaders. However, data show that students in many high-need schools do not have access to great educators.

Recognizing this disparity, the Coalition for Teaching Quality (CTQ), of which NASSP is an active member, released “Excellent Educators for Each and Every Child: A policy roadmap for transforming the teaching and principal professions.” In the document, CTQ—which comprises more than 100 organizations dedicated to ensuring that every child has educators who are fully prepared and effective—offers a continuum of the teaching and principal professions to meet its goal.

The coalition also released “Profession-Ready Teachers and Principals for Each and Every Child,” the first in a series of reports that take deeper looks at the policy roadmap. This report describes four steps that future teachers and principals must take to ensure that they are profession-ready. For principals, profession-ready means having a strong instructional background as a teacher and having demonstrated abilities related to effective school leadership competencies and prior success in leading adults.

During the Hill briefings and meetings, Davis reinforced the importance of the CTQ documents by sharing his experiences as a principal intern last year. This innovative leadership program embeds an aspiring school leader for a full year in a school under the supervision of an accomplished principal. The aspiring principal is provided with a professional development team during the internship and participates in monthly seminars where candidates address authentic school leadership scenarios.

“The practical application of the theory and skills obtained in my preparation program through the principal internship fully prepared me for when I took the reins of the principalship,” said Davis.

As a principal intern, Davis also became the acting principal for six weeks during the school year. Even though Davis is now a principal, he still receives ongoing support from a mentor principal as part of the leadership program. This program embodies the recommendations of NASSP and the Coalition of Teaching Quality in that aspiring principals complete a one-year residency under the guidance of an accomplished school leader.

Every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, disability status, income, or zip code, deserves great teachers and principals. With the release of these documents, the CTQ has laid out a vision of how to achieve this lofty goal. NASSP is a proud member of CTQ and will continue to advocate to ensure that all children have access to excellent educators.

 

NASSP Urges the FCC to Increase Funding for E-Rate Program

On September 29, 2014, in Technology, by Amanda Karhuse

In an effort to ensure that more schools have access to high-speed broadband and wireless connections, NASSP has submitted comments in response to a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the E-Rate program that was issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on July 23. NASSP also signed on to comments submitted by the Education and Libraries Network Coalition (EdLiNC), a group comprised of the leading public and private education associations and the American Library Association that was formed to promote and improve the E-Rate program to fulfill its mission of accelerating the deployment of advanced telecommunications and information services in schools and libraries.

Our individual and coalition comments both urge the FCC to immediately and permanently increase the E-Rate program’s annual funding level. For years, we have argued that the program requires additional funding to upgrade these basic Internet connections to broadband. Without the ability to access greater bandwidth speeds in classrooms, our nation’s students would be hamstrung in their efforts to use of digital textbooks, participate in online and distance learning courses, and take online assessments. In addition, we have consistently maintained that the E-Rate’s annual funding cap, essentially unchanged from its inception, is grossly inadequate to fund the bandwidth increases so many schools require with the growing use of laptops and digital devices.

Experts in the field suggest that the $1 billion annually (or $5 billion over five years) the FCC has committed for the E-Rate program is simply inadequate for WiFi build out and sustainability costs. The CoSN/Education Superhighway study of public school costs for internal connections “suggests that once all schools and libraries have been upgraded, it will cost approximately $2.2 billion per year ($1.6 billion in E-Rate subsidies) to maintain these networks and upgrade them periodically to list latest standards. Funds for Learning also notes that school districts with more than 20% of their students eligible for the National School Lunch Program may not see even a dime of E-Rate funding for internal connections by 2020.

NASSP believes that technology can increase equity and access to educational opportunities for all students and enhance the impact and reach of great teaching in schools. But we know that teachers and students will only use those tools if they can rely on the connectivity of their broadband network and Wi-Fi capacity. For this reason, we will continue to advocate for a robust E-Rate program and encourage the FCC to permanently raise the funding cap.

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Once considered an add-on program, career and technical education (CTE) continues to raise its profile in mainstream education. And now, CTE is being recognized as a method for building core skills.

A Hill briefing last Wednesday focused on the crucial, yet rarely recognized, connection between literacy and CTE. Held by the Advocates for Literacy (of which NASSP is a leading member) and the Senate CTE Caucus, this event marks an important step in the CTE movement—underscoring that CTE success requires student literacy skills, which can be advanced in the context of high-quality CTE programs.

No one can address this topic with greater authority than 2014 MetLife/NASSP National High School Principal of the Year Dr. Sheila Harrity, who presented her school’s success in programming that combines traditional high school academics with CTE curriculum.

Principal at Worcester Technical High School (MA), Dr. Harrity explained that the school’s engaging career and technical curriculum builds students’ interest in school, especially those considered at-risk. With her school’s successful CTE programs, Dr. Harrity noted that students with low levels of literacy and academic achievement have seen significant gains when confronted with schoolwork that piques their interests and has visible, real-world application.

Senate CTE Caucus co-chairs Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) offered remarks at the briefing. Senator Kaine, clearly passionate about the topic, noted that the Senate CTE Caucus’ goal is to de-stigmatize CTE and even make it “really hot, sexy, and cool.” Kaine, who earlier in the day introduced legislation to pilot CTE programs in middle school, added, “Technical education is coming back strong and it’s something we can celebrate.”

Click here to learn more about Senator Kaine’s Middle School Technical Education Program (Middle STEP) Act.