The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee spent two days debating a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Strengthen America Schools Act (S. 1094), which would overhaul what is currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), ultimately passed on June 12 by a party-line vote of 12-10. All Democrats on the committee approved the bill and all Republicans opposed it.

“What I think we all recognize is that it is time to update the law to ensure that every child in this nation receives a great education,” said Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) during his opening remarks. “This is a matter of basic fairness, and is critical to America’s economic strength in the competitive global marketplace.”

Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) offered the text of the Every Child Ready for College and Career Act (S. 1101) as a substitute amendment, but it failed on a party-line vote after nearly 90 minutes of debate about the appropriate federal role in education. To demonstrate their opinion that the Democratic proposal would diminish the responsibility of states and districts, Republican members often referred to the bill as “NCLB on steroids,” and stated their opposition to the creation of a “national school board.” Sen. Alexander argued that his proposal “places responsibility for helping our children learn squarely where it ought to be–on states and communities, and it does that by giving teachers and parents more freedom, flexibility, and choice.”

When the substitute amendment was defeated, Republican members offered certain provisions of S. 1101 as amendments. They included proposals to remove all new programs in the bill, reduce the requirements on statewide accountability systems, remove the “highly qualified teacher” requirement under NCLB and mandatory teacher and principal evaluation requirements, roll back the Common Core State Standards, lift the cap on alternate and modified assessments for students with disabilities, remove the comparability requirement for Title I funding, allow parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools, and eliminate the Race to the Top program among others. None of the Republican amendments were approved during the markup except for one offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to support the Alaska Native Educational Equity program.

A number of Democratic amendments were approved during the markup, including these supported by NASSP

  • an amendment by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to create a new report-only subgroup for students from military families
  • an amendment by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) to require extended learning time as part of the Turnaround and Transformation school improvement strategies;
  • an amendment by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to encourage dual enrollment and early college high school programs in ESEA; and

NASSP was disappinted that the committee rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) that would have created an Office of Rural Education at the US Department of Education. We have long supported a bill (S. 1096) by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) with the same purpose.

Chairman Harkin says that he has received approval from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring the bill to the Senate floor when there is time on the calendar, but it remains unclear where the bill will go from there. The House is scheduled to mark up its bill on June 19, and it’s also expected to be a very partisan markup with only Republican support for the final bill. How the two sides will be able to conference the competing proposals is anyone’s guess. Check back to the Principal’s Policy Blog for updates on ESEA reauthorization, and follow @akarhuse and @balljacki on Twitter for live reports on the committee proceedings.

Since bipartisan negotiations on legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) failed last month, Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and other committee Republicans today introduced their own proposal to improve current law. In a stark contrast to the Democratic proposal released on June 4 at a whopping 1,100+ pages, the Every Child Ready for College and Career Act streamlines most federal education programs to a mere 211 pages.

In general, the purpose of the bill is to reduce the federal footprint in education policy and “to restore freedom to parents, teachers, principals, Governors, and local communities so that they can improve their local public schools.” To do so, the legislation would prohibit the US Department of Education from issuing regulations to prescribe standards or measures that states and districts would use to establish state standards, assessments, accountability systems, systems that measure student growth, measures of other academic indicators, or teacher or principal evaluation systems.

In order to receive Title I funding, states must provide an assurance that they have adopted “challenging” academic content standards and student academic achievement standards in math, reading or language arts, and science, and implemented “high-quality” yearly student academic assessments that will be used as the primary means of determining the performance of schools. The assessments should involve multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding. In a move away from the Democratic proposal, the bill would continue to allow states to assess students with disabilities based on modified academic achievement standards.

States must also assure that they have developed and are implementing 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.” The system should annually identify and differentiate all public schools in the state, taking into consideration achievement gaps between student subgroups, overall performance of all students, and high school graduation rates.

The system should also identify schools that are in need of strategies for improving student academic achievement and provide assistance to districts to develop and implement appropriate strategies for improving identified schools. Districts would be required to develop assistance strategies, which may include:

  • Replacing the principal who led the school before implementation of the strategy;
  • Screening and replacing teachers who are not effective in improving student achievement;
  • Giving the school sufficient operational flexibility in programming, staffing, budgeting, and scheduling;
  • Providing ongoing, high-quality professional development to instructional staff;
  • Creating incentives for recruiting and retaining staff with the skills that are necessary to meet the needs of the students in the school;
  • Implementing a research-based instructional program aligned with the state’s challenging academic standards;
  • Converting the school to a charter school;
  • Closing the school and enrolling the students in other schools that are higher performing;
  • Adopting a new governance structure for the school; or
  • Developing other strategies that the district deems appropriate to address the needs of students in identified schools.

Just over $3 billion would be authorized for Title II, and the allowable state activities look very similar to current law with regard to school leaders: reforming principal certification and licensure so that principals have the instructional leadership skills to help students meet challenging state standards, developing and improving evaluation systems that “shall be based in significant part on evidence of student growth,” establishing alternative routes to the principalship, developing new principal induction and mentoring programs, implementing high-quality professional development programs for principals, and supporting efforts to train principals to effectively integrate technology into curricula and instruction. In order to receive a subgrant from states, districts must conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to determine the schools with the most acute staffing needs.

Similar to the bill passed by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in 2012, the Every Child Ready for College and Career Act aims to provide states and districts with maximum flexibility in using federal funds. Essentially, all programs not included in Titles I or II would be consolidated into two block grants, and funding would be allocated to districts based on the results of a comprehensive needs assessment. Unfortunately, this would include a number of programs NASSP members deem essential in their schools, including School Leadership, the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, education technology, school counseling, and mental health and bullying prevention programs.

The legislation 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, serving the neediest students, could be hurt disproportionately.

Sen. Alexander is expected to introduce his bill as a substitute amendment during the June 11 markup, and the amendment will likely fail on a party-line vote. Check back next weeks for more updates on ESEA reauthorization, and for up-to-minute news, follow @akarhuse and @balljacki on Twitter!

As a member of the IDEA Full Funding Coalition, NASSP is very pleased that Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has reintroduced the IDEA Full Funding Act (S. 1403). The bill seeks to ensure that the federal government fulfills its promise under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to pay 40% of the excess cost of educating a child with a disability.

“This bill represents a necessary step for improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities and preparing them to reach their potential and secure competitive employment in our 21st century workforce,” said Chairman Harkin in a press release. “Full funding of IDEA—at no additional cost to the federal government—will provide much-needed relief to already-strapped school districts and fulfill the promise we made 36 years ago to help communities provide a high-quality education to all students.”

Since its passage in 1975, funding for IDEA has hovered at 16-17% annually with the exception of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 which allocated $12.2 billion (34%) for the law. Under the bill, Congress would appropriate $11.5 billion in FY 2011 with annual increases up to $35.3 billion in FY 2021. To offset the increased costs for special education programs and services, the bill would double the tax on cigarettes and small cigars from $50.33 per thousand ($1.0066 per pack) to $100.50 per thousand ($2.01 per pack) and sets equivalent increases for other tobacco products.

NASSP and our coalition partners sent a letter to Chairman Harkin and the other bill cosponsors expressing our strong support for the IDEA Full Funding in July. We will continue advocate for the bill and other proposals to increase funding for special education programs and services as the FY 2012 appropriations process moves forward this fall.

Weekly Federal Education Policy Update

On June 6, 2011, in Weekly Update, by Mary Kingston

Announcements

Education Hearing:

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), held a hearing this week to examine the role of charter schools in the nation’s education system. Go here www.edworkforce.house.gov to watch a webcast of the event and read the witness testimony.

Debt Ceiling/Deficit Reduction:

House Rejects Clean Debt Ceiling Bill: This Tuesday, the House rejected HR 1954, a bill to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion (the amount needed through the end of 2012). It failed by 97 – 318. House Republican leadership staged this vote to give their members the opportunity to officially register their opposition to raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts (all Republicans voted no) as well as to demonstrate that a clean debt ceiling bill can’t pass without spending cuts. Democrats split with 97 voting yes, 82 voting no and 7 voting present.

The next meeting of the Biden bipartisan group (aimed at finding a bipartisan deficit reduction plan for FY 2012) is scheduled for June 9. Yesterday, after President Obama met with the House Republican caucus, Speaker Boehner called for direct talks between himself and Obama and for a deal to be worked out within a month. See: John Boehner calls for debt deal in a month www.politico.com

FY ’12 Budget and Appropriations News: Balanced Budget

Constitutional Amendment:

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday partially marked up H.J. Res 1, a proposed Constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget. In addition to mandating that outlays (spending) cannot exceed revenues in any year (other than by a 3/5ths vote of both the House and Senate) it also limits total outlays to no more than 20% of GDP (the co-called global spending cap), which can only be waived by a 2/3rds majority vote of both houses of Congress and prohibits any legislation to increase revenues without a 3/5ths majority vote of both houses. It would take effect in FY 17.

News

Department of Education Issues New Rules for Investing in Innovation Grants

The second round of the Investing in Innovation grant program will be a smaller, $150 million contest for districts and non-profits. The Education Department guidelines will require fewer private-sector matching dollars, ask applicants to focus on rural schools, and change how evidence of past success is used in the scoring process. Read more here: www.edweek.org.

Common Core Assessments to Integrate Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

The two consortia of states developing the common core assessments, to be rolled out in the 2014-2015 school year, are crafting them to include accommodations for students with disabilities. Videos with avatars conducting sign language is just one example of the innovative means that the consortia are taking in their approach. “We’re not even thinking about accommodations anymore” in the traditional sense, said Mr. Hock, co-chair of the accessibility and accommodations work group for the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium—one of the two groups developing the new tests. Read more here: www.edweek.org.

White House Convenes Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence held its first President’s Advisory Commission meeting last week. The work of this commission is urgent since Hispanics account for more than one in five students in public elementary, middle, and high schools, but have the lowest educational attainment overall. White House Initiative Director Juan Sepulveda said the commission’s priority is to collect best practices, noting that “the community has told us many, many times: We don’t need any more reports, we need help.” Read more here: www.whitehouse.gov.

Research

Alliance Releases New Report on Deeper Learning

From the Alliance website: “Policy and practice at the local, state, and national levels should support the concepts of “deeper learning” to help all students meet higher expectations and be prepared for college and career, according to a new Alliance policy brief released on May 26. The brief argues that deeper learning provides students with the deep content knowledge they need to succeed after high school and the critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills that today’s jobs demand.” Read the brief here: all4ed.org [pdf].

Resources

ARRA Spending Report:

ED has posted an updated reports showing ARRA spending as of May 27. Of the $97.4 billion in ED ARRA funds allocated, 82.6% has been outlaid (spent). $16.9 billion still remains to be spent.

By State (as of May 27, 2011) www2.ed.gov By Program (as of May 27, 2011) www2.ed.gov.

CHN Budget Webinar:

The Coalition for Human Needs is sponsoring a webinar on June 7th: A Webinar for the Budget-Perplexed: Stop the Slashing

The human needs advocates’ simple guide to understanding – and defeating – unprecedented attacks on the federal budget Tuesday, June 7, 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. EST

Register today!

https://chn.peachnewmedia.com/store/seminar/seminar.php?seminar=8116

Webinar description:

Massive cuts in essential services like Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP/food stamps, education and children’s services, help to low-income communities such as housing and the Community Services Block Grant, and virtually every other human needs program. A large number of proposals now being floated in Washington would devastate these services and would make it far harder for the federal government to respond to economic downturns and solve looming national problems. Yet at the same time, they would do nothing to restrict more deficit-increasing tax cuts for millionaires and corporations.

These proposals don’t have straightforward names like “The Act to Slash Health Care for Older Americans” or “The Act to Cut Services for Low- and Moderate-Income Americans in order to Provide Enormous Tax Breaks for the Rich.” Instead, Congress is talking about global caps, balanced budget amendments, debt ceiling increases, deficit reduction… It’s hard to fight back if you don’t understand how you’re being attacked.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced a bill known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act on April 6th. The bipartisan legislation would prevent and reduce the use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion on public and private schoolchildren by establishing minimum safety standards in schools, similar to standards already in place in hospitals and non-medical community-based facilities. The bill first passed in the House last year with bipartisan support but was not voted on in the Senate.

“In the year since this legislation passed the House but failed to become law, more children were abused in school” says Rep. Miller. “The investigations and news reports about harmful restraint and seclusion show children being tied up with duct tape, sat on by untrained staff, locked in rooms for hours at a time—this behavior looks like torture. This legislation makes it very clear that there is no room for torture and abuse in America’s schools.”

In 2009 Rep. Miller requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office conduct an investigation into allegations by the National Disability Rights Network that restraint and seclusion abuses were widespread in public and private schools. The GAO found hundreds of cases of abuse, most cases involving young children with disabilities. The report found children were bound with duct tape, rope, or bungee cords, locked alone in rooms for hours at a time, and hit or sat on by staff as routine disciplinary tactics rather than in response to an emergency. Such abuse can have lasting traumatic effects on young children. Several reported cases resulted in the student’s death when the restraint blocked air from entering the student’s lungs for an extended period of time.

Nonetheless, state regulations on the use of restraint and seclusion are irregular and inconsistent. Currently, 36% of states have no laws, policies, or regulatory guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Additionally, 88% of states still allow the use of prone restraints, which may restrict breathing. Keeping All Students Safe Act requires a federal safety minimum to ensure the safety of school children.

Specifically, the legislation would limit physical restraint and locked seclusion only in cases of imminent danger or injury and only when administered by trained staff. Mechanical, chemical, and restricted breathing restraints would be prohibited, as would aversive behavioral interventions such as denying students water, food, clothing, or access to toilet facilities. Such methods of restraint would not be allowed as planned interventions in students’ education plans, including Individualized Education Programs. Schools would also be required to notify parents after incidents when restraint and seclusion were used.

Overall, the legislation seeks to increase transparency, oversight, and enforcement to prevent future abuse. NASSP fully supports the Keeping All Students Safe Act.

For more information on the legislation, visit http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/blog/2011/04/keeping-all-students-safe-act.shtml

Response to Intervention Expands Reach

On March 4, 2011, in School Reform Policy, by Mary Kingston

Schools and districts are showing increased interest in “Response to Intervention”, a multi-tiered process focused on early identification and response to student learning problems. RTI first gained national attention in 2002 when the Reading First program encouraged RTI use for its literacy program. In 2004, RTI again gained increased support under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which promoted RTI as a tool for identifying children with learning disabilities. Since then, RTI has become widely implemented and praised by educators throughout the education community. In fact, by 2010, 61 percent of school district administrators reported they had either implemented RTI or were in the process of spreading RTI throughout their districts. In 2007, that number was about a quarter.

RTI uses a screening process to identify students who are struggling or are behind their peers in certain academic areas. In this way, RTI strives to address learning difficulties early in a child’s educational development. Once a child has been identified as struggling, he or she enters a multi-tiered intervention program. The child’s response to the intervention is closely monitored. If a child shows signs of improvement, the process can be stopped. If the child does not show signs of improvement, he or she will move to the next intervention tier. Successive tiers increase in the frequency and length of the intervention program.

If the intervention process elicits little or no significant improvement in the child’s comprehension, he or she may be evaluated for special education services. Proponents of RTI praise the program for its cautious approach to recommending students for special education as well as its ability to effectively address early learning difficulties. Donald Deshler, a professor of special education at the University of Kansas says of the program, “there are some things that are embedded in RTI that make me hopeful. It begins and ends with instruction. RTI looks directly at student achievement in the most fundamental way”.
However, not everyone is convinced of RTI’s effectiveness. As the program continues to grow and expand, some worry that the lack of definitive research on the program may signal a lack of validity. Others caution the program takes too long to diagnose learning disabilities and delays special education services to children who may benefit from them. Special education advocate Cari Levin speaks of her experience convincing a district to evaluate one of her clients, “I had to push pretty hard. Abel has lost half a school year of intervention. It’s important not to lose time right now”.

Despite the criticism, RTI is continuing the gain popularity in school districts across the nation. Recently, RTI programs have expanded from its traditional focus on literacy and special education to include a variety of subjects and grade levels. Proponents are hopefully the program will continue to grow. For more information click here: www.edweek.org

The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing Tuesday to evaluate the consequences of federal regulations on our nation’s schools. Serving as witnesses at the hearing were Dr. Edgar Hatrick, superintendent of Loudoun County (VA) Schools; Kati Haycock, president of Education Trust; Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers; and Christopher Nelson, president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland.

Chairman John Kline (R-MN) began the hearing with an overview of the strain federal regulations can put on teachers, principals, and district leaders. “States and school districts work 7.8 million hours each year collecting and disseminating information required under Title I of federal education law,” he said. “Those hours cost more than $235 million. The burden is tremendous, and this is just one of many federal laws weighing down our schools”. Kline underscored the necessity of reevaluating federal education laws that, though well intentioned, ultimately hinder the quality of education and economic growth.

In his opening statement, ranking member George Miller (D-CA) noted that local and state governments should also be held responsible for relieving schools of burdens. Miller also took the opportunity to urge his fellow committee members not to delay reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Miller cited superfluous and burdensome regulations as an indication that the current education law is out of date and in need of revision.

The witnesses seemed to agree that NCLB symbolized an important step for education. NCLB helped facilitate a national conversation on education and put a much-needed emphasis on students and data-collecting. However, all agreed the legislation was inflexible and, in the long run, served as an obstacle to achieving the very goals it set out. In her testimony Haycock spoke of the legislation stating, “while the focus has been clear, its implementation has been far from perfect, and we have learned a lot of lessons along the way about how the federal role should work. Among the most important: excessive controls on how federal dollars are spent at the state and local level are counterproductive”. Nelson added that while each individual requirement might be beneficial, the cumulative effect of so much regulation is singularly negative.

Required data reports were identified as a frustrating and exhausting regulation. With no unified system of data reporting and collection, many schools found excessive redundancies and overlap in the information they were requiredto report. In addition, the amount of paper work, time, and money necessary to comply with mandatory data reporting was overwhelming. In his testimony, Dr. Hatrick used the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as an example of the work required to meet just one regulation. In Virginia, schools must collect data for twenty indicators for students with disabilities, which he reported took “613 hours at an estimated cost of $25,000. In other words, 94 instructional days were diverted from instructional support to students in the classroom…and there are 19 other indicators that are as or more complex and costly”. Moreover, the federal government provides very little funding for the amount of work it requires of schools. In the above example, the federal government provides only 9 percent of the total cost of meeting IDEA data collecting requirements. With a myriad of other requirements to meet, schools are exceedingly over burdened.

Committee members who attended the hearing were responsive to the suggestions and complaints of the witnesses and displayed genuine support for an expedient and revised reauthorization of ESEA. To view the webcast of the hearing click here: edworkforce.house.gov

Starting this week, NASSP will post these updates each Friday. Be sure to check here each week for valuable and up-to-date news on federal education policy and NASSP advocacy!

Announcements:

  • Education Week on Tuesday released its 2011 Quality Count report, which serves as “the most comprehensive ongoing assessment of the state of American education” (Education Week press release.) The theme for this year explored the impact of the economic downturn on American education, and its analysis tracks stimulus dollars and jobs saved, nationally and state-by-state. Additionally, the report grades and ranks each state on education using a variety of indicators including student achievement, equity, and college-and career-readiness. Go here to read the executive summary and access other sections of the report, and see how your state fared and why: www.edweek.org.
  • The U.S. Department of Education announced it will host a national youth summit entitled Voices in Action on Saturday, February 26, 2011 in Washington, D.C. Go here to read the press release and get more info on how students can attend: www.ed.gov. (Registration for the conference will go live on January 20.)

NASSP Advocacy Update

On Tuesday Amanda Karhuse (Director of Government Relations) and other NASSP staff had a conference call with Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, at the U.S. Department of Education. The topic of discussion was the USDE’s guidance for anti-bullying programs. The same day, Mary Kingston (Manager of Government Relations) an Education Week Quality Counts event in Washington, DC around the release of its annual report. On Wednesday, Amanda Karhuse attended the Learning First Alliance (LFA) Board Meeting in Washington, DC. Later that afternoon, the LFA Board met with Representative John Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, on Capitol Hill. Join NASSP’s Federal Grassroots Network to read about the conversation with Rep. Kline and to stay up-to-date on other federal policy updates. Just email Mary Kingston at kingstonm@nassp.org. Amanda Karhuse and other members of the Literacy Working Group also met with staff for Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) and Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to discuss the LEARN Act. On Thursday, Mary Kingston attended a National Coalition for Public Education meeting in Washington, DC. Finally, on Friday, Amanda Karhuse attended a Women in Government Relations Education Task Force meeting in Washington, DC, while Mary Kingston attended an Educational Policy Forum on the legislative outlook for education in the 112th Congress in Washington, DC.

News

States Must Be More Productive With Less Money

State education chiefs are faced with the daunting challenge of having to do more with less with reduced budgets, while simultaneously pursuing ambitious and innovative reforms that will prove financially and politically challenging. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, now President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, calls this period “education’s ‘General Motors’ moment” in states’ and districts’ efforts to both save money and produce better results at the same time. Read more here: www.edweek.org.

Secretary Duncan Defends the Four School Turnaround Models

In an interview Wednesday with Education Daily, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan continued to defend the four turnaround models that the Administration prescribed for the lowest-performing 5% of schools in each state, and that all replace the principal as an initial step. Says Duncan of his position: “This work is hard. It’s tough. It’s controversial,” Duncan said. “But where we’re not educating, we’re perpetuating poverty and social failure. Where you have dropout factories where 50, 60, 70 percent are dropping out, other wasn’t getting us where we need to go. If you boil down the different models, there are some basic principles: great teachers, great principals, and more time make a big difference.” Read more about the Department of Education’s point of view of the four models here: www.ed.gov.

NASSP has opposed these four models since they were announced, primarily for their replacement of the principal without due cause or a thorough evaluation, but also because of its unrealistic and over-prescriptive nature that expects the most rural regions of our country, some of which our members represent, to be able to find replacement principals and other staff. If you are an NASSP member, visit our Principals’ Legislative Action Center to send to your members of Congress the draft letter we created to express opposition to these four turnaround models: vocusgr.vocus.com.

Graduation Rate Expected to be Frequent Talking Point of Education Reform Conversations

Ever since President Obama announced that by 2020 he wants the U.S. to be first in the world in its percent of college graduates, much focus has been directed on the high school and college graduation rates, and this topic is expected to be a key point of conversation during ESEA reauthorization. The Administration’s March 2010 “blueprint” for ESEA reauthorization issued a call for all states to adopt state-developed standards in English/language arts and math to prepare students to be college- and career-ready upon graduation. The blueprint also called for assessments to gauge college-and career-readiness; comprehensive professional Development; and evidence-based instructional models.

In March, the America’s Promise Alliance will hold a summit in Washington, DC as part of its Grad Nation campaign, and will release new data at the summit. According to the Alliance, the purpose of the summit is to build momentum around the graduation initiative, and to share signs of progress. The Alliance plans to make the summit an annual event. A report released in November, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, documents an overall decrease in schools labeled “dropout factories,” or high schools where fewer than 60 percent of the students graduate. Go here to read the full report or executive summary of the Alliance’s Building a Grad Nation report: www.americaspromise.org.

Special Education Faces Challenges in Funding for 2011

Stakeholders predict 2011 will be a fiscally challenging year for special education. The perfect storm of the end to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds — which directed $12.2 billion toward the IDEA during the last two years — and the continued bleeding of state and local revenue because of the economic downturn account for the challenge. To avoid legal challenges, experts urge school administrators to ensure they maintain services needed to fulfill FAPE. Additionally, not many administrators express hope that the 112th Congress will be able to take up IDEA reauthorization this year. Based on input from stakeholders, here
are several special education issues for 2011:

  1. Funding: This “funding cliff” from ARRA is unavoidable since districts must obligate all IDEA American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds by Sept. 30. The public policy director for National Center for Learning Disabilities predicted that many states will request that the U.S. Education Department waive their special ed maintenance- of-effort obligations in 2011. According to the IDEA, ED can grant these waivers because of “exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances[,] such as a natural disaster or a precipitous and unforeseen decline in the financial resources of the state.”
  2. ESEA reauthorization: Special ed stakeholders want to see specific language in a new bill: first, to retain language on including students with disabilities in the accountability system; and second, language addressing seclusion and restraint, bullying and harassment, and how IDEA and ESEA can fit together better.” Experts also anticipate that there will be strong efforts by special education stakeholders to incorporate universal design for learning strategies into ESEA.
  3. Special educator evaluations: Education officials are looking at how to fairly measure the performance of special educators who have a variety of responsibilities and unique teaching circumstances.

Resources:

I encourage you all to see the documentary Race to Nowhere, which showcases the pressures on students of high-stakes testing, and questions the purposes of such intensive testing when the curriculum and assessments do not teach and measure what we truly need to teach and measure students to best prepare them for 21st century careers. Check out the film here (www.racetonowhere.com) and look up upcoming screenings in your area here: http://www.racetonowhere.com/screenings.

IDEA Legislative Recommendations

On November 5, 2009, in IDEA/Special Education, by Mary Kingston

On Nov. 3, 2009, NASSP released its Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Task Force Legislative Recommendations. The nine recommendations were developed by the IDEA Task Force, which is composed of 11 active middle level and high school principals or assistant principals and four representatives from institutions of higher education from across the country.

The mission of the task force was to study the effects of the federal IDEA law and regulatory language on school leaders and propose recommendations regarding the changes that should be incorporated into a newly reauthorized law.


Legislative Recommendations

Assist states and districts in effectively recruiting and retaining highly qualified special education teachers.

  • According to the Center of Personnel Studies in Special Education, 98% of the nation’s largest school districts report shortages of special education teachers; more than 50,000 special education teachers are required to address this shortage.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently noted that the number of special education teachers needed is expected to increase through 2014 at a rate faster than the average occupation. The reason for this demand is projected increases in the number of students requiring special education and related services and the number of current teachers who will transfer to general education, retire, or leave education for other professions.
  • Some states and districts are successfully recruiting and retaining highly qualified special education teachers by offering targeted salary increases for hard-to-recruit positions, bonuses for critical subject-area shortages, housing incentives, tax credits, and loan forgiveness.
  • Extension of the High, Objective, Uniform State Standards of Evaluation (HOUSSE); mentoring; induction programs; and financial incentives are all possible strategies that could help address the shortage of special education teachers.

Expand professional development opportunities and technical assistance that aids teachers, school leaders, and support personnel to more effectively provide instructional and other services to all students with disabilities.

  • While in the past, students with disabilities may have received special education and related services in alternative settings or classrooms, 52.1% of students in 2004 were educated for most of the school day inside the regular classroom.
  • Many teachers and school leaders lack the coursework and field experience needed to lead local efforts to create learning environments that emphasize academic success for students with disabilities.
  • The overrepresentation of English language learners in special education classes suggests that most educators have difficulty distinguishing students who truly have learning disabilities from students who are struggling for other reasons, such as limited English.
  • Additional funding for professional development and technical assistance would allow providers to offer more effective instruction based on brain research and offer educators strategies on how to effectively teach students with disabilities.
  • School leaders must have timely access to research on effective instructional strategies, assessments, and growth models, etc., provided by the Technical Assistance and Dissemination Centers, in order to comply with regulations and procedures required under IDEA and to provide a better education for students with disabilities.

Begin transition planning that includes measurable postsecondary goals and transition services by the time a student reaches the age of 14 or by eighth grade.

  • Quality transition planning and implementation is dependent upon coordination and partnering between all governmental agencies that may serve students with disabilities. The sooner those partnerships can be established, the likelihood of success increases for each student.
  • Parents of students with disabilities experience substantial challenges with service delivery systems, day-to-day living, residential locations, and uncertainty about the future. Some parents view themselves as their children’s case managers, with responsibility for identifying and coordinating resources and supports, providing specialized nursing services and therapies, and finding little emotional energy and time to plan for the future.
  • Introducing students with disabilities and their families to the opportunities available after high school and self-advocacy strategies at an earlier age (i.e. 14 instead of 16) will enhance students’ abilities to achieve their postsecondary goals.
  • Focusing on post-high school transitions brings both relevancy and real world applications into the classroom thereby enhancing student motivation for learning.
  • According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study, nearly eight in 10 young adults with disabilities engaged in some form of activity related to employment or postsecondary education after exiting high school.

Research and develop exemplary models in the areas of instructional and intervention strategies, assessment tools, development of individualized education programs (IEPs), and transition planning in order to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

  • For example, autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the nation. Currently, one in 150 individuals are likely to be diagnosed with autism. However, very little research and development exists in regards to how best serve students with autism.
  • Model IEPs and forms that are brief and effective must be researched and developed and made readily available to districts in order to reduce paperwork thereby increasing time available for instruction.
  • In order to increase the quality and effectiveness of transition programming, model transition programs and forms that are aligned to the IEP and are brief and effective must be researched and developed, and made readily available to districts.
  • Developing a model for transition planning, with emphasis on the Summary of Performance, would allow for enhanced communication between colleges, technical and training programs, as well as careers without college, regardless of where the student may choose to reside.

Ensure a linkage between states’ data systems to streamline paperwork and increase consistent and appropriate access to services for students with disabilities who transfer between schools, districts, and states.

  • In 1999, the Government Accountability Office cited a correlation between academic disabilities and transience as a cause of the overidentification of migratory children who qualify for special education and related services. For this reason, Section 1308 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires districts to ensure the linkage of records pertaining to migratory children with a disability for the purpose of electronically exchanging, among the states, health and educational information for such children.
  • Since students with disabilities who are transient may not be classified as migratory, this required linkage should be expanded to include all students who receive special services.

Develop an assessment and accountability system for the purpose of calculating adequate yearly progress (AYP) that allows for students with disabilities to be assessed at their current instructional level, as determined by the students’ IEP teams.

  • A student’s IEP team is in the best position to know a student’s individual abilities as well as which assessments will accurately demonstrate that student’s individual growth toward meeting state standards and
    benchmarks.
  • Districts should be allowed to assemble both formal and informal evaluations into a comprehensive portfolio for each student that includes standardized assessments, criterion referenced tests, cognitive tests, teacher and parent observations, course performance, and intervention strategies to determine the appropriate assessment for the student.
  • Legislation (H.R. 4100) was introduced in the 110th Congress to establish a competitive grant program that would allow states to conduct pilot programs to determine the effectiveness of assessing students with disabilities who are achieving significantly below gradelevel proficiency at their instructional level.

Provide incentives for highly qualified teachers to acquire dual certification in special education and general education.

  • Dual-endorsed teachers bring with them a skill set that allows them to better work with all students. For example, positive behavior supports work best when applied schoolwide.
  • Incentives, such as loan forgiveness or tax credits, to general education teachers who pursue special education certification, may help recruit and retain more special education teachers.
  • Currently in many school districts, special education teachers and teaching assistants are placed in regular education classrooms to provide individualized instructional support for special education students (i.e. inclusion). Dual-endorsed teachers require less external support thereby allowing special education personnel to be redistributed into more effective intervention services.

Create a common set of standards of care and assessments for each of the disabilities enumerated in IDEA.

  • IDEA 2004 defined a child with a disability as “a child with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this title as ‘emotional disturbance’), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.” However, differences in the determination of these conditions have resulted in inconsistencies in the services provided to students within a state and between different states.
  • Clarification of the standards of care would ensure that each student would receive “comparable” services within a particular school or district, and when the student transfers within the same state or outside of the state.

Fully fund IDEA.

  • From 1995 through 2004, the total number of students ages 6–21 receiving special education and related services under IDEA increased from almost 5.1 million to more than 6.1 million, and the largest increase occurred for students in middle level and high schools.
  • When Congress first passed IDEA in 1975, the federal government agreed to pay for the excess costs of educating a child with a disability compared to a general education student, which translates to 40% of the national average per-pupil expenditure (APPE).
  • School districts were allocated $22.8 billion (34.2%) in federal funding under IDEA in FY 2009, which includes funding allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and regular annual appropriations.
  • The IDEA shortfall increases demand on school districts’ general fund balance, forcing them to raise taxes or eliminate critical education programs and staff.

NASSP mourns the loss of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) who was a true champion of education and child welfare as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. As the third longest serving member of the U.S. Senate, he authored over 2,500 bills in his 47 years in the Senate, hundreds of which have become law.

“Despite his privileged upbringing, Senator Kennedy represented the voice of those who came from difficult circumstances,” said NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi. “His call for equality and opportunity in education translated into landmark pieces of legislation that served to advance our nation as a true democracy. The Senator also realized that, in order to promote access to quality education for all, other institutions had to support the growth and well being of our nation’s students.”

One of the most important laws that Kennedy helped shepherd through Congress was the No Child Left Behind Act, the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 2002. His passing opens up the opportunity for another senator to make a mark on education reform, and the new chair’s priorities will no doubt affect both the substance and timeline for the reauthorization of ESEA.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) will assume the chair of the HELP Committee. Based on his past record and statements, Harkin will likely focus on school modernization and construction; closing the achievement gap by expanding access to early childhood education and healthcare; reauthorizing the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act; and improving American competitiveness by focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. He is also a strong proponent of improving student literacy skills and was a cosponsor of the Striving Readers Act in the 110th Congress, legislation championed by NASSP for years.

Harkin is also the chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that writes the annual education funding bill (a position he will not have to give up to take the HELP Committee gavel), which has provided him with knowledge of a wide variety of federal education programs and why education itself is so important to our nation’s future.