August 22, 2011
Denise Juneau, 2; Arne Duncan, 0
She shoots; she scores! Montana proved victorious in its showdown with the U.S. Department of Education over refusing to raise its adequate yearly progress (AYP) testing targets this next school year as required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). After Montana State Superintendent Denise Juneau informed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan of her decision in April, Duncan initially—and forcefully—responded by threatening to withhold millions of dollars in federal Title I funding from the state. But in subsequent weeks, federal education officials found a loophole for the state, allowing Montana to reset its testing targets and help 155 schools avoid being designated as low-performing schools.
The conflict erupted because NCLB requires states to increase their AYP at least every three years, and it was time for Montana to do so, having kept limit, having kept its targets flat at 83 percent in reading and 68 percent in math since 2007. The state was supposed to increase its rates to 92 percent in reading and 84 percent in math this school year.
So how did Montana end up the winner? The U.S. Department of Education discovered that Montana hadn't taken advantage of the opportunity to reset its targets in 2005 after revising its academic standards. So the department let the state reset its proficiency targets this year, and it raised them only slightly above last year's benchmarks.
In a recent letter (PDF) to Secretary Duncan, Juneau praised the department's efforts to develop an amicable resolution to the state's compliance issue, but strongly criticized the law, drawing an analogy to basketball, one of Duncan's other passions.
"If the game of basketball operated like NCLB, every student, despite her or his athletic ability or interest, must make the team; and then, the only way a student can score points is by a slam dunk," she wrote. "Under NCLB rules, free throws don't matter, lay-ups don't matter, three-point shots don't matter, assists don't matter, and rebounds don't matter. Only the slam dunk matters. And, over time, the basket keeps rising in height."
Complaints like this compelled the secretary to announce his intention two weeks ago to offer states waivers from key NCLB requirements in exchange for a commitment to implement a separate set of administration-backed reforms. But some education experts question whether states will support such an arrangement after the department has set a precedent of helping other states like Montana avoid the law's requirements without expecting reforms in return. Others view the department's willingness to work with Montana and other states as a signal that years of federally controlled public school accountability may be falling by the wayside.
ASCD will continue to follow the issue and share details about the secretary's waiver proposal when he releases them in mid-September.
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#AskArne Your Burning Education Questions
Secretary Duncan will hold his first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall this Wednesday, August 24, at 1:30 p.m. eastern time. Twitter users are invited to submit questions to the secretary using the hashtag #AskArne. To date, the vast majority of the questions focus on the prevalence of standardized testing and the emphasis on test-based accountability systems.
Veteran education journalist John Merrow will moderate the town hall, and the event will also be broadcast live on the Department of Education's Ustream channel. In addition, you can follow ASCD's live account of the town hall @ASCD.
The department uses several Twitter accounts to share information and converse with the education community and the public.
- For general news and information about the department, follow @usedgov.
- To keep up-to-date with Secretary Duncan, follow @ArneDuncan.
- Justin Hamilton, the department’s press secretary, tweets from @EDPressSec.
- And Massie Ritsch, deputy assistant secretary for external affairs and outreach, shares information and converses with stakeholders, teachers, and parents at @ED_Outreach.
Access a complete list of the department’s Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts.
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Teachers: Learn How the Obama Administration Proposes to Support and Evaluate Your Teaching
The U.S. Department of Education's final Summer Seminar at Six, to be held this Thursday, August 25, at 6:00 p.m. eastern time, will focus on education policy directly related to teachers.
The department will answer questions related to the Obama administration's proposals for supporting teachers and for evaluating and strengthening their teaching. It will also share information about the Teacher Incentive Fund, a federal program that helps high-need schools develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems, and Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which focuses on preparing, training, and recruiting high-quality teachers and principals. Finally, it will address what teachers can do to become involved in education issues at the national, state, and district levels.
This is the final session in a series of seminars led by teachers working at the department to help educators participate in policy discussions at all levels.
Previous seminars, all of which are available online, focused on basics about the U.S. Department of Education, state and federal roles and responsibilities for education, and fixing No Child Left Behind.
You can attend seminars online or in person; register for this week's seminar.
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Two recently released annual reports related to children and education share important data and information for educators.
2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book
Over the last decade, the nation's low-income children and families have experienced a significant and worrisome decline in their economic well-being as the recession has essentially wiped out many of the economic gains that occurred in the late 1990s. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book, the number of low-income children climbed steadily from 27 million in 2001 to 31 million, or 42 percent of children, in 2009. And the official child poverty rate, which the report describes as a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, meaning that 2.4 million more children are living below the federal poverty line.
The foundation recommends six strategies to help move low-income families onto the path to prosperity and ensure the nation's next generation is able to compete in our global economy, including preserving and strengthening programs that supplement poverty-level wages, offset the high cost of child care, and provide health insurance coverage for parents and children; promoting responsible parenthood and ensuring that mothers-to-be receive prenatal care; ensuring that children are developmentally ready to succeed in school; and promoting reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade.
Access additional data, state rankings, and case studies of families affected by the economic downturn in the full report.
2011 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools
While U.S. perception of the nation's schools continues to decline, the public trusts and supports the teachers in their communities. In keeping with this trust, the vast majority of Americans believe a highly effective teacher is better for student achievement than smaller class sizes, and three of four Americans believe teachers should have flexibility to teach in the ways they think best rather than being required to follow a prescribed curriculum.
The 43rd Annual PDK/Gallup Poll also finds that
- Nearly one in two Americans believes that teacher unions hurt public education. Despite that, slightly more than half of Americans side with teacher union leaders in disputes with governors over collective bargaining.
- Americans' opinions of President Obama's national education efforts have improved, increasing seven points from last year. Forty-one percent of Americans would give the president a letter grade of an A or a B for his support of public schools, which is close to what he received during his first year in office.
- Americans report that lack of financial support is by far the biggest problem facing their local schools. The next most-cited challenges were overcrowded schools, lack of discipline, and lack of parental support.
- Seventy percent of Americans approve of charter schools, the highest approval rating since the question was first asked 10 years ago. But vouchers received the lowest approval rating in the past 10 years—only one in three Americans favors allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend with public dollars.
Register to participate in a free webinar on Tuesday, September 6, or Thursday, September 15, with William Bushaw, PDK executive director and poll codirector, who will share highlights from the 2011 poll.
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