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In This Issue
Senate Education Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) plans to move forward with Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization in early June, encouraging educators who had been wondering when and whether his committee would take action on the long-overdue update to the nation’s main federal education law. However, the effort is likely be a partisan affair without Republican support.
Beginning in January, Harkin regularly met with Senator Lamar Alexander (TN), the panel's top Republican, to discuss specifics of the law. Unfortunately, their talks ground to a halt over the fundamental issue of student performance targets. Harkin would prefer to require states to set student achievement goals, as some states now do under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers. Alexander views such a requirement as too much federal intrusion.
Meanwhile, a recent hearing before the House education committee that was billed as a forum on federal education accountability turned into a discussion about the priorities for reauthorizing ESEA and revealed that the partisan divide that ruled House committee action last year continues to do so today. Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) promised that the committee would address the law's rewrite "in the coming months," possibly moving a bill to the House floor by the end of summer. The committee's ranking Democrat, Representative George Miller (CA), also expressed some optimism, but questions from other committee members indicate that they will, once again, struggle with a range of opposing priorities, from equity to college and career readiness to parental choice.
Chairman Kline reiterated the four priorities that guided his ESEA bills' development in the last Congress: restoring local control, reducing the federal footprint in local education decisions, improving teacher effectiveness, and empowering parents. In Miller's opening statement, he focused on the importance of federal support for school wraparound services, saying that states, districts, and schools "have lost their federal partner" in caring for disadvantaged students' needs. Both Kline and Miller expressed concern about the NCLB waivers, which are spurring their desire to move forward with ESEA reauthorization.
Read the witnesses' testimonies and view the archived House committee hearing.
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Opposition to the Common Core State Standards has gained momentum in some states amid growing criticism from national education leaders.
Indiana has enacted a law that pauses Common Core implementation until a series of public statewide hearings and a new study on the standards are conducted over the next several months. At that point, the state board of education will be required to reconsider its decision to adopt the standards.
The Republican-controlled Michigan House of Representatives approved a budget that prohibits state spending on Common Core State Standards implementation and the aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessments. The budget now moves to the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate for consideration. For his part, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) has expressed support for the standards.
In addition to some state decision makers' political and ideological concerns about the standards, the Common Core assessments that are currently under development have fueled growing pushback across the nation. Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who was elected last year in part because she questioned the state's adoption of the Common Core standards, has hinted that Indiana could back out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing consortium and instead develop its own tests linked to standards.
In an interesting twist, Tony Bennett, Ritz's predecessor who staunchly supported the Common Core standards in Indiana and who is now Florida's education commissioner, said Florida could opt out of PARCC as well. The news is surprising because Florida is a PARCC governing state and the consortium's fiscal agent. These PARCC grumblings come on the heels of Alabama's decision to pull out of both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia in favor of implementing ACT's new comprehensive assessment system, which is aligned with the standards.
On the national level, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, recently called for a moratorium on the high stakes associated with the Common Core assessments until schools and teachers have had adequate time to understand the standards and make the necessary instructional shifts. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution opposing the Common Core standards. In addition, nine Republican senators sent a letter to leading Senate appropriators urging them to eliminate federal involvement in state decisions on academic content standards. The letter criticizes selection criteria for the Race to the Top competition and NCLB waivers that include committing to college- and career-ready standards and the use of Race to the Top dollars to fund the two Common Core assessment consortia.
The U.S. Department of Education kicked off the Validation and Scale-Up grant competitions that are part of its $150 million 2013 Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which is designed to help school districts and nonprofit and school partnerships implement innovative ideas that improve student learning. The i3 Development grant competition, which provides smaller awards for promising but untested ideas, launched earlier this spring.
The Validation grants will provide four to eight projects with moderate levels of evidence with up to $12 million awards, and the Scale-Up grants will provide an estimated two proposals that demonstrate strong evidence of improving student achievement with up to $20 million awards.
This year, the department has included an invitational priority in both the Scale-Up and Validation competitions for applicants working on delivering high-quality early learning programs to help ensure that children, especially those from low-income families, enter kindergarten prepared for success.
The department strongly encourages applicants to submit their intent to apply for the competitions by May 23, and applications for both the Scale-Up and Validation grants are due July 2. Peer reviewers will evaluate the applications in the coming months, and the department will announce the highest-rated applicants in late fall.
Like previous years, the Validation grant winners will be required to secure private-sector matching funds that comprise 10 percent of their project budgets, and Scale-Up grantees must secure 5 percent. But this year, the department is giving the winners more time to secure those funds—up to half of the match can be obtained up to six months after the project's start date.
View i3 competition resources, including webinars, application packets, and information about becoming a peer reviewer.
"Let me just start by saying, in my official capacity as president: This stuff is really cool," quipped President Obama when he celebrated 100 student science fair winners in the third White House Science Fair. The students, representing 45 different science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions and organizations, exhibited their creations, including state-of-the-art cancer-detection methods, an inexpensive prosthetic arm made almost entirely from a 3-D printer, algae-based biofuels, and an innovative design for urban water management. Several students even helped the president mount a bicycle-powered emergency water filtration system so he could test their invention himself.
In addition to recognizing the achievements of outstanding students, the event provided an opportunity to highlight some of Obama's broader initiatives to improve STEM education through his Educate to Innovate campaign (PDF), including a new AmeriCorps program for STEM education, the US2020 campaign that encourages more companies to involve their science and technology workforce in STEM mentoring programs, and an initiative to expand math and science opportunities at high schools that serve military families.
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