Straight A’s: Public Education Policy and Progress: Volume 9, No. 8
DUNCAN MAKES $44 BILLION IN EDUCATION FUNDING AVAILABLE TO STATES: Education Secretary Says Stimulus Money Must Go Toward “Real and Lasting Reform”
Earlier this month, in an appearance at Doswell Brooks Elementary School in Capitol Heights, Maryland, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the availability of $44 billion to states and schools—the first round of funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Of the $44 billion, $11.4 billion went out to states on April 1 through the Title I, IDEA, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Independent Living programs. The remaining $32.6 billion falls under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) and will help states balance their budgets and avoid reductions in education and other essential public services.
“Given our economic circumstances, it’s critical that money go out quickly but it’s even more important that it be spent wisely,” Duncan said. “The first step toward real and lasting reform that will ensure our students’ competitiveness begins with absolute transparency and accountability in how we invest our dollars, educate our children, evaluate our teachers, and measure our success. We must be much more open and honest about what works in the classroom and what doesn’t.”
Of the $32.6 billion in SFSF funds, $26.6 billion is dedicated to ensuring that local school districts and public institutions of higher education have the resources to prevent cuts to education funding and retain teachers and professors, while $6 billion can go toward education, public safety, or other government services.
Before a state can receive these funds, it must first submit an application to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) providing assurances that it is committed to advancing education reform in the four specific areas mentioned in the ARRA. Secretary Duncan highlighted these areas in a letter to the nation’s governors:
Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and ensuring that all schools have highly qualified teachers.
Making progress toward college- and career-ready standards and rigorous assessments that will improve both teaching and learning.
Improving achievement in low-performing schools by providing intensive support and effective interventions in schools that need them the most.
Gathering information to improve student learning, teacher performance, and college- and career-readiness through enhanced data systems that track progress.
“Taken together, these four commitments will help ensure outstanding teachers in America’s schools, arm educators with the tools and data needed to determine what does and doesn’t work in our nation’s classrooms, align curricula and assessments with rigorous standards that prepare young people for college and careers, and transform our lowest-performing schools,” Duncan wrote in the letter.
In addition, states must provide baseline data that demonstrates its status in each of the four education reform areas and include a description of how it intends to use its allocation. If ED receives an approvable application, it will—within two weeks—provide the state with 67 percent of its allocation under the SFSF.
Each state will receive the remaining portion of its SFSF, which, in total, includes $13.1 billion for education and $2.9 for education, public safety, or other government services, later in the year and after ED approves each state’s plan for addressing the four education reform objectives. To receive this second round of funding, a state’s plan must describe how it is implementing the data-collecting and reporting requirements under ARRA and how the SFSF and other funding will be used to improve teaching and learning.
A third round of funding, the $5 billion “Race to the Top” fund, will be awarded to states that are most aggressively pursuing reforms via competitive grants. In order to ensure that the first two rounds of funding are driving improvements in the classroom, ED will award grants to states based on how well they are using the first round of stabilization and Title I funds to advance education reforms. Duncan says that the Race to the Top funds will be given as an incentive to states that are “fundamentally willing to challenge the status quo.”
A second round of Title I and IDEA funds will be available later in the year. In addition, ED will be providing information about Title I School Improvement grants, for which $3 billion will be available beginning fall 2009.
As reported in the New York Times, Duncan said that the assurances and the Race to the Top fund will “[lay] the foundation for where we want to go” with the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. “This will help us to get states lining up behind this agenda,” he said.
ED made it clear that the education funding included in ARRA is a “historic infusion of funds that is expected to be temporary.” It has cautioned that funds should be invested “thoughtfully” and in ways that do not result in “unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires.”
“Every dollar we spend must advance reforms and improve learning,” Duncan told the Maryland elementary school gathering. “We are putting real money on the line to challenge every state to push harder and do more for its children. If states play games with these funds, the second round of stabilization funds could be in jeopardy and they could eliminate their state from competitive grant money. This money must be spent in the best interests of children.”
Additional guidance, fact sheets on the funds available under the SFSF, Title I, IDEA, and other programs, and a webcast of the briefing on guidance for ARRA is available at http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/index.html.
Alliance Joins Coalition of Thirty Organizations Pushing Education Reform Aspect of Stimulus Bill
To help ensure that the federal stimulus dollars are used to reform the nation’s schools, the Alliance for Excellent Education has joined more than thirty diverse education, business, civil rights, and philanthropic organizations urging federal, state, and local leaders to ensure that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides more than just a short-term economic boost, but also achieves long-term, dramatic gains in student achievement. The organizations are a part of the newly created Coalition for Student Achievement, which recently sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan emphasizing that “speed and efficiency must not trump reform and improvement” in delivering these much-needed funds. In the letter, the Coalition pledged to closely monitor state and district progress in allocating the funds and implementing reforms.
“In these times of economic uncertainty, the only sure bet is on education,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “With the enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government has heavily emphasized investment in education, but true gain will only come if these dollars are used for reforms that result in dramatic gains for students over the long run.”
In its letter to Secretary Duncan, the Coalition pledged its commitment to working with the Obama administration, states, and school districts to strengthen America’s schools, improve teacher effectiveness, boost standards, and better prepare young people for college and work. The Coalition also promised to closely monitor state and district progress on allocating the funds and implementing the reforms.
The Coalition acknowledged that the initial guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s supplied states with broad suggestions on how to achieve reform, but urged that future instructions give “much stronger, clearer direction to states and local education leaders about how to meet the assurances and demonstrate measurable outcomes,” adding that states “need workable models and technical assistance to implement these changes effectively within the stimulus funding guidelines.”
Other organizations that are members of the Coalition include the United States Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Center for American Progress, Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, National Council of La Raza, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
“President Barack Obama and his administration have shown bold leadership in making clear that meaningful economic recovery must include significant improvements in education,” said Arthur J. Rothkopf, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We have come together to work with federal, state, and local leaders to help ensure that the reforms connected to the education stimulus dollars are real. We urge the president and Secretary Duncan to use their authority to ensure states and districts use this opportunity to foster lasting reforms that will fundamentally change our public education system and ensure long-term economic strength.”
More information on the Coalition, including a complete list of member organizations, is available at http://coalitionforstudentachievement.org/.
MEANINGFUL MEASUREMENT: Alliance Conference Examines the Role of Assessments in Improving High School Education in the Twenty-First Century
The growing support for a state-led effort to develop common, national standards, the provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that encourage states to improve their standards and assessments, and the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have led policymakers at all levels to pay increasing attention to the “next generation” of assessments. That was the message that Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise delivered in his opening remarks at “Meaningful Measurement: The Role of Assessments in Improving High School Education in the Twenty-First Century.” The April 14 conference featured educators, policymakers, congressional staff, and other key stakeholders who discussed key issues around the development and use of assessments and the appropriate federal role in addressing them.
“Assessments need to be regarded as positive in the educational process,” Wise said. “How can they help inform and improve instruction? How can they assist the teacher and the student? The assessment landscape is broad and complex. As a nation, we need to value the wide range of assessment tools that are available and use them in ways that are appropriate, and more valuable than burdensome.”
Unfortunately, as the audience learned during the first panel, current assessments—especially at the high school level—typically are less valuable and more burdensome. As explained by Scott Palmer, partner and cofounder of EducationCounsel, LLC, current high school assessments tend to “not play the core role that we want and need them to play in terms of promoting college- and work-readiness, providing timely information for early intervention, and driving teaching and learning in a meaningful way.”
David Coleman, founder of Student Achievement Partners, LLC, agreed and noted that the best thing that we can say about the expansion of testing is that it “shines a bright light and has allowed us to see things that were otherwise hidden, but critics would say that we knew these things before.” Instead of merely measuring how far education has come, Coleman said that assessments should also play a positive role in driving performance. He outlined some fundamental changes that will need to occur in terms of assessment and standards to assume this role.
First, he said that common or national standards would only be useful if academic standards are fewer, clearer, and higher. “Until you have a core body of standards that truly, honestly, is what kids need to know, assessment will seem a sham because no one believes what it’s measuring is really essential or worthwhile,” he said. Second, Coleman said that assessments must hold accountable the teachers who deliver instruction if it is to improve instruction. He added that all of our current accountability instruments “focus on the kid and the school and leave the teacher largely untouched even though all research says that the single most important thing to accelerating the learning of poor children is to have a highly effective teacher teach them.” Finally, Coleman said that core tests must achieve quality, timeliness of results, and transparency of growth, and that formative assessment must become a breakthrough science, not just “more testing.”
Palmer noted that there is change underway, and that some states and districts are moving toward college- and career-ready assessments in a variety of forms. He also discussed the role that the federal government will play in driving change, especially in regards to the stimulus bill, as well as the challenges such as cost, time on testing, and institutional and corporate interests that could slow the pace of reform.
The second panel of the day examined the current assessment landscape, with a focus on international testing, testing students with disabilities, and the role of technology in shaping the future of assessments. As noted by Stephen Chappuis, executive director of the ETS Assessment Training Institute, the number of tests that students are given is dramatically higher than just a few years ago. At the same time, he warned that the increased testing must be accompanied by a focus on the quality of tests. “The decisions that we’re going to be making about standards—some of them high stakes decisions—are directly related to the quality of the assessments,” he said.
Raymond Pecheone, co-executive director of the School Redesign Network LEADS at Stanford University, examined the sharp differences between the forms of testing used in the United States and the performance-based assessments used in other higher-achieving countries. He noted that while most tests in the United States are multiple-choice, tests in other countries tend to use primarily open-ended and essay questions.
The third panel provided a view from the ground on the role of assessments in driving success at the local and district levels and explored the potential for the same to occur at the state level. Jeff Gilbert, principal of Hillside High School (CA) discussed ways that his school was using assessments, including schoolwide digital portfolios and benchmark assessments to evaluate students and improve teaching and learning. Arthur VanderVeen, executive director of assessment and knowledge management at the New York City Department of Education, explained how New York City uses student assessment data to diagnose student needs, prescribe effective treatments, and evaluate schools and student instruction.
The last panel of the day featured congressional staff who discussed how the stimulus bill and the upcoming reauthorization of NCLB could impact what assessments need to do and what they should look like. Bethany Little, chief education counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, talked about the role that the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund that was included in the stimulus bill would influence how we think about assessments and NCLB. “The way that the Race to the Top funds are used and what values are pushed through [the fund] will tell you quite a bit about the direction of assessment for federal policy in the years to come,” she said.
Little also talked about the movement away from proficiency and toward college- and work-readiness. She said that much has been learned about assessment at a policy level since NCLB was written in 2001 and that will inform what can be done differently and better during the upcoming reauthorization. “[We need to] make sure that the assessment isn’t the end in and of itself, but that we use that assessment to inform policymaking and that we use it to drive toward school improvement and change.”
Celia Hartman Sims, senior policy advisor to Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) observed that the secondary piece had been largely left out of the last reauthorization and talked about the “awakening” that was occurring about how the middle and high school pieces “cannot be left out much longer if we’re going to truly have a twenty-first-century competitive workforce.”
Video and other materials from the conference are available at http://www.all4ed.org/events/meaningful_measurement.
CREATING WHAT’S NEXT: New NCTAF Report Warns of Teacher Retirement Wave About to Hit America’s Schools, Calls for Change to Traditional Staffing Model
Over the next decade, the United States stands to lose half of its teachers to retirement. Exacerbating this loss is the fact that over one third of the nation’s new teachers leave the profession within three years. So says Learning Teams: Creating What’s Next, a new report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). To help prevent these losses, the report argues for the development and adoption of a new approach to teacher development that mobilizes learning teams comprised of new teachers, teacher mentors, and teacher retirees.
“First time teachers have been leaving the classroom in record numbers,” said Tom Carroll, NCTAF president and author of the report. “And now we are about to be hit by a massive wave of retirements. We need to face facts and recognize that the supply of teachers is collapsing at both ends.”
According to the report, over 50 percent of the nation’s teachers and principals are Baby Boomers and nearing retirement age. Specifically, it finds that more than half of the teachers are over age fifty in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. While every state is facing an aging teacher workforce, the trend is most severe in West Virginia, where more than two-thirds of all teachers are age fifty or older.
States with the Highest Percentage of Public School Teachers Age Fifty or Older
|State||Percentage of Teachers Age Fifty or Older|
The upcoming retirements of Baby Boomers are only half of the problem. According to the report, over one third of the nation’s new teachers leave the profession within three years. It notes that high turnover of new teachers is an especially large problem in high-poverty schools. “A massive amount of their scarce capital—both human and financial—is consumed by the constant process of hiring and replacing beginning teachers, who leave before they have mastered the ability to collaborate with their colleagues to create a successful learning culture for their students,” it reads.
Because of this high turnover among new teachers, the report argues that the nation cannot recruit its way out of this problem. Even if states are able to lure new teachers to their schools, they will simply drain these teachers from neighboring states. “It is unlikely that any state or school district can sustain a quality teaching workforce during the next decade if they allow these waves of teacher retirements and attrition to roll over their schools,” the report reads. “The retirement tsunami won’t stop at state borders.” It adds that no recruitment strategy can capture and distribute the wisdom and collective knowledge of successful dedicated veteran teachers.
Instead, NCTAF argues that the nation needs to move beyond the notion that the stand-alone teacher can do everything and move toward collaborative learning teams composed of veteran and beginning teachers trained to share their expertise and experience with each other. “Through learning teams, we can pass on the knowledge and expertise of successful effective veteran teachers, keep them engaged in education, and enlist their support for new teachers and in transforming their schools into genuine learning organizations,” the report reads.
Carefully deploying selected veteran educators as learning team leaders can also build the strong professional learning communities that have been proven to reduce attrition rates among beginning teachers. “It is time to change the conditions that make [hard-to-staff] schools so hard to staff in the first place,” it reads. “In every story about high-performing schools that are bucking the odds to improve student achievement, a strong collaborative teaching culture is at the heart of the effort.”
Such a redesigned teacher workforce would also be attractive to veteran teachers. According to a NCTAF survey, 70 percent of teachers nearing retirement would be interested in staying if they were able to work in new education roles in “phased or flexible retirement.” Additionally, 62 percent would consider working in a different capacity in the field of education post-retirement because they “want to stay active and productive, and continue to help students.”
The report also calls for a revamping of pay systems so that length of service and years of education are not the only basis for pay increases. Instead, it argues that salaries and incentives need to be competitive in the current job market and that teachers and principals should be rewarded for teamwork that improves school performance and student achievement. It adds that states and districts need to reexamine pension provisions that push teachers in their fifties out of the workforce.
“The tradition of hiring young teachers in their twenties and expecting them to do essentially the same job for the next thirty years is a thing of the past,” the report reads. “Sustaining teachers’ growth throughout their careers calls for the creation of new roles and opportunities to support intern and apprentice teachers who develop their skills alongside more accomplished educators. These veterans in turn have ample opportunities to take on new learning challenges with the support of Millennial Age teachers who bring new skills, knowledge, and passion to their learning teams.”
The complete report, including NCTAF survey results and a snapshot of state-by-state demographics of the teacher workforce, is available at http://nctaf.org/CrossGenTeams.htm.
Straight A's: Public Education Policy and Progress is a biweekly newsletter that focuses on education news and events both in Washington, DC and around the country. The format makes information on federal education policy accessible to everyone from elected officials and policymakers to parents and community leaders. The Alliance for Excellent Education is a nonprofit organization working to make it possible for America's six million at-risk middle and high school students to achieve high standards and graduate prepared for college and success in life. To receive a free subscription to Straight A's, visit http://www.all4ed.org/what_you_can_do and add your name to our mailing list.