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Federal Update: March 13, 2013
posted by: Cindy Omlin | March 13, 2013, 09:28 PM   


In a March 1 letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, key Republican lawmakers said that while the cuts "may have negative effects, ... school districts will have final say in determining how cuts are implemented." The letter, signed by Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, and Jerry Moran of Kansas, the senior GOP lawmaker on the panel that oversees 
K-12 spending, goes on to say that the cuts will not necessarily result in layoffs or other drastic measures.


The total impact of the cuts remains murky because school districts are just beginning to craft their budgets for the next school year, when a majority of the reductions will hit. The long window gives districts, which tend to be much more dependent on state and local funding than on federal dollars, time to plan. Still, the cuts are expected to sting both districts and states.

Lawmakers face other spending pressures that will likely compete with education, such as Medicaid, and they might not be able to steer enough toward K-12 to make up for the cuts.

While some maintain the cuts will be disastrous, others say they will mean business as usual. For example, all Title I funds for the year have already been delivered and distributed, so any perceived spending cut backs would happen to new spending, not current programs. This is the case in almost all states – Title funds are allocated and forward-funded, and while some federal spending may have to be reconciled over certain periods, currently most schools, districts and states already have their 10% of federal funds in hand for the year.

Fortunately, many of the effects of sequestration will not be felt until the 2013-2014 school year. Until then, school districts have a few months to come up with plans combating the budget cuts.



Congressional Hearing Explores How to Best Evaluate Teacher Effectiveness

Last week, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education held a congressional hearing to explore the innovative methods states and school districts are using to evaluate and promote teacher effectiveness.

While No Child Left Behind's provisions require educators to have a bachelor's degree, hold state certification, and demonstrate knowledge and mastery of their subject, these alone are not enough to measure teacher's effectiveness in the classroom, according to experts.

Emanuel Harper, a French teacher at Herron High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, described his experience at a previous school without a teacher evaluation system. "Without having an objective account of my practice with substantive measurements and indicators, I was left to tease out my performance based on what I 'felt,'" Mr. Harper stated. "It was unsustainable."

Fortunately, schools are working to reform evaluation programs. In testimony, legislators also were told about the Measure of Effective Teaching (MET) Project and research showing the success of various policies. Research confirms teacher evaluation systems based on multiple measures are a superior way to gauge teacher quality.

"Preliminary MET findings demonstrated that three measures – student assessments, classroom observations, and student surveys – helped predict whether teachers would raise the performance of future groups of students," said Dr. Steve Cantrell, Co-Director of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project. "Indeed, the combination of these measures does a far better job predicting which teachers will succeed in raising student performance than master's degrees and years of teaching experience."

Click here to watch full committee testimony.



U.S. Department of Education Announces 11 States Will Receive Funding to Continue Efforts to Turn Around Their Lowest-Performing Schools


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced that 11 states will receive funding to continue efforts to turn around their persistently lowest achieving schools through the Department's School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. The states that will receive continuation awards are: Connecticut—$3.6 million; Kentucky—$7.7 million; Maryland—$6.8 million; Minnesota—$5.5 million; Mississippi—$6.1 million; New Mexico—$4.1 million; Ohio—$20.2 million; South Carolina—$7.4 million; South Dakota—$1.5 million; Utah—$3.4 million; and West Virginia—$3.3 million.

"When schools fail, our children and our neighborhoods suffer," Duncan said. "Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work but it's our responsibility. We owe it to our children, their families and the broader community. These School Improvement Grants are helping some of the lowest-achieving schools provide a better education for students who need it the most."

Under the Obama Administration, the SIG program has invested up to $6 million per school over three years at more than 1,300 of the country's lowest-performing schools. Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools, and some of the greatest gains have been in small towns and rural communities.

Click here to read more about the SIG program.



House Committee on Education and the Workforce Examines School Safety


Two months after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to discuss school safety and what can be done to beef up security in schools.

Bill Bond, specialist for school safety for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said, "I'm often asked if school shootings can be prevented with more security – cameras and metal detectors, and the like. While they may deter some intruders and prevent more weapons from entering our schools, that equipment can only go so far." He concluded that the most effective way to prevent acts of violence targeted at schools is by building trusting relationships with students and others in the community so that threats come to light and can be investigated as appropriate.

Frederick Ellis, director of Fairfax County Public Schools' Office of Safety and Security, echoed Mr. Bond's comments about the importance of building strong relationships within the community: "Much of the efforts of my office... involve the establishment and maintenance of relationships with agencies we work with during an incident, such as the police, the fire and rescue department, the health department, etc. In emergencies, relationships are currency."

Mr. Ellis concluded, "Statistically, schools remain incredibly safe places for children to be. Perspective, reasonableness, and cost are necessary criteria for communities to use in their deliberations [on the nature and extent of school security measures]. I know of no school system that guarantees safety and security, but I do know that the professionals in the education community will do all that they can reasonably do to maintain a safe and secure educational environment."

States and districts across the country are examining ways to combat school violence in the wake of such a tragedy.

Click here to watch full committee testimony.



Universal Pre-Kindergarten Plan Raises Questions

After President Obama's State of the Union Address, many questions have been raised about the practicality of a federally funded pre-kindergarten plan. While some maintain that the initiative will give young children a leg-up and prepare them for success in school, others have questioned the cost and results of such a potentially large program.

Supporters of the plan encourage the idea of equalizing education from the very beginning. The idea of expanding Head Start, the federal program which expands quality pre-school and childcare for infants and toddlers from low-income families, is appealing to many legislators and school districts.

Unfortunately, "all" might not mean every child, since the plan is actually targeted at low-income children. "The Obama administration has billed this plan as 'universal pre-Kindergarten,' using the language of legions of advocates who argue that 'pre-K for all' is the best long-term economic investment America can make," said Russ Whitehurst, a former federal education official. "But in reality, the White House plan is much more targeted to poor kids."

Experts agree that by labeling the plan as "universal," President Obama makes it to more appealing to taxpayers who are skeptical of any new federal initiatives. However, many skeptics see through the title, criticizing the plan for its lack of clarity, the high cost, and the absence of research to support the effectiveness of early childhood education.

"It just doesn't make any sense," said Andrew J. Coulson, the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute. "Why would you want to very expensively expand the programs like this if the evidence of effectiveness is not really sound?"

Click here to read a study about universal pre-k and targeted pre-k programs.

Details about the program's affect on the budget will not be released until the White House unveils the 2014 budget. White House Aide Cecilia Muñoz insisted that the proposal would not add to the deficit.

Originallyl posted by Ruthie at AAE.

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