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AAE Federal Update August 17, 2011
posted by: Alix | August 17, 2011, 02:52 PM   

Secretary Duncan Takes Action on NCLB 


With the arrival of the new school year and the President Obama-backed deadline to overhaul No Child Left Behind expiring, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced plans last week to issue accountability waivers to individual states in exchange for reforms. While the waiver plan has loomed over legislators in Congress all summer, the debt-ceiling fiasco took precedence over any meaningful progress on education. Now that legislators are home for August recess, it's clear that a congressional solution is at least months away.

Despite questions regarding Secretary Duncan's legal authority to do so, the Department of Education is now preparing to unilaterally override the centerpiece mandate of requiring 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. While both sides of the debate admit that NCLB's original goal is not feasible, the waivers will see to it that NCLB's accountability provision is completely ignored in favor of department reforms.

In a briefing with the press, Duncan told reporters that he was acting because Congress had failed to overhaul the 2002 law, which he classified as a "slow-motion train wreck." Duncan told reporters that he will issue waivers only for states who have adopted their own testing and accountability programs and are instituting key reforms.

Without action, estimates from the Department of Education warn that 80,000 of the nation's 100,000 public schools will fall short of their test-scored targets, labeling them failures under NCLB requirements in 2012.

While the plan is apparently a last resort by the Obama administration, the move is considered the most sweeping use of executive authority to rewrite federal education law since the federal Department of Education was created.

With the waiver plan officially in place, it's unclear which states will rush to exchange current federal mandates with new ones, although many states have expressed interest in the last few days to examine provisions. While the plan promises to provide regulatory relief, the reforms tied to the "relief" will undoubtedly come with new mandates from Washington.

Secretary Duncan Advocates for Transforming the Teaching Profession


Last month, in a speech to the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the U.S. should radically transform the way that teachers are recruited, assigned, evaluated, and compensated, in order to recognize and reward its great veteran teachers, attract top students into the field, and make the country more competitive.

He called on teachers to rebuild their profession, to give themselves more autonomy in exchange for performance-based accountability.  "Teachers must own this and drive this," he explained.  "Change can only come from the men and women who do the hard work every day within our classrooms."  He also called for higher salaries to make teaching more competitive with other venerated professions like law, medicine, and engineering.

Duncan suggested that starting salaries of around $60,000 and top salaries approaching $150,000 would help change the economics of the profession, while acknowledging the difficulty of finding more funding when governments at every level are wrestling with debt and deficits.  "I am sure some people will immediately say that we can't afford it without even looking at how to redirect the money we are already spending-and misspending," he observed.  "To them I say that there is more than one way to mortgage your future.  We can't mortgage our future by under-investing in education."

Secretary Duncan's remarks echo the ambitious education reform agenda backed by the Obama administration and other education reform groups. Experts assert that Duncan's speech will set the tone for transforming teaching in the United States into the new year.

Click here to read the full speech.

The Debt Deal and Education Spending

The debt ceiling debate has played out like a soap opera all summer long with the U.S. credit score hanging in the balance. After intense debate and uproar, emergency bipartisan legislation was enacted earlier this month, mere hours before we were to hit a cap on our borrowing. With the reported apocalyptic economic downfall behind us, education stakeholders are now evaluating the new budget cap and its inevitable impact on federal K-12 spending.

As many have pointed out, all Congress has done thus far is impose a spending cap, no detailed spending cuts have been made available. Essentially, the entire budget has been slashed, leaving smaller slices of the pie for all government agencies- including the Department of Education. While we know that funds will be reduced, the specific impact on programs remains to be seen.

What the deal does do is create a new congressional committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years across all government spending. Estimates suggest that the committee would seek cuts amounting to 6.7 percent in most agencies, which for the Department of Education would translate into roughly $3 billion. As a frame of reference, the projected 2012 federal education budget is $77 billion. In 2000 the budget was just $33.5 billion.

While there is still a lot left to consider regarding cuts, education insiders warn that the biggest concern is the cap's impact on funneling money into the states for their own K-12 agendas. Over the last few years, the states have been pushing various ambitious reform agendas of their own. Often expensive, programs involving teacher evaluation, assessment, academic standards, and other areas often come via federal assistance. When the states are working with limited means of their own, experts argue that some of these reform ideas could be shelved due to funding.

Click here
to read AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner's statement on about the spending-cap.

Teaching About 9/11

In less than a month, the United States will observe the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  In recognizing many of today's elementary and secondary school students are too young to remember the day and its meaning, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the Pentagon Memorial Fund and the Flight 93 National Memorial have sponsored a webinar conference for educators who will be discussing the events in their classrooms.

Discussions with content experts and workshop sessions are available online for free to educators in order to supply background information on 9/11, and encourage conversations on how to document, preserve, and interpret recent history and current events.

Click here to access the online resources.

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