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AAE Federal Update October 11, 2011
posted by: Alix | October 10, 2011, 05:00 AM   

Senate Tries Their Hand at NCLB Overhaul

As the House of Representatives takes the bill-by-bill approach to a No Child Left Behind overhaul, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is putting the final touches on a large scale bill to reauthorize nearly ten-year-old federal education law. According to insiders, he has been negotiating on the proposal with Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) for months and while the plan is not set to be released until next week, details are emerging quickly.

At first glance, the proposals under discussion look a lot like the Obama administration's long-standing blueprint for reauthorization coupled with the NCLB waiver package released last month. Lawmakers are aiming to release a discussion draft next week, with bipartisan debate expected the following week.

Like the waiver package, many of the proposals under discussion represent a significant departure from current law. They would put most of the federal focus on schools that are struggling, leaving states to decide what happens when it comes to student achievement in the vast majority of schools.

Additionally the plan would set up realistic accountability provisions for schools and states would have to adopt college-and-career-ready standards in reading, language arts, and math. Competitive grants and financial incentives for top performing schools have yet to be discussed.

Be sure to check the AAE blog this week for an update on the proposal.

Republicans React to Department of Education's Targeted Waiver Plan

Last month, President Obama announced his intent to bypass Congress and implement a series of targeted waivers to individual states who implement key reforms in exchange for regulatory relief under No Child Left Behind. In a speech following the announcement, the president stated, "Given that Congress cannot act, I am acting." While the plan was met with applause from many education reform groups, House Republicans and conservative commentators warn of the dangers of this unprecedented reach of power.

The president has indicated the failure to reauthorize current elementary and secondary education law rests squarely on the 112th Congress, which convened just nine months ago. Contrary to the president's claims, Republicans in the House claim they are making real progress. The House Education and the Workforce Committee have held numerous hearings on reforming NCLB and has offered legislative alternatives to the law. Chairman John Kline (R-MN) noted, "House Republicans, as promised, are advancing a package of legislation to revamp current elementary and secondary education law. The waiver offer is the executive branch's attempt to dictate education policy- with or without congressional consent."

In a highly read opinion editorial in the New York Times, famed commentator George Will called the move "a federal takeover of education." In his article he warned the plan was the biggest federal intervention in education since President Taft explaining, "The expansion of federal power inevitably expands executive discretion that marginalizes Congress."

While the reforms championed by the Department of Education are provisions supported by AAE member surveys, AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner asserted that we still need to look toward a full-scale reauthorization.

Department of Education Unveils Teacher Preparation Plan

Two weeks ago, AAE had the pleasure of attending an event headlined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and hosted by Education Sector, which unveiled the Department of Education's proposals to reform teacher preparation programs and better prepare new teachers for the classroom. According to the department, the proposals are to be a part of the overall effort by the administration to support educators and make government programs work better for teachers and students.

"Too many future teachers graduate from prep programs unprepared for success in the classroom," said Secretary Arne Duncan in his remarks. "We have to give teachers the support they need to ensure that children get the high quality education they deserve."

The department is initiating a series of reform efforts to ensure future teachers are better supported. First, based on existing authority in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the department is proposing to reduce the reporting burden on colleges of education and states, which are currently required to report 440 different measures annually. The reform would focus on meaningful data collection and finding empirical measures for effective programs. The change will help identify the most effective teacher preparation programs and encourage others to improve by linking student test scores back to teachers and their schools of education.

Second, the department has proposed a $185 million Presidential Teaching Fellows program to support rigorous state-level policies and provide scholarships for future teachers to attend top colleges of education. Similarly to such programs as Teach for America, these future educators would be prepped to teach high-need subjects or fields, and upon graduation, teach for at least three years in high-need schools.

Additionally, the department is developing Hawkins Centers for Excellence that will help cultivate the next generation of effective minority teachers. Calling for diversity in the field, President Obama's budget proposes $40 million in first-time funding for this program to support and diversify the teaching workforce. Minority-serving institutions will be eligible to receive competitive grants to reform and expand their teacher preparation programs.

Together, these three initiatives are designed to identify and support the best programs, remove burdens from institutions, and help programs improve so education schools can better prepare future teachers for classroom realities.

Click here
to read the plan in its entirety.

Click here
to watch the webcast of the Education Sector event.

Obama's Speech to Schools Stressed Student Success and Jobs Bill

On the heels of introducing another jobs package that includes a billion dollars for education, President Obama addressed the nation's students in a telecast at the end of September from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. While this is the third time President Obama has addressed students in a back-to-school speech, the motivational talk took a political turn in advocating for his billion-dollar proposals to hire more teachers and increase school infrastructure spending.

President Obama promised schoolchildren that he and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are advocating for an "educational system that's worthy of your potential," in an inspirational speech about personal success that reached students coast to coast. While most of the rhetoric was nothing new and hardly controversial, President Obama did tell students he was trying to upgrade school buildings and increase the teacher workforce- two key elements of his proposed jobs bill.

"We're working to make sure that you have the most up-to-date schools with the latest tools for learning," Obama mentioned is his remarks. "And we're working to get the best teachers into the classroom as well, so they can help you prepare for college and a future career." Clearly, while the speech is meant to inspire the nation's children, the president was also interested in pushing his agenda.

The president's annual speech to students is billed as a nonpartisan address, and while he gave a nod to his base with a push toward his jobs package, the bulk of the speech stressed academic success and an appeal for students to work hard and continue on to college.

"I want all of you to set a goal to continue your education after you graduate," President Obama stressed. "And if that means college for you, just getting into college isn't enough. You also have to graduate."

Click here to watch the webcast.

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