Education News Digest: 2/18/11Posted on: 2/18/2011
House GOP Presses for Deep Cuts to Education
A measure that would slash the U.S. Department of Education’s current budget by more than $5 billion—one of the most significant cuts in the department’s history—was lurching toward passage in the U.S. House of Representatives early Friday.
Approval would set up a fiscal face-off in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And, should a bill with severe cuts make it through that chamber, President Obama has pledged to veto it. The current temporary measure expires March 4, and failure to reach agreement on a new one could mean the first federal government shutdown in more than a decade.
“We’re clearly headed to some kind of showdown,” said Joel Packer, a veteran education lobbyist who now works for the Washington-based Raben Group, where he represents the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2012 spending plan seeks to raise funding for the U.S. Department of Education by more than 4 percent, he noted.
“House Republicans and the administration are moving in exact opposite directions. These are not just minor differences,” Mr. Packer said. “They’re radically different visions of what the federal role in education should be.”
The measure moving through the House includes a more than 16 percent cut to the Education Department’s discretionary budget for the current fiscal year, including scrapping more than a dozen K-12 programs and slicing others once considered untouchable, such as Pell Grants to help low-and moderate-income students pay for college.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters in a Feb. 14 telephone briefing that he’s ready to work with lawmakers from all parts of the political spectrum. But he added that the proposed cuts to the current budget would hobble the nation’s future economic progress.
“You can’t make cuts that send us in the wrong direction,” he said.
But GOP lawmakers insisted the cuts were carefully considered and needed to restore fiscal sanity.
“This bill is about shared commitments and shared sacrifice,” Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in the floor debate. “Make no mistake: These cuts will not be easy, and they will affect every congressional district. But they are necessary and long overdue.
“Although we recognize that every dollar we cut has a constituency of support, an association, an industry, individual citizens who will disagree with our decision,” he said, “these cuts are necessary.”
Last year, Congress failed to reach agreement on spending bills for fiscal 2011, which started on Oct. 1 of last year. Since then, Congress has passed a series of stop-gap measures funding most of the federal government—including the Education Department—at fiscal 2010 levels. The latest of those measures is the one that expires March 4.
The House Republican spending measure would cut the $14.5 billion program of Title I grants to school districts by $693.5 million. And the plan would cut Head Start, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by $1 billion below the $7.2 billion fiscal 2010 level.
Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, and a blogger for Education Week, argued that the House Republicans “are proposing sensible, moderate trims” to programs, while “going root and branch after a slew of small programs many of us think are of dubious utility.”
But Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage at the GOP’s choices.
“People have been talking about ‘tough cuts’—it’s not tough to take money away from a poor child. It’s not tough to kick a child out of Head Start,” Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said Thursday in an interview with MSNBC.
“You want to do something tough?” he said. “Take away tax breaks from the hedge fund managers that don’t deserve it. … That’s tough. You know why? ’Cause they can fight back. Head Start parents don’t get to fight back very much. Poor children don’t get to fight back very much.”
The original version of the Republican measure, released late Feb. 11, would have cut funding for state grants under the Individuals for Disabilities Education Act, which provide $557 million to special education.
But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the mother of a special-needs toddler, introduced an amendment to restore special education funding to the fiscal 2010 level of $11.5 billion.
In exchange, her amendment would cut $336 million out of the $545.6 million Title I School Improvement Grant program, and $500 million out of the $2.95 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grant program, both of which were initially spared under the GOP bill.
The temporary spending bill seeks to eliminate more than a dozen smaller, more targeted education programs.
The Obama administration in its fiscal 2011 budget plan a year ago—and again, in its fiscal 2012 proposal, released on Monday—had proposed consolidating many of those programs into broader funding streams. For instance, smaller literacy programs would have been combined into a big competitive fund aimed at improving reading and writing.
But, under the House Republicans’ bill, many of the same literacy programs would be scrapped entirely, including the $66 million Even Start Family Literacy program, financed at $66.5 million; the Striving Readers program, funded at $250 million; the $19 million Literacy Through School Libraries program; and the $25.6 million National Writing Project.
The GOP measure would also zero out money for mathematics and science partnerships, now $180 million, and the Education Technology State Grants, funded at $100 million, among other programs.
Republican lawmakers also didn’t find any new money for the administration’s top priority, a continuation of the president’s signature K-12 initiative, the Race to the Top. President Obama had asked for $1.35 billion to continue the competitive-grant program, which was financed with economic-stimulus money. Last calendar year, Congress had been poised to provide some of that money.
And there would be no money for another round of the Investing in Innovation grant program, intended to scale up promising practices at the district level. The administration had originally asked for $500 million to continue i3, another stimulus-funded initiative.
Pell Grants to help low- and moderate-income students attend college—which are facing a $20 billion shortfall in fiscal 2012 because of high demand—would be slashed as well, resulting in an $845 reduction to the maximum per-student grant of $5,550.
A handful of programs were expected to come through unscathed, including the Teacher Incentive Fund, which helps districts create pay-for-performance programs and got $400 million in fiscal 2010, and grants for charter schools, which got $256 million in fiscal 2010.
Source: Education Week
White House aims to revamp education law by summer
The Obama administration set a goal Thursday of revamping the federal No Child Left Behind education law before students start the next school year in the fall, a timeframe likely to clash with the priorities of congressional Republicans.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the Bush-era law needs to be more flexible, and in some cases must reduce Washington's role in setting education standards. In an interview with The Associated Press, Duncan said he hopes a fresh federal law can be passed by the time lawmakers leave for their summer break.
"We would love to have it done by the August recess before students and teachers go back to school in the fall," Duncan said.
To reach that goal, the White House will have to persuade GOP lawmakers to move reauthorization of the law up on their priority list. The "Pledge to America," which the House GOP released before taking power in the November elections, never mentioned education, and House Speaker John Boehner has made it clear that his focus is on jobs and the economy.
President Barack Obama met with top lawmakers on the Senate education committee at the White House Thursday to discuss a pathway forward for the bill; bipartisan House lawmakers had also planned to attend, but were called back to the Hill for votes before the meeting began.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama reiterated his belief that reforming No Child Left Behind this year is a key priority.
"The president discussed his desire to find common ground on the need to re-define the federal role in education, so that it is more flexible and better focused on responsibility, reform, and results," Carney said
Iowa's Democratic Sen., chairman of the education committee, said after the meeting that the Democratic-controlled Senate is largely in agreement with the administration in wanting to complete a rewrite of the bill this year, and is already negotiating the language.
"So far in our negotiations, we haven't hit any real stumbling blocks," Harkin said. "If there are any, it's on the margins, and those are being worked on."
But the real challenge awaits in the Republican-led House, where some GOP lawmakers prefer a series of small measures to a broad rewrite of the federal law.
No Child Left Behind took effect in 2002, and was pushed toward passage by President George W. Bush's strong advocacy in his first year in office. A renewal of the law has been overdue but delayed for years. Many lawmakers from both parties say it relies too much on test results and arbitrary measurements, and doesn't meet the overall objective of raising student achievement.
The Obama administration produced a framework for a new law last year that would ease many testing requirements, put a new focus on teacher performance and the lowest-performing schools, and replace proficiency requirements with loftier goals of boosting college graduation rates. The blueprint stalled amid election-year maneuvering.Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, said that given objections from , the administration's goal of having the law reauthorized by the August recess is "highly ambitious."
"To do it that fast I think is going to be pretty close to impossible," Jennings said.
Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, said No Child Behind had its pluses, particularly on equity and data transparency, but that its flaws are years overdue for correction.
"We know that our kids aren't gaining the skills and knowledge they need to keep up with the demands of the workplace or, for that matter, of our international competitors," Haycock said. "Our students and our schools need Congress to develop a new law that will speed up change dramatically."
Source: Associated Press/Yahoo! News
U.S. education secretary calls for more teacher-district cooperation
After a year of often using
financial incentives to spur school reform, U.S. Education Secretary Arne
Duncan unveiled a different approach during a two-day conference in Denver: urging
districts and teachers unions to develop trusting relationships and work
together to improve student achievement.
The move comes as federal education stimulus money has dried up, although President Obama has asked for a nearly $2-billion increase in education funding in his proposed budget.
"I fundamentally believe that tough economic times are either going to paralyze folks or you're going to see opportunities through crisis," Duncan said. Collaboration "has been a desperately, desperately underutilized strategy."
During the conference, officials from 150 districts nationwide listened to 12 educational groups, including Green Dot Public Schools and ABC Unified School District in southeastern Los Angeles County, discuss ways in which they have improved student learning through closer relationships with labor unions.
"We really are moving forward all the time," said Gary Smuts, the superintendent of ABC Unified, during a panel with the presidents of the district and the union.
Teachers in the district, which serves about 21,000 students, went on strike in 1993 but formed a better relationship with district administrators afterward. Since then, the district's annual state Academic Performance Index, which measures student achievement on standardized tests, has increased every year.
Leaders of the country's two largest teacher unions largely echoed Duncan's message. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, pointed out that many new teacher contracts that include merit pay and the use of student data in evaluations were the result of closer collaboration.
"They really listened to each other," she said.
Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Assn., said there is more opportunity for teachers unions to work with districts without looming federal grant applications. The Department of Education sponsored a grant contest, known as Race to the Top, last year that awarded $4.35 billion to states that promised to make changes, including possibly using student data to evaluate teachers.
States had several months to complete their applications. California failed to qualify for those funds.
"The biggest problem was that the time pressure was unbelievable," said Van Roekel, who added that the contest was primarily a top-down program dictated by the Obama administration.
The next phase of Race to the Top, which has not been formally announced, should be open to local school districts, officials have said.
But there were also signs that not everyone was on the same page. Superintendents, school board presidents and teachers union leaders had to sign an agreement to try to work together before attending the conference, which was paid for by the Ford Foundation. Contingents from New York City and Washington, D.C., had planned to attend but canceled at the last minute due to disagreements. Los Angeles officials bowed out because they said the school board had to vote on a proposed budget on the first day of the conference.
Weingarten said she "understood full well" why New York and Washington, D.C., officials didn't attend, but Duncan expressed disappointment, saying that it was a "sad reflection of the dysfunction" in the relationship between labor and management in some districts.
And during a question-and-answer period, Duncan was asked several pointed questions.
One attendee said he was troubled that the federal government mandated that some low-performing schools be closed or reconstituted, which would require staff to reapply for their jobs. "When is the Department of Education going to trust us?" he said to applause from many in the audience.
Duncan acknowledged that many teachers are wary of federal intervention. He and other leaders acknowledged that not all districts and unions were willing to work together now but would have to in the future.
"I don't think it's a movement yet, but it's got to be," Van Roekel said.
Source: Los Angeles Times
Christie Proposes Ending Tenure for Poor Teachers
One month after Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey used his annual state address to call for an end to tenure for teachers, his administration unveiled a plan on Wednesday that would take away tenure from ineffective teachers but stopped short of eliminating it.
The acting state education commissioner, Christopher D. Cerf, in an address at Princeton University, said Mr. Christie would propose that tenure continue to be awarded to teachers who are rated highly effective or effective for three consecutive years. Those who are rated ineffective for one year, or partially effective for two consecutive years, would lose their tenure protections, though not necessarily their jobs, he said.
Mr. Cerf said these ratings of teachers would be based on a new evaluation system that would assess the performance of teachers based at least partly on their students’ test scores but also on other measures, like classroom observations and teacher practices. He said Mr. Christie wanted to make the evaluation system mandatory in all districts, and to prohibit it from being altered in union negotiations.
The proposal would need the approval of the State Legislature.
Mr. Cerf said Mr. Christie, a Republican, had not changed his position that the tenure system needed to be radically reconsidered. In the past decade, Mr. Cerf said, 17 teachers, out of about 100,000 tenured teachers statewide, have lost their jobs because of charges of incompetence.
“The governor’s plan is consistent with his longstanding position that the tenure system is broken,” he said.
Mr. Cerf said the governor would also propose that decisions about layoffs be based primarily on teacher evaluations, though seniority could be a lesser factor.
Joseph Ricca, superintendent of the East Hanover Township district, said he supported the governor’s ideas for tenure changes. “It will certainly allow administrators to make decisions based on student achievement, and that — really, ultimately — has to be the driving force,” he said.
But the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, continued to oppose Mr. Christie’s plan. “In fact, if the governor’s goal is to cultivate anxiety in the heart of every parent and every teacher in New Jersey, he has done that today,” Barbara Keshishian, the union’s president, said in a statement. “He just doesn’t understand teaching, the tenure process or what constitutes a sound evaluation process.”
Mr. Christie, who was scheduled to speak in Washington on Wednesday, has attracted national attention with his tough approach to schools. During his State of the State address in January, he said “the time to eliminate teacher tenure is now.”
Source: New York Times
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