Articles in the Federal Programs category

Boards face federal and state bullying rules

The national media has been highlighting incidents of bullying and harassment in schools, and for good reason – statistics show that many children are being bullied, electronically or otherwise.

Federal and state policy and lawmakers are trying to stop bullying of children through policies and legislation, which was the topic of a National Issues session of the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference on Monday. NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. and Jay Worona, general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, outlined to audience how those state and federal actions could affect school boards and districts.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has focused on the topic of bullying and harassment. President Obama “is using the bully pulpit to make connections that are not made under the law,” said Negrón. “That spells untested liability.”

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), part of the U.S. Department of Education, sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter in October 2010. The letter had several problems, which NSBA responded to, saying it had “fuzzy standards of liability,” said Negron.

Those problems included:

# shifts the “actual knowledge standard” to “knows or should have reasonably known.”

# redefines Title IX requirements from responding to peer harassment in “a reasonable manner” to “eliminating harassment and a hostile environment.”

# requires school districts to publicly label incidents as “harassment,” which could violate students’ privacy rights if they are identified.

State legislatures also have been working in this area, including New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and Louisiana. Worona told the audience about his experience with what is now the Dignity for All Students Act. He said that NYSSBA’s lobbyists respond to all education legislation that includes unfunded mandates: “If it’s unfunded, we don’t like it.”

Worona realized that a more nuanced approach would be required after he met with the head of the New York Civil Liberties, who asked him why the association was opposing the bill. Worona told her the training requirements would cost money and “our districts are broke.” She answered: “But kids are killing themselves.”

That’s not where school boards should be in these types of conversations, he said. “You need to be thinking about what your reaction will be that kind of legislation. Take some steps back to see what it’s all about.”

The OCR held a briefing on the bullying issue in May 2011. NSBA submitted testimony stressing the common goal of preventing and addressing bullying and harassment but cautioned that OCR’s approach was too broad. Federal initiatives can overburden districts when state and local initiatives appear to be working well.

Last September, OCR issued its findings and sent them to the president and Congress. NSBA’s testimony was included in those finding. “People get to see your perspective and why it’s important,” said Negrón. “A one-size-fits all federal mandate is not the answer.”

Kathleen Vail|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2012, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation|Tags: , , , |

What makes teachers highly qualified?

Research has consistently shown that an effective teacher has the greatest single impact on student achievement inside a school. But how to determine what an effective teacher is and even what impact an effective principal has on his or her faculty has been less clear. The good news is these questions are being increasingly addressed in federal and local policy and practice, and was the focus of a Monday morning session at the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference.

Over the last decade, what most people have considered a highly qualified teacher is someone who possesses strong credentials, is highly motivated and passionate about teaching, and cares about their students, said Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

But that view has shifted as research and proposed federal legislation call for more rigor and quantitative data to measure teacher effectiveness. The House, for instance, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the provision under the No Child Left Behind Act that identifies teachers with bachelor’s degrees, state certifications, and subject matter knowledge as highly qualified, in favor of programs to develop teacher evaluation systems that would presumably rely on student achievement data like test scores to demonstrate teacher effectiveness.

“It’s going from quality to effectiveness and looking at the impact teachers have on students,” Hull said.

The problem is most states haven’t yet developed systems to quantitatively identify what an effective teacher looks like. Many of the original indicators, such as experience, teaching training, and cognitive skills, still have relevance, Hull said. But research has shown it’s the combination of these factors that is most likely to lead to teaching effectiveness and not any one in isolation. Research literature, for instance, is pretty clear that an advanced degree, in and of itself, does improve teacher efficacy — especially if the degree is not related to the subject matter taught.

“The most common advanced degree among teachers is in school administration … but there is no evidence that it improves their teaching or the performance of students,” Hull said.

And while teachers have been proven to have a tremendous impact on student success, research is just emerging that shows principals also play an important role.

“Researchers and policy makers have only recently begun to focus on [principals] and have found principals are second only to teachers in having an impact in school,” Hull said. “So what impact do principals have on student achievement? Quite a bit.”

But that impact varies between schools, with evidence suggesting that principals have the greatest impact in the most challenging schools.

“Unfortunately what we see is principal turnover at these challenging schools is twice as high then in less challenging schools,” Hull said. “We really need to find a way to keep our best principals in our most challenging schools.”

Naomi Dillon|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Data Driven Decision Making, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2012, Legislative advocacy, Teachers|Tags: , , |

Support but don’t mandate preschool

The federal government must support school boards in their efforts to provide high-quality pre-kindergarten programs—but must avoid mandates that restrict the flexibility of local officials to meet the specific needs of their communities.

That was the message of Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs, during a briefing session on pre-k issues at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference on Monday.

Legislation in the Senate—and proposals under discussion in the House—make clear that lawmakers are interested in raising the profile of early learning programs, she said. One Senate bill would, for example, reconfirm that preschool services are a legitimate use of Title I funds, as well incorporate provisions for the use of Title II and III funds for preschool teacher training.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education seeks to upgrade the role of pre-k programs with plans to create an Office of Early Learning, a step to fulfilling the department’s long-term strategic plan to “improve the health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for all children from birth through third grade.”

One concern for NSBA is that, in their support for expanded early learning opportunities, federal officials don’t mandate programs and onerous regulations—and then fail to adequately support pre-k programs financially.

One concern is spurred by the Early Challenge Grants included in the Race to the Top program, Gettman said. The use of competitive grants threatens the premise of categorical funding that reserves funds for specific policy goals.

Without a separate federal funding stream for pre-k programs, she said, there is a danger that states would divert or redirect funds from existing programs to meet new federal demands for preschool programs.

“We don’t want states to get in the position of redirecting existing education funds from current programs to sustain Early Challenge Grants when lots of Title I-eligible children are not being served. We’re very, very concerned about policies that rob Peter to pay Paul.”

NSBA has been advocating on these issues for some years, and with support from the Pew Charitable Trust, helped found the Pre-K Coalition, a group that involves NSBA, American Association of School Administrators, Council of Chief State School Officers, the two national teachers unions, and other education groups to develop common principals for federal pre-k policy.

NSBA will continue to promote the importance of pre-k services and sound federal policies, Gettman said. And it also will make clear too policymakers that “school districts are in the best position to determine the needs, capacity, and resources of the communities they serve” on issues of pre-k programs.

Del Stover|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2012, Legislative advocacy, Preschool Education|Tags: , , , |

Photos on Facebook, Flickr

Check out photos from the second day of NSBA’s Leadership Conference, along with the opening sessions of our Federal Relations Network on Facebook and Flickr.

Glenn Cook|February 5th, 2012|Categories: Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2012, Leadership Conference 2012|Tags: , , , |

Election-year paralysis reigns in Washington

When political scholar Norman Ornstein took to the podium Sunday, he spent a surprising amount of time impersonating a stand-up comedian—sharing political joke after political joke with his audience.

Then he explained why: Everyone should have a good laugh, because now that he was turning serious, “it’s all downhill from this point on.”

The first general session speaker at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference, Ornstein told his audience of school board leaders that there wasn’t much good news to report out of Washington, D.C., these days. Politics in the nation’s capital is dysfunctional, with this year’s Congress the least productive in more than 60 years.

And now that the nation has entered a presidential election year, it is even less likely that the nation’s economic and political problems will be addressed.

“So there’s not much going on, and I don’t expect much through the remainder of this [year].”

That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of noise and fireworks, said Ornstein, who writes a daily column for Roll Call, the newspaper that extensively reports on Capitol Hill. The nation’s leaders still must address their decision to allow automatic federal budget cuts to take effect next January, part of a deal last fall to create a Super Committee that unsuccessfully sought to shrink the ballooning federal deficit.

The presidential campaign may be a serious roadblock to compromise, Ornstein said, but adding to the political dysfunction are this year’s state primaries for congressional seats and some Senate races. The risk of primary challenges only adds to the pressure of lawmakers to stake out positions favored by their most ideological constituents.

“It will be harder for members of Congress who want to [compromise] … it’s leading to the reality of the last several years, which is the collapse of the [political] center so there’s no real place where you can find common ground.”

All of this means Washington politicians will be less likely to resolve issues of concern to school boards, he said. And this political paralysis could make things worse. The spiraling federal budget deficit has encouraged proposals to turn over some of the federal government’s problems to state lawmakers.

For example, there are proposals to cut the federal budget through savings in Medicaid, which allegedly would come from funding the program through block grants to the states.

But, Ornstein said, the proposal still means less federal funding for state Medicaid programs—at a time when elderly health care is rising and unemployment is high. That means the financial pressure on states to provide basic services—such as education funding—will be all the greater.

It would be nice if, with fewer financial resources, school officials could find new and innovative ways to maintain their services to children, he said. “But we know what it will mean is a deterioration of services, a squeeze on extracurricular activities … on all areas outside of the core curriculum and a lot of others things that are going to make life for everybody in the trenches in the educational world more challenging.”

So school board members have a tough task ahead of them, Ornstein said.

“Part of the challenge isn’t just to come away with ways you can deal with this age of austerity … but to try to convince policymakers, who have a very different mindset, not to do things because of short-term interests … but in the interests of our children, grandchildren, and the future of this great country.”

Del Stover|February 5th, 2012|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2012, Legislative advocacy|Tags: , |

Passing ESEA is critical, NSBA says

Under the banner of “ESEA Now: Our Schoolchildren, Our Economy, and Our Future,” NSBA leaders outlined the past year’s legislative successes and upcoming issues at the opening session of the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference on Sunday.

Pushing for a comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be the most critical action school board members will take this week in Washington, D.C., NSBA Associate Executive Director Michael A. Resnick told the more than 700 FRN participants attending the three-day meeting. Closely tied to that action is adequate funding for core federal programs including Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Educators have been working tirelessly for five years to get a new version of the now decade-old No Child Left Behind Act passed, and the House and Senate are finally moving toward passage of ESEA legislation in the respective chambers, NSBA President Mary Broderick said.

“Congress’ timing is particularly fortunate for us to make a mark on the process,” Broderick said. “While both bills make significant improvements over existing law, neither is perfect, and this stage of the legislative process is the ideal time to make those changes.”

Having successfully overcome proposals to make large-scale cuts in the education budget this year, FRN participants must be aware of initiatives such as the Budget Control Act, which would instill a 7.8 percent across-the-board cut in federal programs. Further, proposals within the ESEA reauthorization would create formulas for future program funds that do not take into account the increasing numbers of students living in poverty and students with special needs.

Resnick reminded attendees that national polls during this election year show that the majority of voters are largely ambivalent about whether their members continue to serve, and some 90 House representatives coming up for reelection for the first time. Keeping this in mind, school board members should push the importance of passing an ESEA reauthorization as a major achievement.

“Why shouldn’t they want to deliver for America’s children? Why shouldn’t they want to deliver for America’s future?” he asked.

Resnick also announced plans for the National School Boards Action Center, a 501-c4 organization, which will help further push NSBA’s advocacy agenda and allow for more targeted lobbying and endorsements. One of the center’s first issues will be promoting NSBA priorities and education issues for the 2012 campaigns.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 5th, 2012|Categories: Budgeting, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2012, Legislative advocacy, School Boards|Tags: , , , , , |

Leadership, FRN conferences held in Washington

Over the next four days, School Board News Today will be covering the top events and sessions at NSBA’s annual Leadership Conference and its Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference, held in Washington, D.C.

The NSBA Leadership Conference, held Feb. 4 to 5, is a two-day networking and professional development event designed to explore issues and opportunities related to state school board association leadership and management. The conference brings about 200 people to Washington, D.C., including the NSBA Board of Directors, state school boards association officers as identified by the executive director, and NSBA international partner association officers.

The annual FRN Conference, which runs from Feb. 5 to 7, brings more than 700 school board members, selected by their state associations, and state association staff to Washington to learn about the most current federal policies and issues that will impact their schools. This year, Reps. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) are scheduled to speak at the conference. Two new legislative action committees focusing on urban and rural school issues also will meet for the first time.

Participants will spend a day meeting with their representatives on Capitol Hill to further discuss federal issues and pending legislation and advocate for the needs of their school districts.

In addition, NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education members will meet concurrently on important issues for urban schools.

Keep reading School Board News Today for highlights from these activities.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 4th, 2012|Categories: Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2012, Leadership Conference 2012, School Boards|

NSBA sees common ground in Obama’s State of the Union

NSBA was pleased that President Barack Obama showed a commitment to advancing public education and appeared to share several of NSBA’s goals in this week’s State of the Union speech.

In his Jan. 24 address, Obama said his education reform plan would offer more control for schools and states. Obama also praised the teaching profession, calling for more flexibility for local schools to offer differentiated pay and other incentives in exchange for accountability.

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones,” Obama said. “In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant noted that stable funding is also critical to school districts’ success. School boards must be able to maintain high-quality education services for students without sacrificing effective programs that are raising student achievement, said Bryant.

“We must support America’s students and communities and prevent additional cuts to education funding,” she said. “It is vitally important that the president and Congress find long-term solutions to adequately fund education that will help ensure student success and prepare our next generation with the 21st century skills needed compete in the global economy. Now is the time for the president and Congress to support their local school districts.”

Further, Bryant called on Congress to finish the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. A bill has passed the Senate’s education committee and House Republicans have released a draft of a bill that is expected to be voted on this spring.

Congress “needs to pass a bill that supports local flexibility to increase student achievement while eliminating counter-productive requirements contained in current flawed law,” she said.


Joetta Sack-Min|January 26th, 2012|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, School Board News, School Boards|

What K-12 issues will Obama address in the State of the Union?

Education Week‘s Politics K-12 blog is speculating what education issues will be discussed in the president’s State of the Union address tonight.

Education Week‘s Alyson Klein noted, “In giving this election-year State of the Union speech, Obama may brag about some of the steps his administration has taken on education, including creating the Race to the Top education redesign competition, and offering states wiggle room under key parts of the No Child Left Behind Act if they agree to take-on the administration’s reform priorities.”

Klein went on to mention, “Last year, President Obama asked Congress to pass a bipartisan reauthorization of the law. But it never happened, and now the administration is moving ahead with a waiver package that Obama’s own secretary of education thinks is stronger than any of the legislation under consideration. So, if I were a betting woman, I’d guess there won’t be much talk about NCLB this time.”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) will be hosting a Twitter chat during the State of the Union address tonight starting at 9 p.m. EST.

Join the Twitter chat by using hashtag #EdSOTU and share your thoughts about the president’s speech and his plans for K-12 education.

By using #EdSOTU in your tweets, you will become a part of this virtual conversation. To see the entire conversation stream just go to Twitter and search #EdSOTU.

Alexis Rice|January 24th, 2012|Categories: Educational Technology, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Race to the Top (RTTT)|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

Pundits made a big deal about Rick Perry forgetting the name of one of the three federal departments he plans to eliminate if elected president– for the record, it was the Department of Energy — but blogger Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute is more concerned about just what the Texas governor means when he says the Department of Education would also be “gone.”

“It isn’t clear that abolishing the Department would itself end any federal education programs (since they can migrate elsewhere),” Hess wrote. “So, specifically, which programs and activities will you eliminate?”

Then – wouldn’t you know it? – it gets complicated.

Would Perry try to eliminate federal funding for special education? Hess asked. How about Pell grants or Title 1?

“Many will think there are obvious right and wrong answers to these questions,” Hess writes after posing a few other queries “But I do want to know what the GOP candidate’s bold promises really mean.”

Remember nearly 10 years ago when Connecticut went to court over No Child Left Behind, claiming it would cost millions in unfunded mandates? Well, just look at what it could cost California in required “reforms” in order to be granted an NCLB waiver by the Obama Administration, writes This Week in Education’s John Thompson, and Connecticut’s decade-old legal gambit doesn’t seem that out of line.

Lastly, we turn to two timely blogs from NSBA’s Center for Public Education.  In one Mandy Newport, a former teacher, Center intern, and graduate student at George Washington University, takes the Heritage Foundation to task for it’s ill-conceived idea that paying teachers less will result in education improvements.

Then there is Research Analyst Jim Hull’s blog on Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, the title of which I absolutely love:

“Using research to inform policy without understanding the research.”

Sort of like, “Vowing to eliminate the Department of Education without understanding what the Department of Education does?”

Lawrence Hardy|November 19th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , |
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