Obama administration initiatives such as the Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive grant program and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)/Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers have generated more innovation in a shorter time than any other K-12 education reform in recent memory, according to an influential Washington group.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a forum on July 27 “The State of State Education Reform: What’s Happening, What’s Next?” At the event, the panelists singled out:
- A wide variety of school improvement strategies
- Removal of the caps on charter school creation
- Widespread adoption of college- and career-ready standards
- A build up of human capacity in the education sector
- A determined focus on education reform creating a coherent vision of goals to achieve, the means to achieve them and the obstacles that need to be overcome
The National School Boards Association has been following developments in all of these areas because of the critical role school boards will play in implementing these programs, as well as monitoring the role of the federal government. Representatives from NSBA’s legislative advocacy department attended the event.
At the event, panelists John King, New York State Commissioner, Michael Yudin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Education, and Alex Johnston, adviser to the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Chair of the Board of Directors, Policy Innovators in Education, agreed that the RTTT funding was a huge incentive to jump start much-needed reforms and help accelerate reforms many states had already embraced; increase charter school development; and bring an evaluation system into labor-management relations. The process of developing applications brought together governors, state superintendents/commissioners and state boards of education, and ultimately state legislatures.
King was critical of local school boards for not being more proactive on the innovation front and avoiding interventions with failing schools. He said he is seeking legislation in the upcoming New York 2013 legislative session to empower the state to remove local boards that have not addressed chronically underperforming schools.
“We’ve been missing that tool,” said King, whose experience before joining the New York Department of Education was with charter school management.
Johnston noted that Connecticut has been identified as having the greatest achievement gap between children in poverty and those from families with more affluence. But the state’s failure to secure RTTT funds motivated both gubernatorial candidates to make education a top campaign issue and continues to be a driving force.
Brown and panelists noted the current widespread diminished and limited capacity of state departments of education in leading change. Their embedded monitoring and compliance approach, dictated by NCLB and the enforcement of state aid policies, was shifted to an agenda marked by change, school improvement, and increased standards. The Common Core State Standards have also motivated states to work together on evaluating curriculum, on developing new, upgraded assessments, and on developing a system that relies more on technology for delivering professional development to teachers and principals. The emphasis on building regional teams has also been reinforced.
The event was in tandem with the CAP’s analysis of the second round of applications for the NCLB waiver program.
This report was compiled by Roberta Stanley, NSBA’s director of federal affairs.