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Articles tagged with U.S. Department of Education

NSBA calls for caution on data collection of students with disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education should exercise caution in collecting and analyzing data on students with disabilities based on their racial and ethnic backgrounds because of the unique circumstances of each students’ special needs, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) warns in a letter responding to a request for comment.

NSBA urges the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) to hold off on policies for the data collection until it develops a cost-neutral solution that adequately accounts for differences among states and school districts, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Further, OSERS risks overstepping its regulatory authority, NSBA cautions.

OSERS is seeking ways to collect extensive data based on race and ethnicity of students with disabilities to address the issue of significant disproportionality. The main federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires states to collect and examine data to determine whether there are disproportionate numbers of students, based on race and ethnicity, identified as disabled.

For instance, the law requires states to examine the numbers of students identified with particular impairments; the placement of children in particular educational settings; and the incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary actions, including suspensions and expulsions, to determine if the law is being applied correctly. If significant disproportionality is found, states must take action and direct a portion of federal IDEA funding toward fixing the situation.

But this type of information could be misinterpreted and lead to mislabeling of schools, NSBA says. It also would be costly, and that money might be better spent on educational services for students with disabilities.

OSERS requested comment on how it could build a “standard approach” to ensure states and school districts do not have significant disproportionality, and how to account for the inherent differences between individual states and school districts.
NSBA noted that there are many factors to consider, including:

• The demographics of student populations, including the number of students identified for special
education, change from year to year;
• Staff turnover and a national shortage of K-12 teachers certified in special education, which impacts
the number of personnel available at each school who are trained in the identification and evaluation process; and
• Redistricting and school consolidation directly impact student population data and can appear as disparities.

Most importantly, data should not be read or interpreted in a vacuum, NSBA says. For instance, small school districts or school districts with only small percentages of minority students might have a small number of minority students with disabilities, but proportionately those students can make up a sizable percentage of the special education enrollment and appear to be disproportionate.

Joetta Sack-Min|July 30th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Policy Formation, Special Education|Tags: , , |

NSBA: Do not force Washington schools to send school failure letters under NCLB

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the U.S. Department of Education to exempt Washington’s education agency from the 14-day requirement to issue letters informing parents of school choice options for schools deemed “failing” under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Many of Washington’s public schools will be labeled as “failing” this year from what are widely considered unfair and punitive NCLB sanctions this spring. Washington had received a waiver from the most punitive requirements, but the Department of Education revoked that waiver when state lawmakers refused to change the state’s teacher evaluation system earlier this year.

Forcing Washington’s public schools to issue such letters is counterproductive because many schools are making significant progress, and the action would erode residents’ trust in public schools, the letter warns.

“Imposing this requirement on Washington’s schools is a disservice that could hurt the morale of students, erode community confidence, affect support from business partners, impact the ability to attract and retain effective teachers and leaders, and reduce other resources that benefit the students,” NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel wrote.

For instance, the letters would negatively impact voting on bond issues and levies for capital improvement projects to improve school infrastructure and provide 21st century learning environments, and hurt schools’ abilities to sustain and build support from businesses and industry, the letter states.

“Instead of supporting Washington’s schools and students, the Department would be damaging the very progress that Washington’s school boards, administrators, teachers and staff, parents, businesses and communities have achieved for their students,” Gentzel wrote.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Secretary Duncan:

The National School Boards Association, representing over 90,000 local school board members through our state associations, urges your swift consideration to exempt the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) from the 14-day notice requirement regarding public school choice for the upcoming school year.

The letters that are currently required would convey a great level of ambiguity about the condition of many schools, labeling them as failing. Conversely, several schools have made significant gains in raising student achievement, from graduation rates and reading proficiency to parental involvement. In fact, the Department has acknowledged school districts in Washington for their success in improving educational opportunities and outcomes for their students. Hence, the 14-day letters would be counterproductive to the students, schools, and communities, especially when there are extremely limited school choice options in the state.

Imposing this requirement on Washington’s schools is a disservice that could hurt the morale of students, erode community confidence, affect support from business partners, impact the ability to attract and retain effective teachers and leaders, and reduce other resources that benefit the students. For example, several communities are slated to consider bond issues and levies for capital improvement projects to improve school infrastructure and provide 21st century learning environments. What good would the letters do in supporting these community efforts? They would discourage citizens and community support instead of fostering the very resources the Department encourages within states and communities. Additionally, what purpose would the letters serve in helping Washington’s schools sustain and build support from businesses and industry in securing partnerships for programs such as Career and Technical Education or arts and humanities? Would the letters influence these and other decisions?

Instead of supporting Washington’s schools and students, the Department would be damaging the very progress that Washington’s school boards, administrators, teachers and staff, parents, businesses and communities have achieved for their students.

Therefore, we urge you to exempt Washington’s school districts from this requirement. Please contact Reginald M. Felton, Interim Associate Executive Director, at (703) 838-6782, or, regarding any further information about this request. We appreciate your consideration and look forward to working closely with you throughout this process.



Thomas J. Gentzel
Executive Director, NSBA

Joetta Sack-Min|July 18th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, No Child Left Behind|Tags: , , , |

NSBA questions cost, validity of U.S. Department of Education study on fractions training for fourth-grade teachers

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has a straightforward response to a U.S. Department of Education (ED) plan to give 252 fourth-grade teachers special training in fractions during the fall semester and then assess that training by observing their students’ test scores the next spring:

Just do the math.

Commenting on the department’s request for what it called “data collection,” NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. said, “NSBA supports providing opportunities for teachers to receive professional development (PD) to become better educators for their students. However, NSBA is concerned that this Notice goes much farther than merely requesting permission to collect data. To obtain the data sought, ED will need fourth-grade teachers to participate in a PD program that would be squeezed into eight sessions during the already-short first semester of the coming 2014-2015 school year.”

NSBA was the only organization to file comments.

The comments also shared some concerning examples. If the teachers, who would be from Georgia and South Carolina, were expected to attend each three-hour training session during the school day, the time would total 24 hours. That’s “24 clock hours of PD x 252 teachers = 6,048 hours of substitute teacher coverage that will be required to permit the teachers’ attendance,” Negrón said. “Typically, substitute teachers are not paid by the hour, but by the half- or full-day of coverage.”

“This is a big expense that will have a direct financial impact on school districts,” Negrón wrote, “though ED states in its materials that it will not.”

What if the training were done after hours? Technically, teachers are “off contract” during this time and are not required to engage in any duties without being paid overtime, Negrón said. He said it’s unlikely that large numbers would sign up for such time-consuming training as non-compensated volunteers.

“As part of its randomized control trial study, is ED going to compensate these teachers for their 24 hours of PD class time plus the time they spend on ‘additional homework lessons?’’’ Negrón wrote.

If the training were to occur during the school day, Negrón said, NSBA is also concerned about the interruption to student learning that could be caused by a series of substitute teachers filling in for the regular teachers. Negrón noted that not all districts require substitutes to have teaching certificates, and some only require a high school diploma.

Negrón also questioned the validity of the data collected through tests of the teachers’ students in the spring. One question: If teachers had just been given the training in the fall, is it reasonable to assume their students would show significant improvement by the spring semester?

“Working with fractions is a skill that is expanded upon over several years as students progress through a school district’s mathematics curriculum,” Negrón wrote. “It is unclear what one assessment at the end of the fourth-grade year will show to justify the disruption to the educational growth of those students in the other areas of the curriculum.”

Lawrence Hardy|April 25th, 2014|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Research, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, School Law|Tags: , |

Sign up for Promise Zone Initiative webinars

Join federal government experts for one of three webinars by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development next week on the Promise Zone Initiative, President Barack Obama’s plan to partner with and invest in communities to create jobs; increase economic security; expand educational opportunities; increase access to quality, affordable housing; and improve public safety.

The webinars will occur on April 29 and 30 and be separated into three groups of school districts: tribal, urban, and rural. Webinar topics will include: the public comment period for the second round of applications, eligibility criteria, best practices from the first round, the timeline for the second round, and other details about the president’s Promise Zone Budget Proposal.

The deadline to register any of these webinars is 5 p.m. EDT, on Friday, April 25.

Here is the webinar schedule and the links for registration information:

Promise Zone Initiative Tribal Stakeholder Webinar on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 2-3 p.m. EDT

Promise Zone Initiative Urban Stakeholder Webinar on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 3:30-4:30 p.m. EDT

Promise Zone Initiative Rural Stakeholder Webinar on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 3-4 p.m. EDT

Lawrence Hardy|April 23rd, 2014|Categories: Federal Programs, School Boards, School Buildings, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , |

Delegate Assembly approves NSBA advocacy agenda

NSBA Delegate Assembly

NSBA’s Delegate Assembly approved the association’s hard-hitting advocacy agenda around public education at its business session Friday in New Orleans. The meeting was held right before the start of NSBA’s Annual Conference, which opens Saturday.

“This will now form the basis for NSBA’s advocacy efforts and become part of our enduring beliefs,” said David Pickler, the 2013-14 NSBA President. He referred to the three core policies voted on by the assembly as the three “legs” of the association’s aggressive and ambitious advocacy agenda.

The first “leg” is opposition to unlawful expansion of executive authority. According to the resolution, NSBA supports “an appropriate federal role in education.” However, it opposes the “federal intrusion and expansion of executive authority by the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies” in the absence of authorizing legislation, viewing it as an “invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.”

Such overstepping has had a detrimental effect on schools and districts, including imposing unnecessary financial and administrative requirements and preventing local school officials from making the best decisions for their students based on their close knowledge of community needs and priorities.

The second “leg” is opposition to privatization — vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools not authorized by local school boards. Privatization has resulted in a “second system of publicly funded education” that sends tax-payer money to private schools, fails to hold private schools accountable for evaluating and reporting student and financial performance and abiding by open meeting requirements, and often has the effect of resegregating schools.

High academic standards, including the Common Core State Standards, are the topic of the third “leg.” NSBA supports high academic standards, including Common Core, when they are voluntarily adopted by states with school board input and when the standards are free from federal directions, mandates, funding conditions or coercion.

Local school boards are responsible for the implementation of any new academic standards. Instruction and materials should be locally approved, to reflect community needs. In the resolution is a “call to action” to states to provide the financial and technical support that school districts require to implement voluntarily adopted rigorous standards in an effective and timely manner.

Also at the meeting, the assembly elected NSBA’s new officers and regional directors. They will take office on Monday, April 7.

The 2014-15 NSBA President, Anne Byrne of New York, was formally sworn into office at Delegate Assembly. “I promise to work hard for you to advance the mission of NSBA,” she told the group. “Leading children to excellence is my theme. To me, it is a deep commitment to the children we all serve.”

The Delegate Assembly is the policy-making body of NSBA, and it consists of delegates chosen by state school board associations. This year, changes in the Delegate Assembly meeting included holding small-group briefing sessions so delegates and state association leaders had a chance to fully understand and debate the issues around the three core elements.

Also new was an online forum for the delegates to review and debate the issues before they arrived in New Orleans.

Kathleen Vail|April 5th, 2014|Categories: Common Core State Standards, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, NSBA Annual Conference 2014, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Obama administration lawyers open School Law Seminar

Two lawyers from the Obama administration answered questions from Council of School Attorneys (COSA) members at the opening general session Thursday of the 2014 School Law Seminar in New Orleans. The meeting is held in conjunction with NSBA’s Annual Conference.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon and Anurima Bhargava, chief of the educational opportunities section, Civil Rights Division, at the U.S. Department of Justice, took questions from school district lawyers on a wide range of topics, including reasons for OCR investigations and the recent guidance on students with disabilities and extracurricular activities.

Lhamon spoke briefly about the mission and purpose of OCR. “Education is a civil rights issue,” she said. “That is the work we are doing at the Department of Education. We hope we can work together to deliver that justice.”

COSA lawyers lined up to ask questions of the two women. One lawyer wanted to know what she should do about what she termed “frequent flyers” — employees who file constant complaints and grievances. “It’s burden for us to get the data,” she said. “Every one of those [complaints] have come back as unfounded. Is there anything we can do to bring to your attention that this is an every-month occurrence?”

OCR is required by law to investigate any compliant, said Lhamon, “but we are looking at ways to ease” the frequent flyer problem.

Bhargava noted that her office did not have the same legal obligation to investigate every complaint. “We know there are the frequent flyers,” she said. “We try to be mindful of that. We are looking for ways to coordinate so you are not answering multiple complaints.”

Another question was about the school board obligation to look into matters such as student disciplinary decisions, which boards traditionally leave to district staff.

“We haven’t put out guidance about what boards should do,” Lhamon answered. “We want our school staff, boards, parents, and teachers to be thinking about what to ask. Boards do defer to staff, but you can ask and look underneath. Boards can make the decision when and where to ask those questions.”

Bhargava encouraged board member to look at the OCR data. “The data helps identify where there are issues. Everyone is empowered to use the data and ask questions.”

The School Law Seminar runs through Saturday.


Kathleen Vail|April 4th, 2014|Categories: Conferences and Events, Council of School Attorneys, NSBA Annual Conference 2014, School Law|Tags: , , , , |

More members of the House of Representatives join growing co-sponsor list for NSBA bill

Fourteen lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives have joined the 24 existing co-sponsors on the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act (H.R. 1386), since Feb. 2014. The bi-partisan bill recognizes the benefits of local school district governance and ensures that maximum local flexibility and decision-making are not eroded through U.S. Department of Education (ED) actions.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) attributes this wave of legislative support to the dedicated work of the hundreds of school board members and state school boards association leaders who attended NSBA’s new Advocacy Institute, held Feb. 2-4, 2014 in Washington. In addition to building year-round advocates for public education and local school governance, the institute arranged Capitol Hill visits for attendees to speak with their members of Congress about protecting local school district governance from unnecessary and counter-productive federal intrusion.

Thirty-eight Congressional co-sponsors have now signed on to the bill. Introduced by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-lll.) on March 21, 2013, this legislation had as original co-sponsors Reps. Schock, Rodney Davis (R-Iowa), Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), and David Valadao (R-Calif.).

H.R. 1386 would ensure that ED’s actions are consistent with the specific intent of federal law and are educationally, operationally, and financially supportable at the local level. This would also establish several procedural steps that ED would need to take prior to initiating regulations, rules, grant requirements, guidance documents, and other regulatory materials. The legislation is also supported by the AASA, the School Superintendent Association.

“In recent years local school board members and educators have become increasingly concerned that the local governance of our nation’s school districts is being unnecessarily eroded through over reaching federal policies and requirements established by the U.S. Department of Education,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA Executive Director. “Public education decisions made at the federal level must support the needs and goals of local school districts and the communities they serve. The Department of Education should not be imposing its rules and priorities to our nation’s more than 13,500 school districts by trying to by-pass Congress and input from the local level.”

School board members are encouraged to contact their House members to become co-sponsors. Increased focus is now being directed to urge senators to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. School board members also are encouraged to contact their senators and urge them to sponsor similar legislation.

Staff|March 11th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, School Boards|Tags: , , , , , , |

U.S. Department of Education issues guidelines on student data privacy

The U.S. Department of Education has issued new online resource guidelines to help school districts and educators interpret major laws for protecting student privacy and develop best practices for using online educational services.

The report, Protecting Student Privacy While Using Educational Services: Requirements and Best Practices,  issued by the department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), noted that classrooms are increasingly employing technological advances such as on-demand delivery of personalized content, virtual forms of interacting with teachers and other students, and many other interactive technologies.

“Early adopters of these technologies have demonstrated their potential to transform the educational process, but they have also called attention to possible challenges,” says the report. “In particular, the information-sharing, web-hosting, and telecommunications innovations that have enabled these new education technologies raise questions about how best to protect student privacy during use.”

Examples of online educational services include online services that students use to access class readings, see their academic progress, watch videos, or comment on class activities, the report said. Complicating the issue is the fact that  “the diversity and variety” of these online educational services provide no single answer regarding which technologies, and which student data disclosures and uses, are covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

As is often the case with emerging technologies, the interpretation of existing laws such as FERPA and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment are slower to evolve than the technology itself. These issues continue to be at the forefront of discussions among educators, software companies, legal experts, and others with a stake in student data privacy.

“Student data privacy has received a great deal of national attention in recent months, with many groups working to develop resources for their own constituents and collaborating with others to determine best practices,” said National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “NSBA has been a part of this national conversation.”

NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) formed a working group on student privacy this year, which will issue a guide for school attorneys this spring.  “We are producing a resource for school attorneys that will help them navigate the legal landscape and identify best practices for student data privacy protection that go beyond legal compliance,” said COSA Chair Allison Brown Schafer of the North Carolina School Boards Association. NSBA will issue guidance for school board members.

“As an education community, we have to do a far better job of helping teachers and administrators understand technology and data issues so that they can appropriately protect privacy while ensuring teachers and students have access to effective and safe tools,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “We must provide our schools, teachers, and students cutting-edge learning tools — and we must protect our children’s privacy. We can accomplish both — but we will have to try harder to do it.”

The report discussed several best practices schools should use to protect student privacy when using online educational services. Among them are: maintaining an awareness of relevant federal, state, tribal, or local laws; having policies and procedures to evaluate proposed online educational services; and being transparent with student and parents about how schools collect, share, protect, and use student data.

Read more in NSBA’s Legal Clips.

Alexis Rice|March 6th, 2014|Categories: Educational Technology, School Law|Tags: , , , , , |

Join our army of advocates

The following is NSBA President David Pickler’s column from the July/August issue of American School Board Journal.

This is a particularly exciting year to take the reins as NSBA President. I am excited and energized to work with our new Executive Director, Tom Gentzel, and see his vision for this organization take hold.

We are living in exponential times of change in NSBA, and the opportunities that lay ahead are incredible. You’ve probably already heard about what we’re calling the New NSBA in this column and at NSBA events. The NSBA Board of Directors has worked to restructure and recreate our organization. Under the leadership of Tom and our new Chief Operating Officer Marie Bilik, we are transforming NSBA’s internal operations to establish structure that is efficient, effective, and fiscally viable.

We now must transform NSBA’s external advocacy and outreach to meet challenges at the federal, state, and local level. Chief among these are efforts to privatize our nation’s public schools through charter school expansion and taxpayer-funded school vouchers.

Charters remain an unproven experiment. And while we embrace the right of each parent to have a choice for their child’s education, taxpayer-funded school vouchers represent a subsidization of private schools with public school dollars. Neither charter schools nor voucher programs require the same accountability that is imposed on our public schools. Another challenge is federal regulators’ growing encroachment into local school board governance.

Now is the time to change the conversation about public education and school board governance. We know our public schools are not failing — each of us witnesses their tremendous accomplishments taking place each day. As school board members and community leaders, we must take a stand for our public schools.

How can we do that?

If you share my belief that public education is a civil right and cornerstone of our democracy, then we must embrace our responsibility to be vigilant advocates. Failing to act will lead to the loss of this great American institution of public schools for all children.

At NSBA, we are working to strengthen our advocacy in Washington and in each state, aligning and focusing our resources and providing more relevant services to our state associations.

Our voice is already gaining resonance. We are going on offense in an effort to change the conversations about public education. NSBA wrote legislation, “The School Board Governance and Flexibility Act,” that would boost local school board authority and curb the U.S. Department of Education’s overreach. This bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March and now has 20 cosponsors.

We are creating advocacy strike forces to combat those who seek to privatize our schools or impede local decision making. NSBA worked with the Louisiana School Boards Association to provide legal, communications, and advocacy support during its recent lawsuit to stop the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher scheme. The state’s Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in May, but we know that is not the end of the story. School choice proponents—backed by wealthy entrepreneurs and for-profit investors —are cooking up new ploys in Louisiana and several other states. NSBA and your state association will be there to stave them off.

While NSBA has been a visible player in Washington politics for years, we have yet to achieve our potential as an advocate and ambassador for public education. We must lead the conversation about public education and school board governance and fight for the futures of our more than 50 million schoolchildren.

To do so, we will create an army of advocates that will go to battle, though the courts and legislatures, for public education and school board governance. We will build strong partnerships with state association members, corporate stakeholders, and other national groups to increase our effectiveness.

We need your help. As a school board member, you are an influential community leader. Through your leadership, we will engage parents, educators, and community and business leaders as core stakeholders. We will move beyond issues that divide us and forge alliances around the opportunities that can unite us.

I encourage each of you to join our army of advocates. Never forget your significance as we move forward. Never forget the power of one person to make a difference in the lives of our schoolchildren.

Now multiply one by 90,000—the number of school board members in the U.S.

With this power, we will be that voice for public education to ensure that our public schools empower our nation to fulfill its potential — one child at a time. Together, we can.


Staff|July 10th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Federal Programs, Governance, Leadership, Legislative advocacy, Public Advocacy, School Boards|Tags: , , |

School boards ask Congress to revamp regulatory process and prevent overreach

More than 700 school board members and state school boards association leaders are meeting with their members of Congress today and urging them to co-sponsor legislation, developed by the National School Boards Association (NSBA), to protect local school district governance from unnecessary and counter-productive federal intrusion from the U.S. Department of Education. The leaders took part in NSBA’s 40th annual Federal Relations Network Conference and spent the final day, January 29, lobbying on Capitol Hill.

The proposed legislation would ensure that the Department of Education’s actions are consistent with the specific intent of federal law and are educationally, operationally, and financially supportable at the local level. This would also establish several procedural steps that the agency would need to take prior to initiating regulations, rules, grant requirements, guidance documents, and other regulatory materials. The legislation is also designed to more broadly underscore the role of Congress as the federal policy-maker in education and through its representative function.

“In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education has engaged in a variety of activities to reshape the educational delivery system,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “All too often these activities have impacted local school district policy and programs in ways that have been beyond the specific legislative intent. School board leaders are simply asking that local flexibility and decision-making not be eroded through regulatory actions.

The proposal also is intended to provide Congress and the public with better information regarding the local impact of Department of Education’s activities through annual reports.

“We must ensure that the decisions made at the federal level will best support the needs and goals of local school systems and the communities they serve,” said Gentzel. “Local school boards must have the ability to make on-the-ground decisions that serve the best interests of our school districts.”




Joetta Sack-Min|January 29th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2013, Governance, School Boards|Tags: , , |
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