Education Week - April 3, 2013 - (Page 18)

18 EDUCATION WEEK n APRIL 3, 2013 n GOVERNMENT & POLITICS POLICY BRIEF Cantor Raises Profile on Schooling Issues N.J. Sets Takeover Of Camden System Leadership in House may add momentum Education issues—which haven’t gotten a lot of attention from Congress over the past four years—may have picked up an unlikely but powerful advocate: U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor. As the majority leader in the House of Representatives, the Virginia Republican has a major role in setting the agenda for the chamber. Throughout President Barack Obama’s first term, Mr. Cantor served as a key counterweight to the administration’s agenda on a broad swath of domestic issues, largely aligning himself with more conservative House Republicans on everything from health care to deficit reduction. Lately, however, he’s turned his attention to education, signaling that it could be more prominent in this Congress. During the past four years, most of the action on K-12 has come from the U.S. Department of Education, not from legislators, who have been consumed with fiscal issues. Mr. Cantor has spent the past couple of months visiting schools in education redesign hot spots, including a Roman Catholic school in New Orleans that’s recently benefited from a voucher program and a charter school in Denver. Such trips are unusual for a congressional leader. Top lawmakers typically don’t spend much time at schools outside their districts, particularly when no legislation is in play. The lawmaker said he’s used these visits to talk to parents and students and has come to the conclusion that the federal government should “allow parents to have more Nathan W. Armes for Education Week By Alyson Klein U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor talks with 7th grader Ricardo Gonzalez-Sanchez during a tour of the Strive Preparatory School in Denver. Elmer GarciaChavez is his seatmate. Rep. Cantor has made education a centerpiece at several recent appearances. of a voice in accessing [high quality] education,” particularly for children who “would otherwise be trapped in failing schools.” Rep. Cantor didn’t explicitly say that he’d like to create vouchers using Title I funds for disadvantaged children or special education money. But he certainly hinted at it, saying he wants to see “if there’s some way that we could reallocate federal dollars to follow” children, particularly parents of “vulnerable populations” and “special-needs parents.” Visits and Speeches Rep. Cantor is not a complete newcomer to the K-12 arena—he introduced a school choice bill early in his dozen-year tenure on Capitol Hill, for example. But he hasn’t been seen as a big force on education during his time in Congress, in contrast to Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who was an architect of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, when he chaired the House education panel, and is a longtime champion of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. Mr. Cantor sees education as an issue the two leaders can collaborate on, said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for the majority leader. But it’s unclear whether Mr. Cantor views the Obama administration—which has reshaped the federal role in K-12 policy through competitive grants and by offering states leeway on the No Child Left The U.S. Department of Education and a band of outside peer reviewers are now weighing the details of a precedent-setting waiver application from nine districts in California that want flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act even though their state’s bid for a waiver was unsuccessful. If approved, it would be the first time the federal department has granted such sweeping flexibility to individual districts. Until now, states have been the only recipients of the broad nclb waivers first announced by President Barack Obama in 2011—and only if they agreed to the strings attached, such as implementing teacher-evaluation systems linked to student test scores. In exchange, states get out from under key requirements of the law, such as that schools bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year. The waiver application for the group of districts known as core, for California Office to Reform Education, was buoyed—somewhat— late last month by a letter of tepid support from California state education officials. nclb Measured ‘Enthusiasm’ The letter to federal education officials, signed by state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson and state school board President Michael W. Kirst, indicated that members of the California board of education have “expressed enthusiasm” for what the letter called an “innovative” waiver. But Mr. Torlakson and Mr. Kirst also outlined their reservations about how such a waiver would work, including the role of the state in monitoring the nine districts, whether other districts would be able to join in, and the process used by federal officials to approve the request. Armed with the state’s official input, the federal Education Department last week was in the process of turning over the application to a team of six peer reviewers, as the department has done with state waiver applications, to help sort those issues out. Daren Briscoe, a spokesman for the department, said the peer reviewers would be applying the same principles they did in judging the state waivers. For instance, districts must implement college- and career-readiness standards and dif- n PAGE 21 > Calif. Districts’ Waiver Bid Heads to Review Phase By Michele McNeil The beleaguered 13,700student Camden, N.J., school district will be put under state control, becoming the fourth district in New Jersey to be taken over by the state and the first by Gov. Chris Christie. The state will have both academic and financial control of the district, whose schools are some of the lowestperforming in the Garden State: The academic records of 90 percent of Camden’s schools place them in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide. The legislature passed a law in 1988 permitting state takeovers of school systems deemed unable to provide a “thorough and efficient” education. The state will be responsible for selecting a new superintendent and leadership team for the district, and the Camden school board will be relegated to an advisory role. Camden had been given eight months to turn around last year, and those eight months expired this month. The state government is already a presence in the district: A state-run “regional achievement center” oversees some particularly low-performing schools, and a monitor oversees some spending decisions. Christopher Cerf, the state commissioner of education, said that there was no plan to dismantle the current district board, as happened in other state takeovers in New Jersey. ferentiated accountability. But, he said, the department is also giving those peer reviewers additional guidance on how to judge a request that looks a lot different from a state application. He declined to give details. The department aims to have an answer for the core districts by the end of this school year. Potential Pilot Federal officials have said they are open to district-level flexibility only in states that do not have a state-level nclb waiver. So far, 34 states plus the District of Columbia have earned waivers. A dozen more are in the pipeline, including Pennsylvania and Texas. California and Iowa had their applications rejected over their PAGE 21 > Gov. Christie, a Republican, is up for re-election in the fall. And while some Democrats in the legislature and Dana Redd, the mayor of Camden, supported the move, other prominent players, including the New Jersey Education Association, say that the state’s record on takeovers is questionable, and that Gov. Christie has thrown his support to charter schools rather than appropriately funding the district’s schools. The Jersey City system was taken over in 1989 because of poor academic performance and remained under state control for more than a decade. Paterson, which was taken over in 1991, and Newark, taken over in 1994, still have state-appointed boards, and academic performance in those districts remains low. The local school board in Newark initiated a lawsuit in 2011 aimed at regaining autonomy from the state. —JACLYN ZUBRZYCKI

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 3, 2013

Education Week - April 3, 2013
Test Rules Differ Between Groups for Special Ed.
Consortia Struggle With ELL Provisions
FOCUS ON: ASSOCIATIONS: Leadership Shifts in Changing Field
Safety Plan for Schools: No Guns
Access to Common Exams Probed
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Gaps Found in Access to Qualified Math Teachers
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: 3-D Printing Classes In a Virginia School Attract Global Visitors
Arizona Weighing ‘Performance Funding’ For Schools
L.A. ‘Incubator School’ to Teach Startup Tactics
Blogs of the Week
Cantor Raises Profile on Schooling Issues
Calif. Districts’ Waiver Bid Heads to Review Phase
Policy Brief
Congress Tweaks Special Education Funding Mandates
Marriage Arguments Hit Children’s Issues
ROBIN LAKE & ALEX MEDLER: Do Charter Schools Serve Special-Needs Students? The Answer Is Complicated
ARTHUR H. CAMINS: Assessing the Impact Of New Science Standards
LAURIE BARNOSKI: School Leaders: Make Sure Your Teachers Don’t Lose Heart
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment
DAVID BERNSTEIN: It’s Time to Mainstream Progressive Education

Education Week - April 3, 2013