Education Week - September 18, 2013 - (Page 21)

EDUCATION WEEK GOVERNMENT POLITICS & Ed. Dept., Arizona in Clash Over Waiver Accountability plan has renewal in limbo By Michele McNeil Arizona may be the next state in trouble over its No Child Left Behind Act waiver after it submitted a final draft of its accountability system that does not meet federal demands on high school graduation rates or teacher evaluations. When Arizona won a one-year NCLB waiver in mid-2012, the federal approval came with two stipulations: The state had to increase the weight of graduation rates in its high school rating system, and it had to use student growth on state tests as required by federal rules as part of its teacher-evaluation system. Arizona’s waiver was set to expire at the end of the last school year unless the state met those federal conditions and the flexibility was renewed. That renewal is now in limbo. With the state’s refusal to ac- cede to federal demands, it’s unclear what action U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will now take. Mr. Duncan has repeatedly said that his preference is to work with states as a partner and not to revoke waivers. “Arizona committed to the requirements in its approved request, and we are holding all states accountable for the commitments that they made,” a department official said last week. At stake for Arizona is flexibility for a school year that’s already underway. “From our perspective, at some point in time we need to do what’s right for Arizona, as opposed to bending in every direction every time there’s a change from the federal department,” said Debra Duvall, the executive director of Arizona School Administrators and a former superintendent in Mesa’s district. High-Risk List Already, three states—Kansas, Oregon, and Washington—are on high-risk status after federal officials determined they didn’t meet their conditions on teacher evaluations. Ultimately, states can lose their waivers if they don’t meet federal conditions. Since 2011, the federal Education Department has awarded NCLB flexibility waivers to 41 states, the District of Columbia, and eight districts in California. Most of the waivers were for a two-year period and are up for renewal now, for the 201415 school year. With the renewal comes even more federal strings—such as that states not only design teacher-evaluation systems linked to student growth, but also use those evaluations to make sure atrisk students have equal access to effective teachers. In Arizona, state and federal officials are stymied over the importance of graduation rates. At issue is 5 percentage points: Arizona weights graduation rates at 15 percent in its new school grading system. Federal officials, who are under pressure from advocacy groups to improve high school accountability, want 20 percent. The rest of a high school’s grades in Arizona are based on other academic or college- and career-readiness factors, such as test scores. But State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, an elected Republican, said Arizona wants to concentrate on more than just the number. “Just because you have a warm body PAGE 24 > n SEPTEMBER 18, 2013 n 21 POLICY BRIEF Broadband Benefits Touted for Districts The White House goal of assuring that 99 percent of the nation’s schools have access to high-speed broadband and wireless Internet within five years should offer this side benefit, an administration official says: making districts see that digital learning “is affordable and within our reach.” The ConnectED initiative, GRADUATION RATES The Department of Education wants graduation rates to count for 20 percent of a high school’s grade; Arizona sets the weight at 15 percent. TEACHER EVALUATIONS Federal officials want Arizona to require districts to use data from state assessments in tested grades and subjects for student growth; state officials give districts flexibility on this. SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education; Arizona Department of Education launched by President Barack Obama in June, will create greater opportunities for states and school districts to make joint purchasing decisions that help lower the cost of educational technology and content, said Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council and an assistant to the president for economic policy. Speaking about ConnectED at the 2013 Educational Technology Summit in Washington last week, Mr. Sperling said that a lack of connected schools will “hold back the scale needed to pull in the low-cost educational devices, the content. ... School districts, schools, and states look at it and say, ‘It’s too expensive.’” n Congress Gears Up for Higher Ed. Law Renewal By Alyson Klein There’s no shortage of proposals in Washington to inject additional scrutiny into higher education amid soaring student loan debt, as Congress considers renewal of the Higher Education Act. The issue has gotten a lot of po- litical attention lately, thanks in part to this summer’s protracted debate over how to cope with a planned rise in student-loan interest rates—resulting in a plethora of postsecondary accountability proposals, including a high-profile pitch from the president himself to tie federal financial aid to student outcomes. “I think there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on making sure that information flows out of higher education into the K-12 sector,” said David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents both high school and postsecondary officials. “Every policymaker out there seems to be jumping on this. … Clearly, as a nation, we are concerned about the transition to college, that we’re not giving [students] enough information, especially given the amount of aid that flows into higher education,” he said. Teacher colleges are likely to be under a special scrutiny, as the Obama administration and members of Congress contemplate holding them accountable for whether their graduates are able to move the needle on student achievement once they graduate and enter the classroom. “ federal funding whittled away as lawmakers seek to rein in domestic spending. Rating Colleges Just last month, President Barack Obama called for developing a college-rating system to help prospective students deter- I think there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on making sure that information flows out of higher education into the K-12 sector.” DAVID HAWKINS National Association for College Admission Counseling What’s more, the HEA also governs major college-access programs—including the financially stressed Pell Grants—as well as programs that help prepare traditionally disadvantaged students for postsecondary work, such as GEAR UP (for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), TRIO, and Upward Bound. All of those programs have seen their share of mine which postsecondary options would give them the biggest bang for their buck. The ratings would be based on access, including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants; affordability, including average tuition and loan debt; and outcomes, including graduation and graduate earnings. The system could be used to tie tens of billions of dollars given each year in federal student aid to college performance. There are also bipartisan proposals in Congress that seek to get at the issue of college accountability—including one by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The measure would, among other steps, create a data system allowing prospective students to pinpoint a particular institution’s average postgraduation earnings, rates of remediation, average cost, and other information before they enroll. This isn’t the first time that the federal government has tried to make more information available to students. Past efforts had a mixed record. Case in point: The most recent reauthorization of the HEA, which passed in 2006, created a “tuition watch list,” which would essentially call out colleges that raise tuition very quickly. But the information isn’t easily accessible to students, says the American Council on Education, an umbrella organization representing some 1,800 education organizations. There are more than 50 different watch lists with different characteristics, the group writes in recommendations on higher PAGE 24 > He cited Mooresville, N.C., as an example of how a successful digital conversion in a school district can improve outcomes— but also one that illustrates some of the cost challenges. “It is number two in the state for student achievement,” he noted of the district. At the same time, it is 114th out of 115 districts in terms of perstudent funding. Mooresville showed what was possible when a school system broadens digital access, he said. But the district also is “leasing laptops each year, at [a cost of] probably $200 a year [per laptop]. They should have the ability to purchase a laptop for perhaps a fraction of that,” he said. “If Mooresville had the entire state of North Carolina” making purchasing on a statewide contract, the district could reduce the cost, he noted. Terri Haas, chief financial officer for Mooresville, told Education Week the leasepurchase program costs the district about $950,000 per year, and the devices are usually upgraded every two years. Mr. Sperling cautioned attendees at the Washington event that they should not view the ConnectED initiative primarily through the lens of dollars or numbers. “Our lack of universal highspeed connectivity is the thing that holds back the entire educational ecosystem,” he said. —MICHELE MOLNAR SHOWDOWN Arizona education officials are facing off against U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan over two conditions attached to the state waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 18, 2013

Education Week - September 18, 2013
Calif. Testing Move Hits Federal Nerve
Teacher-Review Tool: Classroom Portfolios
TFA Educators Found to Boost Math Learning
Assessment Group Sets Accommodations Policy
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Spoken-Word Poets Bring Words to Life for Students
Partnership in Bronx Aims to Build Skills On Behalf of Parents
National-Board Certification to Be Cheaper, Smoother
Iowa District Reimagines the Five-Day School Week
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Consumer Demand for Digital Ed. Games Seen Rising
Blogs of the Week
Ed. Dept., Arizona in Clash Over Waiver
Congress Gears Up for Higher Ed. Law Renewal
Policy Brief
Louisiana Vouchers, Desegregation Case Prove Volatile Mix
House Panelists Question Relevancy of Education Dept. Research
Why the New Teacher Ed. Standards Matter
Unfairly Fired Teachers Deserve Court Protection
A Sandy Hook Parent’s Letter to Teachers
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Encouraging Courage

Education Week - September 18, 2013