Education Week - October 28, 2015 - (Page 18)
Signs Point to Increase in High School Graduation Rates
Ed. Dept. encouraged
by states' early data
By Alyson Klein
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
is stepping down sometime in December, but
he had a piece of good news to announce last
week on his way out the door: High school
graduation rates, which most recently stood
at 81 percent nationally, appear to be on
track to rise for the third year in a row.
The Department of Education won't know
for sure that national graduation rates
ticked up again until early next year. But
preliminary state-by-state data for the 201314 school year are encouraging. Thirty-six
states saw increases in graduation rates
from the 2012-13 to the 2013-14 school
years. Only five states and the District of
Columbia saw dips, and eight didn't see a
change. (The department doesn't have data
What's more, traditionally disadvantaged
groups of students, including English-language learners, appear to be closing the
graduation gaps with their peers. Twentyeight states saw the gap between black and
white students close between those years
and, separately, 32 states saw it close between Hispanic and white students.
"It looks like the nation will take another
step in the right direction," Duncan said at
a roundtable for reporters Oct. 19. He was
joined by John B. King Jr., who has been
tapped to replace him as acting secretary
after he steps down, and Ted Mitchell, the
undersecretary, who oversees higher education policy at the Education Department.
As he has in the past, Duncan cited the
graduation-rate gains as a reason that Congress needs to put a priority on accountability in the reauthori zation of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act, which is still
pending on Capitol Hill.
For his part, Morgan Polikoff, an assistant
professor of education at the University of
Southern California's Rossier School of Ed-
Kline, R-Minn., and Bobby Scott, D-Va.-are
said to be burning the midnight oil in the
hopes of having legislation ready to go by
the time Rep. John A. Boehner, the speaker
of the House, resigns, which could be as
early as the end of this month.
If they are able to complete their work,
the leadership turnover in the House could
actually be a boon to the ESEA's prospects,
The Obama administration's major priorities
It looks like the nation will take another step
in the right direction."
U.S. Secretary of Education
ucation, said that policymakers should be
careful in linking an increase in graduation
rates to any particular initiatives. There just
isn't enough information yet about the underlying reasons for the increase, in his view.
"I think the increase in graduation rates is
promising, and I think we should withhold
judgment about what's causing it and what
its long-term impacts are," he said.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Duncan declined to say just how likely it would be that
an ESEA rewrite makes it over the finish
line this year. Congressional aides to all four
of the key lawmakers responsible for writing
the bill-Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.,
and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. John
for the bill haven't changed in the past year: It
wants an emphasis on low-performing schools,
a new preschool program, and language encouraging states to cap the amount of time
students spend taking standardized tests, plus
stronger language on accountability.
As Duncan prepares to leave his post,
critics reflecting on his legacy have noted
that he may have pushed through too much
change way too fast. The biggest misstep,
experts say was asking states to tackle new
teacher evaluations at the same time they
were putting in place new standards and
tests under waivers from the No Child Left
But Duncan said that he mostly regretted
not moving more quickly on various policy
initiatives, especially expanding early-childhood education. But he did admit that the
shift to new standards, tests, and evaluations in the last few years has been a big
load for states to handle.
"That's a lot of change in a short amount
of time," he said.
King said he's excited to pick up the ball
for the administration, including when it
comes to expanding early-childhood education and closing the achievement gap.
"It's not about different," King said. "It's
about building on the work. We've made a
lot of progress. We still have too large an
achievement gap for students of color and
low-income students." He also listed expanding access to early learning as one area he
wants to get right to in January when he
takes the reins from Duncan.
Duncan, though, put his finger on one
potential difference: While Duncan's background as the superintendent of an urban
district instilled in him a passion for helping
traditionally disadvantaged students, King
actually was one of those children.
King, who is half African-American and
half Puerto Rican, lost his parents while he
was still in grade school.
"That wasn't my background," Duncan
said. "I was lucky to have two educated
parents. ... John can look at kids who aren't
living with mom and aren't living with dad"
and identify with them. "There's a power in
that, that can be helpful. ... That's a set of
experiences I simply didn't have."
The Politics K12 blog tracks news and trends on this issue
Congressional Watchdog Agency
Focuses on Special Education Aid
districts to cut back on special education spending if they
could show that students were receiving all the services
they are entitled to.
-CHRISTINA A. SAMUELS
Poll Finds Support for Increases
To Federal Early-Ed. Spending
| ON SPECIAL EDUCATION | Loosening the reins on state
and district special education spending could lead to more
innovation without damaging student services, says a new
report from a congressional watchdog agency.
The Government Accountability Office was asked to look
into special education spending-specifically, the provisions
around "maintenance of effort."
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
requires, with few exceptions, that school districts
and states spend the same amount or more on special
education from year to year. That eliminates wild
swings in funding, and ensures that spending can only
go up, not down.
The GAO, which surveyed states and school district
leaders, reported that in some cases, the maintenanceof-effort requirement dampens innovation in special
education. For example, districts have no incentive
to look for efficiencies in spending, because they can't
actually reduce the amount of money they spend from
year to year. And from another perspective, there's also
no incentive to make a short-term increase in spending-
such as to launch a new initiative-because that increase
will be locked in forever.
Congress should step in to develop a less stringent
maintenance-of-effort requirement, the Oct. 19 report
suggests. Districts could be given permission to do onetime increases without changing the baseline funding
requirement. At the same time, districts should be
allowed to cut spending if they can demonstrate that it
doesn't affect student services.
AASA, the School Superintendents Association, released a statement not long after the report came out,
saying that it supported the GAO's findings. The organization is backing legislation that would allow school
House Approves Reauthorization
Of D.C. School Voucher Program
| EARLY YEARS | A national poll shows a growing appetite
among voters for a federal investment in expanding
early-childhood education, with 76 percent of respondents
saying they would strongly support (50 percent) or
somewhat support (26 percent) such a proposal. This is
the strongest support seen in the annual poll since it was
launched in 2013.
"For the first time in our three years of polling,
American voters' top priority is making sure children
get a strong start in life, a concern equal to improving
the overall quality of public education," said Kris Perry,
the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an
This year's poll was again commissioned by the group and
conducted by the polling firms Hart Research and Public
Opinion Strategies. Among the highlights:
* 72 percent of respondents said the government should
be doing more to ensure children start kindergarten with
* 88 percent of respondents agreed (66 percent strongly)
with the statement "Access to quality early-childhood
education is not a luxury, but a need for many families."
* 6 percent of voters said they would hold a less favorable
view of a presidential candidate who supported such
* 79 percent of respondents from swing states said they
would support a proposal to increase federal spending
on early-childhood programs. (Swing states included
Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada,
New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.)
* 59 percent of Republicans said they would support a
proposal to spend more federal money on early-childhood
18 | EDUCATION WEEK | October 28, 2015 | www.edweek.org
| POLITICS K-12 | The U.S. House of Representatives has
voted to reauthorize the Scholarships for Opportunity and
Results Act, or SOAR, which creates vouchers for a certain
number of K-12 students in the District of Columbia. But
what will happen after the House's passage of the bill, HR
10, is unclear.
The Opportunity Scholarship program is a political
favorite of House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio,
and he's intent on making sure his name stays with the
program even after he leaves Congress. The bill was
approved by the House on Oct. 21 on a 240-191 vote, even
though the program isn't technically up for renewal this
year. (Remember, at one time, Boehner was the chairman of
the House education committee, and fought unsuccessfully
for the inclusion of a voucher program during negotiations
over what became the No Child Left Behind Act.)
Six other lawmakers co-sponsored HR 10, including
Rep. John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who now leads
the House education committee, and one Democrat, Illinois
Rep. Dan Lipinski.
However, the Senate still needs to sign off on HR 10,
and that's no sure thing. And Boehner and Kline have also
fought with the Obama administration over the program-
they have argued that the administration has thrown
unnecessary obstacles in the program's way.
In 2012, congressional Republicans and President Barack
Obama did agree to a deal to raise the cap on the number
of students who could use the vouchers, from 1,615 to 1,700,
and simultaneously conduct an evaluation of the program.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 28, 2015
Education Week - October 28, 2015
Study Paints Chaotic View of Testing
In L.A., Tensions Rise Over Teacher Investigations
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: ‘Ephemeral’ Apps Put School Leaders in Tricky Spots
Unequal Access to Advanced Classes Targeted
Fighting Subtle Bias
News in Brief
Oak Foundation Aiding Those With ‘Learning Differences’
Long-Term Study to Track Adolescent Brain Development
Blogs of the Week
In Minneapolis, a Targeted Effort To Bolster Black Boys
School-Parent Linkages Chip Away at Cultural Barriers
Fate of Programs Complicates Path To ESEA Compromise
Some School Choice Backers Tepid On Title I Portability Proposal
State Chiefs Look to Montana For Ways to Meet the Needs Of Native American Students
Signs Point to Increase in High School Graduation Rates
Blogs of the Week
SETH KERSHNER & SCOTT HARDING: Do Military Recruiters Belong in Schools?
JEREMY A. STERN: On the AP U.S. History Framework
Unearthing the Humanity Beneath Stereotypes
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JOHN HATTIE: The Effective Use of Testing: What the Research Says
Education Week - October 28, 2015