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 for Idaho.) Closing Gaps 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 BLOGS 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, Duncan said. The Obama administration's major priorities " It looks like the nation will take another step in the right direction." ARNE DUNCAN 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. ESEA Prospects 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. Duncan's Legacy 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 Behind Act. 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. Transition Time 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 advocacy group. 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 necessary skills. * 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 spending. * 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 education. -LILLIAN MONGEAU 18 | EDUCATION WEEK | October 28, 2015 | | 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. -ANDREW UJIFUSA

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
Report Roundup
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