Alliance for Excellent Education’s Spring Update on Federal Education Policy

On March 21, 2012, the Alliance for Excellent Education held a Webinar to provide updates on President Obama’s FY 2013 proposed budget, Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) waivers, and the ESEA reauthorization.

According to the panelists, President Obama’s $47 billion proposed budget includes a 3.8% increase from the current funding level in discretionary funding for the Department of Education and focuses on already established programs. Eight hundred and fifty million dollars were proposed for Race to the Top (RTTT); not including a RTTT early learning challenge grant program and a new RTTT college affordability and completion grant program. Additionally, $150 million were proposed for the Investing in Innovation (i3) grants.

Funding to address college and career pathways included $81.3 million for college pathways and accelerated learning, consolidating the high school graduation initiative and funding for Advanced Placement. One billion dollars over three years was proposed for expanding career academies. In addition $55.5 million was allotted for a “first in the world” fund to improve early college preparation as well as to develop and implement competency-based instructions and assessments. Finally, focus would also be placed upon better aligning job-training to current workforce demands.

In addition to these budget proposals, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Vice President for Federal Advocacy, Phillip Lovell, reviewed ESEA waiver differences in the areas of standards, accountability indexes, subgroup accountability, and reform.

With the ESEA waivers, states will be able to define college and career readiness (CCR) and will lay out a plan for transitioning to these standards. All states indicated the goal to provide a 21st century education. Georgia’s waiver application, for example, noted that it is trying to make deeper learning available for students and that rigorous content knowledge, and the ability to apply that knowledge through skills like critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration, will help students become college and career ready.

With ESEA reauthorization and many state waiver applications, accountability indexes will also change.  Indexes will focus less on standardized tests and more on complex indexes of various achievement indicators. The Alliance praised this as a movement beyond standardized tests to provide a more comprehensive view of school and student performance. There is concern, however, that the complexity of the proposed indicators may make it more difficult for parents and community members to understand how well a school and student is performing. One unintended consequence the Alliance noted is that the accountability indexes may water down some important indicators. For example, graduation rates would only account for a small portion of the newly proposed indexes. This raised concerns that schools may push out their low performing students in order to maintain high test scores.

In regards to subgroup accountability, many states will transition to using “super subgroups” to define adequate yearly progress (AYP). A super subgroup consists of  the lowest performing 25% of students in the school. Different portions of accountability indexes will come from these students. States going this route believe that more low performing students will be included in their accountability systems using super subgroups.

The reform process within the ESEA waivers will try to address No Child Left Behind’s “one size fits all” improvement requirements. For instance, public school choice is one option that may not be effective at the high school level because 70% of districts only offer one high school to begin with. 

Interested in learning more? Watch the full Webinar, Federal Education Policy: A Spring Update

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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