Friday, October 2, 2015

Arne Duncan Stepping Down

In case you missed it, Arne Duncan released this announcement today:

Dear colleagues,

I'm writing to tell you two things. First, what is for me some bittersweet news: after several months of commuting between my family in Chicago and my job here in DC, I have made the decision to step down in December.

 Second, and very happily, President Obama has asked our delegated Deputy Secretary John King Jr. to step into my role when I leave. An announcement to that effect went out from the White House a few minutes ago. President Obama will give a press conference on the transition at 3:30 this afternoon, and you’re invited to watch the live stream.

Serving the President in the work of expanding opportunity for students throughout this country has been the greatest honor of my life. Doing so alongside people of the brilliance, ability and moral conviction of the team here at ED has been nothing short of thrilling. We have been lucky to have an amazing team here from Day One, but I honestly believe our team today is the strongest it’s ever been. So it's with real sadness that I have come to recognize that being apart from my family has become too much of a strain, and it is time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance. I haven’t talked with anyone about what I’ll do next, and probably won’t for a little while – I’m simply returning to Chicago to live with my family. I imagine my next steps will continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children, but I have no idea what that will look like yet.

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October 2, 2015 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

NCLB Waivers Survive at Trial, But Will the Fifth Circuit Ask Different Questions?

Last week, the federal district court in Jindal v. U.S. Department of Education denied Jindal's motion for a preliminary injunction.  Jindal had sought to enjoin the Department's Race to the Top Program and its No Child Left Behind waivers.  Jindal argued that the Department's support for the Common Core Curriculum through these programs violated the 1oth Amendment and a federal statute that prohibits the Department from dictating curriculum.  The district court rejected both arguments.  

Before going into my analysis, I must, in full disclosure, state that Jindal retained me as an expert in the case.  It was just two months before the case went to trial and long after I had completed my article, Federalizing Education by Waiver?.      In fact, I completed my article before Jindal filed his case, which I only learned about in the news.  My testimony was little more than a recitation of my article.  Regardless, I clearly have an opinion on this case.  With that disclosure, I offer the following.

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September 24, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

ED Exploring Borrower Defenses, Including State Deceptive Practices Laws, Against Loan Repayment

The Huffington Post reports on an ED notice extending its information-gathering efforts about possible borrower's defenses for student loan debt from non-traditional or unaccredited post-secondary schools. With the recent troubles of some for-profit schools, including the massive Corinthian College network, the Obama administration has been looking for avenues of debt relief for students of those institutions. In its September 17 notice, the ED seeks continued collection of information from borrowers who believe they have cause to invoke the borrower defenses against repayment of a student loan as noted in regulation 34 CFR 685.206(c)(i) which states in part that “[i]n any proceeding to collect on a Direct Loan, the borrower may assert as a defense against repayment, an act or omission of the school attended by the student that would give rise to a cause of action against the school under applicable State law.” The ED notes that "[p]rior to 2015, the borrower defense identified above was rarely asserted by any borrowers and no specific methods of collecting information was defined or found necessary," prompting, Huffington Post writer Steve Rhode writes, "clever attorneys to show how the schools violated state unfair and deceptive practice laws and that could possibly lead to an elimination of the student loans in full." Read the story at the Huffington Post here and the ED's notice here.

September 17, 2015 in Federal policy, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2015

ED Approves First Batch of State Educational Equity Plans

Sixteen states received approval Thursday of their plans to improve access to high-quality teachers, as required under the No Child Left Behind law. The ED approved the first batch of states (all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico submitted plans) as part of its "Excellent Educators for All Initiative." The ED approved locally-developed plans to improve access to effective educators from  Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. Recognizing that attracting and retaining effective teachers also requires effective leadership, the ED praised states' strategies to attract strong school leaders, stating its press release that  "great teachers will follow great principals." The ED's release about the initiative is here.

September 14, 2015 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Twenty Percent of New York's Students Opted Out of Testing: Why It Matters So Much

The New York State Education Department has released the data from the standardized tests administered to elementary students at the end of this past academic year.  The opt-out movement scored a much bigger victory (if victory was its goal) than I ever would have imagined.  Some students opted out for valid health and other reasons, but a whopping twenty percent of students refused to take the tests without any valid excuse.  Presumably they objected based on principle.

A five or so percent opt out would have done little to upset the status quo, but one of this size has enormous ramifications.  First, as a condition of receiving federal education money, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) mandates that 95% of students take the test.  The Secretary of Education has the power to waive a number of requirements, but the Secretary cannot waive this requirement. Congress wanted this one to stick.  As analyzed in an earlier post, this poses a real quandary.  The purpose of the provision was to make sure that schools did not conveniently exempt their weakest students from the test to push up their pass rate.  But when students simply refuse to take the test, holding the school accountable seems unfair and contrary to the purpose of the Act.  The Secretary could take a page from the reasoning of King v. Burwell (the recent Affordable Care Act decision offering a creative reading of the Act to save individual tax credits) and ignore the statutory language and violation.  But absent creative reasoning, New York is in violation it cannot escape.

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August 18, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2015

School Improvement Grants: What Worked and Didn't

A new Century Foundation report examines what worked and did not work in those schools that received federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs) starting in 2009.  Through funds allocated in the economic stimulus package, the Department of Education has been able to direct about $3.5 billion toward the nation's lowest performing schools.  The grant awards for individual schools amounted to as much as $2 million a year for three years.  The study finds:

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July 24, 2015 in Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Office for Civil Rights Releases Report to Congress: This Time It Is a Must Read

The Office for Civil Rights has released its 2013-2014 report to Congress and the President.  From my perspective, past reports have been dense and un-illuminating.  This current one strikes a very different approach.  First, it is very well written.  Second, it is very well framed and organized. Third, and maybe most important, it is incredibly informative.  Fourth, it is analytical.  Fifth, it is visually appealing.  Sixth, it implicitly suggests courses of action or concern.  Overall, it presents as a study in the state of civil rights and equity in our nation's schools, rather than a bureaucratic account of the beans counted in the past two years.  

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May 1, 2015 in Bullying and Harassment, Discipline, Discrimination, English Language Learners, Equity in education, Federal policy, Gender, Racial Integration and Diversity, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

NCLB Reauthorization to Move to Full Senate

After languishing for the better part of a decade with no real prospects of forward movement, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is starting to defy odds.  After President Obama indicated he would veto the republican proposals moving forward in February, one would have expected the status quo of gridlock to quickly settle in. Then something unusual happened, party leaders stopped posturing and Senators Alexander and Murray went into to closed door sessions to hammer out a deal.  They were also successful to preventing leaks.  Last week, they released a bipartisan bill--an enormous accomplishment in and of itself.

The sniping, however, soon arose from both sides, and the strong possibility of countless partisan amendments  suggested the bill might get sunk.  Added to the mix was a division between the nation's two largest teacher unions as to whether they favored the bill.

Yesterday, reauthorization defied the odds again.  Members of the Senate education committee put aside the personal interests in marking up (and bringing down the bill) and voted 22-to-0 to move the bill to the full Senate.  

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April 17, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NCLB on Its Way to Reauthorization?

Who knows what the House of Representatives will hold, but the Senate took an enormous step toward reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act yesterday.  After the President made clear in February that he would veto legislation that gutted the federal role in education, Senators Alexander and Murray did something brave--at least brave by current standards.  The eschewed grandstanding, went into closed door sessions, avoided leaks, and sought to hammer out a bi-partisan proposal.  The ESEA has a tradition of wide bipartisan support.  As controversial as NCLB was after its passage, it had broad bipartisan support when it was passed, ranging from Ted Kennedy to John Boehner.  Uncharacteristic of the current Congress and Senate, Alexander and Murray went back to the drawing board to rekindle that tradition.

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April 8, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Civil Rights Complaints Reach All-time High at Department of Education

The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is tasked with investigating complaints of race, gender, ethnic, disability, language discrimination, and age, and ensuring that schools are in compliance with the relevant law.  In 2009, OCR received 6,364 complaints.  In 2014, it received 9,989, which was a record high.  The reasons are not altogether clear, but the Washington Post points out two likely causes.  First, OCR's recent guidance on sexual assault on college campuses and increasing student advocacy on this issue may have prompted several complaints in that area, although no single area of discrimination has experienced an unusual increase.  Second, as Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary at OCR, remarked: “Some of this is about the community believing that we’re here and we’re in business and we’re prepared to do the work.”

The second explanation rings particularly true.  As I have noted several times, OCR has begun enforcing anti-discrimination more aggressively over the past year or two.  Various policy guidance documents have all but invited individuals to bring complaints that they might have foregone in prior years, thinking that such a complaint was a waste of time.  

Not mentioned is the fact that courts have grown so inhospitable to some claims, particularly those requiring evidence of intentional race discrimination. See Alexander v. Sandoval. OCR's continuing authority to enforce its disparate impact regulations leaves it as one of the venues of last resort for communities experiencing educational inequality.  This reality, however, is overtaxing the resources of OCR.  The time it takes to resolve cases has grown considerable.  It is now asking Congress for additional funding to hire 200 additional attorneys and investigators.  Of course, what I might term as OCR's successes are termed as overreaches by some in Congress, who are thus skeptical of the efficacy of funding increases.

March 23, 2015 in Discrimination, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is There a Middle Ground in ESEA Reauthorization That Serves Both Sides' Interests?

Richard Kahlenberg thinks so.  In a new essay in the Atlantic, Saving School Choice Without Undermining Poor Communities, he discusses the Republican insistence on increasing school choice and making Title I funds portable in the proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Democrats are resisting portability.  Moving money to private schools would undermine public education itself, while moving money within public schools could lead the the rich schools becoming richer while the neediest become poorer.

Kahlenberg points out that socio-economic integration has proven to be a more effective and cheaper means of improving educational outcomes than increasing funding in high poverty schools.  The "principle of portability, in fact, has in it the seeds of a solution to reduce economic segregation through public-school choice—if, and only if, portability is properly structured. In order to accomplish this, portable federal Title I funding, as well as state and local funding, would need to be weighted heavily enough to give poor kids sufficient money in their 'backpacks' that middle-class public schools would want to recruit them to attend."  

Current proposals offer too little in the way of financial incentives to fundamentally alter student enrollment trends. "But," Kahlenberg remarks, "every school has his price. What is the magical amount of extra money low-income students should have in their backpacks to be attractive to middle-class schools? That’s an empirical question that surveys of school administrators could answer definitively. Meanwhile, past experience shows that financial arrangements can be made to assuage middle-class schools."

An important piece of the puzzle that no one other than Kahlenberg is hitting upon is the need to hold the original school harmless. If the program actually grew to the point where it was leading to substantial transfers, the remaining students in the high poverty schools would be harmed through no fault of their own, as Democrats fear.  The easy--albeit costly solution--is to expand the financial pot and allow the high poverty schools to retain, at least, a portion of their funding.  Kahlenberg notes that the political and practical success of the St. Louis, Missouri, interdistrict transfer program was due the fact that it both incentivized suburban districts to take urban students while also protecting the urban schools left behind. "The state also set aside some financial aid for St. Louis schools to offset the loss of funding to its urban campuses."

Of course, the devil is in detail.  For a more detailed discussion of how Congress might use Title I funds to both integrate schools and meet existing need in high poverty schools, see pages 366-371 of this article.  The question is not whether we can do this, but whether a critical mass in Congress is willing to acknowledge the solution and entertain a meaningful compromise between the competing positions.

February 18, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Prohibiting Waiver Conditions Comes with New Problems

Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) introduced legislation in Congress last week to prohibit the Department of Education from imposing new conditions on waivers.  His main target is Common Core.   His press release states:

My bill would return control over education to the states by prohibiting the federal government from using grants or waivers to mandate, incentivize, or coerce states into adopting Common Core. For states that have already adopted Common Core, it would ensure that any previous requirements for waivers would be void, and the U.S. Secretary of Education would be prohibited from requiring states to agree to any new conditions in order to keep their existing waiver.

The bill has about 35 co-sponsors, and Senator David Vitter, from Louisiana, introduced companion legislation in the Senate.  The legislation is unlikely to go far because it does not address the practical problem it would create: states keep their waivers for free.  Presumably, this would mean that their non-compliance with NCLB would be completely waived.  Beating up on NCLB is easy to do in the current climate, but offering states a free waiver, regardless of their past efforts, is problematic.  It would undermine the capacity of the federal government to enforce conditions in future new legislation and it would also completely ignore the substantive failings of many states.  

In my article, Federalizing Education by Waiver?, I argue that the conditions placed on NCLB waivers were beyond the scope of the Secretary's statutory power, if not unconstitutional.  But this legal conclusion would have merely reset the negotiations over waivers and undercut some of the Secretary's compulsive power.  It would not have given the states a free waiver.


February 2, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Coalition of Education and Civil Rights Groups Advocates for Maintaining Federal Role in ESEA Reauthorization

Related to Derek's post on moves in Congress during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to lessen the federal role in education, a coalition of more than twenty civil rights organizations recently called for maintaining the federal government's insistence on standardized statewide assessments. The group released a statement that "college and career-ready state standards, aligned statewide annual assessments, and a state accountability system to improve instruction and learning for students in low-performing schools" are essential to promoting "educational opportunity and protecting the rights and interests of disadvantaged [students]." The full text of the principles can be found here.

January 29, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Penn Law Sponsors Debate Over the Common Core

Cary Coglianese, Professor of Law and Director of Penn Law's Program on Regulation, has brought together a series of commentators on the Common Core. Over the next two weeks, a series of commentators will publish essays here.  The topics and commentators include:

  • Common Core Creates Professional Possibilities, Maddie Fennell
  • The Common Core is a Remedy Worse than the Disease, Anthony Cody
  • Stay the Course, or Turn the Page?, Michael J. Petrilli
  • The Common Core is Passable in Theory but Problematic in Reality, Frederick Hess
  • Common Misperceptions, Annice Brave
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Common Core, Josh Stumpenhorst
  • Testing is Destroying the Common Core, Anna Baldwin.

January 14, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Republicans Place Federal Role in Education in Jeopardy

Since the start of the new year, discussions regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have become part of the daily news cycle.  This much substantive discussion of reauthorization has not occurred since the presidential election of 2008.  These signals are strengthening the possibility that Republicans can and will pass a reauthorization bill.  At least, they are clearly indicating they will.  Whether President Obama would veto the legislation is less clear, but based on yesterday's comments by Secretary Duncan, the likelihood of veto also seems likely, unless the two sides mediate their positions.  

Republicans are discussing legislation that would significantly unravel the current role of the federal government in education and turn education leadership back to the states.  While consistent with traditional Republican values, such a move is surprising on several levels.  First, No Child Left Behind was one of President George W. Bush's signature pieces of legislation.  John Beohner was also heavily involved in its drafting, and the bill passed with heavy bipartisan support.  Second, while NCLB significantly expanded the federal role in education, the federal role had been growing steadily over the previous decades.  Few seemed to mind.  Many, of course, disliked the substance of No Child Left Behind and the recent waivers issued under it, but the federal role in education (and the money it brought) was not normatively problematic to the mainstream.  As I pointed out in an article in 2012, NCLB was a smashing success in terms creating and cementing the accountability structures for federal leadership on education.  In short, the federal role in education was no longer new or controversial. 

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January 13, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In Defense of Cutting Off Federal Funds by Eloise Pasachoff

Should the Education Department withhold federal funds from states and school districts that are failing to comply with the conditions on the funds?  As the Supreme Court noted in NFIB v. Sebelius, the 2012 case about the Affordable Care Act, federal funding for education is second only to federal funding for Medicaid.  It's therefore critical to understand this important enforcement mechanism.  Although funding cut-offs are a powerful tool -- think desegregating southern schools in the 1960s through the combination of Title VI and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- they are a controversial one.  In my forthcoming article in Yale Law Journal, Agency Enforcement of Spending Clause Statutes: A Defense of the Funding Cut-Off , I unpack the controversy, focusing on federal grants more generally, not just education grants, but I use a lot of education examples throughout, given the importance of federal funding to federal education law.  

The abstract explains:

[F]ederal agencies ought more frequently to use the threat of cutting off funds to state and local grantees that are not adequately complying with the terms of a grant statute. Scholars tend to offer four arguments to explain — and often to justify — agencies’ longstanding reluctance to engage in funding cut-offs: first, that funding cut-offs will hurt the grant program’s beneficiaries and so will undermine the agency’s ultimate goals; second, that federalism concerns counsel against federal agencies’ taking funds away from state and local grantees; third, that agencies are neither designed nor motivated to pursue funding cut-offs; and fourth, that political dynamics among state governments, Congress, the White House, and the agencies themselves make funding cut-offs difficult to achieve. This article argues that these critiques are deeply flawed. Among other problems, the critiques fail to account for the variety of types of grants, grant conditions, and rationales for grantee noncompliance; reflect lack of a nuanced understanding of the ways in which distinct federalism concerns play different roles at different times in the development and implementation of grant programs; and unrealistically assume static and unified agency incentives and political relationships. After debunking these critiques, the Article offers a new conception of the potential benefit of funding cut-offs in the enforcement of federal grant programs: the threat of a funding cut-off may be appropriate when it can promote change by the noncompliant grantee and when it can signal to other grantees that the agency is serious about enforcement, thereby increasing grantees’ compliance. The article concludes by assessing the implications of this argument for administrative regime design and judicial review. This work opens up new avenues for research in administrative law on the distinct features of the federal grants regime.

December 10, 2014 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Plaintiffs Secure First Victory in Nation Challenging Federal Role in Common Core, But Reasoning Is Unclear

The skepticism I expressed in September regarding a lawsuit challenging Missouri's funding of the consortium developing Common Core standards and assessments may have been misplaced, at least, for now.  Plaintiffs claimed that the state funding of the consortium amounts to an "illegal interstate compact" that cedes state sovereignty over education to the consortium.  They also charged that the U.S. Department of Education's funding of the consortium was not authorized by Congress.  As I have noted several times, there are plenty of legal flaws to go around with how the federal government has rolled out teacher and Common Core policy, but an unauthorized funding of a consortium did not appear to be one of them.

Nonetheless, plaintiffs in the case have secured the first victory in the nation implicating the U.S. Department of Education.  Prior cases all involved purely state law issues and contests of power between the state executive and legislative branch.  This current case, however, is curious in that it claims the U.S. Department of Education's action was unconstitutional, but the complaint does not name the Department as a defendant.  In that respect, it seeks to keep the case state based and the feds out of it, while still claiming their unconstitutional action is central to the case.

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December 3, 2014 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Difference Between Immigration and Education Waivers, and Why It Matters

President Obama's announcement that he would shield undocumented immigrants from deportation has only emboldened claims that his administration is grossly overstepping the bounds of permissible executive action.  Detractors seek to lump immigration, environment, health care, and education policy all together as overarching evidence of an administration acting as a monarch.

Most of the claims, however, ignore a major distinction between the administration's No Child Left Behind waivers and all the other executive action that enervates them.  In the other areas, the executive action is to not enforce some existing law.  The administration is exercising the equivalent of prosecutorial discretion.  The discretion to not enforce the law in some particular instances is well established and amounts to no more than an administrative decision of how to utilize scarce administrative resources (even though the practical policy ramifications are clearly high with immigration, for instance).

NCLB waivers are entirely distinct.  The administration did not simply decide to waive or not enforcement NCLB requirements.  It supplanted them with an entirely new set of conditions, found nowhere in NCLB.  In this respect, the administration made new law, rather than just waiving old law.  The distinction makes a world of difference constitutionally and under the relevant statutes.  I flesh out these distinctions in detail here.  While most conservative commentators entirely miss this point, Neal McClusky of the Cato Institute, to his credit, makes this distinction in his article, Illegal “No Child” Waivers Should Raise Much Louder Alarms.

As a side note, Edweek explains what Obama's immigration announcement means for education here.

November 24, 2014 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Predicting the Education Reform That Election Results Will (or Will Not) Bring

Michael Petrilli, of the Fordham Institute, has offered his post-election prognostication for education reform.  He points out that, following the gains by Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, we saw increases in teacher evaluation systems, the lifting of charter school caps, the expansion of voucher programs, and limitations on "last-in-first-out" teacher retention policies.  He labels these changes positive education reform and predicts that this week's election results will spell more good news on these issues.

While I would contest the notion that these are all "good" reforms, I have little doubt that we will see more movement on these fronts.  It, however, may not be as robust as 2010.  Several important trends have developed since 2010 that may create more roadblocks or speed-bumps for these reforms.  First, teachers have fired back with lawsuits in several states, challenging the constitutionality of certain teacher evaluation systems.  In North Carolina, teachers won.  In Florida, they stand a good chance of winning before the 11th Circuit.  Teacher, of course, have lost in other places like Colorado.  Overall, the results of the lawsuits will likely be mixed, but the represent an important concerted counter-force and demonstrate that some of these measures may be unconstitutional.  Second, charter schools remain popular, but the increase in their number has also brought an increase in scandals and implosions.  This has generated more conversation about the appropriate level of oversight state officials should exercise over charters.  In some locations, it has led to moratoriums on the riskiest charters--online charters.  Third, the aggressiveness with which the Department of Education has pushed these policies has eased considerably, particularly in regard to teacher evaluation systems, due to serious questions as to their validity.  States like Utah and Florida have also pushed back and questioned the legal authority of the Department to compel reforms of this sort, absent new legislation at the federal level.

November 6, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Civil Rights Groups Demand Accountability for Equity in Public Education

LaJuana just posted on the Leadership Conference's letter to the Department of Education from yesterday. Today eleven more civil rights groups released recommendations to President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Congressional and State Educational Leaders urging increased educational opportunity and equity for students of color through improvements to local, state and federal accountability systems.  The full recommendations and letter are here.  The major thrust of the recommendation is that rather that the current approach of wide ranging and general education policy reforms, the administration should maintain NCLB's focus on achievement gaps and accountability for them.  Moreover, the administration should insist that that states are delivering equal opportunities that would close those gaps.  Thus, they recommend:

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October 28, 2014 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)