Salvaging an "Unsalvageable" Law
With overall support for President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law as low as ever during the last days of his presidency-both on Capitol Hill and in wide swathes of education circles-his secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, is ratcheting up her own campaign to keep the legislation alive into the next administration.
She promised to do "everything in my power" to improve the law before the White House changes hands. In her travels to more than 20 states this year, testifying in capitals from Tallahassee to Topeka, Spellings is trying not only to gin up support for NCLB but is also singing the praises of administrative changes to make it more palatable, such as a new pilot program allowing certain states to measure progress using growth models, and improved parental notification for supplemental educational services.
But others, such as Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who was NCLB's chief sponsor, feel that it's too little too late.
"The White House sabotaged the reauthorization," he says, "and now she's running around trying to salvage a legacy that can't be salvaged."
Both supporters and critics of the law, however, agree that when the final history is written on the Bush administration, NCLB will have succeeded, at least, in changing the American conversation about education.
"Bush ended up being a wartime president and as such has devoted-appropriately so-time and energy to those issues," Spellings said in a New York Times interview. "But with respect to how education fares compared with other domestic priorities, I think we've done well."
Congress Delays Action on Bush Budget
House and Senate leaders recently began an appropriations process for President Bush's FY 2009 budget proposed in February that would reject the funding cuts in his plan while increasing spending for domestic priorities like education, but they are not expected to make any final funding decisions until a new president occupies the White House because of differences between congressional Democrats and President Bush over how much to spend.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed a Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill that would provide the U.S. Department of Education with $61.8 billion, an increase of $2.6 billion over the president's budget, providing funding increases for Title I and statewide data systems. The House version of the bill would provide $64 billion for the DOE, but a final vote on the bill has not yet occurred due to a controversial amendment put forth by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.).
From Podcasts to Riches
Getting advice from other district administrators can play a key role in the ability of superintendents and other educational leaders to improve schools, but often getting the advice is easier said than done.
A new Web site sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education's Urban Advisory Resource is aiming to do just that, through a lively podcasting forum where district leaders can share their experiences and expertise.
The forum, District Leader's Podcast (www.districtleaderspodcast.org), is the only national podcast created expressly for district leaders, and features interviews each week with district leaders from around the country.
Podcasts are grouped into topics such as "Making the Tough Decisions," "Improving Student Performance," and "Urban Education." The series is also available on iTunes.
Peak Enrollment Brings New Challenges
Public school enrollment in the 2008-2009 school year is expected to reach a new high of 50 million students, up from just over 49 million, with minority students making up 43 percent of public school enrollment overall, says a new report from the U.S. Department of Education.
"The Condition of Education 2008," an annual portrait of education in the United States carried out by the DOE's research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, paints a picture of U.S. education that speaks to schools' testing successes and increasingly diverse student bodies, but also presents myriad budgetary struggles amid a sluggish economy, says AASA executive director Daniel A. Domenech.
"With more students, schools must deliver more technology, more buses, more materials, higher budgets, ... but in some places the reverse is happening," said Domenech in an interview. "Schools are foregoing new textbook purchases and staff hires, and are increasing class sizes."
But schools are also making great strides in student achievement levels. The report compiled scores from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which showed approximately 20-point increases in mathematics for fourth- and eighth-graders and four- and three-point increases for fourth-graders. "It's very cyclical," says Domenech.
"Every 10 years or so these issues come to a head. Schools will survive, but not without efficiency and creativity."and eighth-graders, respectively, on reading. Domenech says even the modest reading score improvements are praiseworthy when considered in light of the influx of ELL, special ed, and impoverished and underprivileged minority students in schools. "We should be looking at a reduction in test scores!" he says.
Students Weigh Texting Against Writing
Although few can deny the impact of "e-communication" in class writing of today's students, what may come as a surprise is that 60 percent of students themselves do not consider such communication to be "writing."
A new survey, "Writing, Technology and Teens," conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, says that for students, the enjoyment of personal writing, both online and off-line, does not necessarily correlate with an enjoyment of school writing. Nevertheless, 98 percent of teenagers surveyed say formal writing it as least "somewhat important" for future success, and almost 60 percent consider it "essential."
The full report is available at www.pewinternet.org.
Students Allowed to Choose Top SAT Scores
High school students trying to spin their college applications in the best possible light will soon be able to choose which SAT scores to share with admissions officers and which to hide, the College Board recently announced.
Under the new policy, starting with the class of 2010, students who take the SAT or the supplemental SAT subject exams multiple times will be able to decide whether to let colleges see one, some, or all of their scores, but will not let them mix and match their individual scores from different testing dates.
Some admissions officers say the new plan might backfire for students applying to colleges that consider the best sub-scores of the three sections from an applicant's various attempts-for example, a math score from junior year and a writing score from senior year.
Some critics see the move as nothing more than a marketing decision to increase the SAT's attractiveness. The College Board announced the plans at a time when the rival ACT exam is gaining in popularity, and on the heels of a study released by the College Board saying that the threesection SAT-established three years ago-predicts college success no better than the old test and not quite as well as a student's high school grades.