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Articles: Policy & Compliance

When you look at Florida, the state legislature has always been interested in education, and our governors have always been interested in school reform," observes Nikolai Vitti, deputy chancellor of school improvement and student achievement for the Florida Department of Education.

In the six years since her appointment as superintendent of Volusia County (Fla.) School District—a district that has 63,000 students in 16 cities, including Daytona Beach, in the heart of Florida's east coast—Margaret Smith has had her share of success. But what makes her so different from other superintendents is her ability to reach out.

As the nation prepares for common core standards in math and English language arts, a framework to guide new science standards in elementary and secondary education—where students are showing only mediocre achievement compared to other nations—is getting closer.

Education reformer and writer Whitney Tilson, who helped launch Teach for America in 1989, has a dream: that little boys and little girls of all economic backgrounds in the United States have the same education.

He put his dream into a documentary film, A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which was released in April 2010 and produced by documentary filmmaker Bob Compton.

On March 15, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and three other education organizations each filed amicus curiae briefs with a Supreme Court case that discusses the right of a public school to deny recognition to a student organization that does not comply with the school's open membership policies. An amicus curiae brief, or "friend of the court" brief, is a document volunteered by an outside party that contains additional information on an aspect of the case to assist in its ruling.

A well-rounded education now includes environmental literacy, according to the Obama administration.

"A Blueprint for Reform," the administration's amended proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), has for the first time carved out room in the budget for environmental education. The proposed bill, No Child Left Inside (NCLI ), is among the administration's signature competitive grants and if passed would provide $500 million over five years to states that develop superior environmental and outdoor education plans.

Status of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funding as of March 31, 2010

Source: U.S. Department of Education

"Every state is different and unique in its education system," says Don McAdams, founder and president of the Houston-based school-board training and consulting firm Center for the Reform of School Systems. "But Texas is one state that is really different and unique." The state's tumultuous history, huge size, high poverty rate and English language learner population have created "an overall sense of urgency" when it comes to education, McAdams explains.

When the Houston school board announced Terry Grier as its pick for superintendent last fall, he broke the ice with a self-deprecating joke. "There's one difference between a dead superintendent lying in the road and a dead skunk," he said. He immediately drew laughs with the punch line: "There are tire tracks in front of the skunk."

In late March, the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first of at least 32 K12 school districts nationwide to undergo federal compliance reviews intended to spotlight possible discrimination against specific groups of students that has resulted in persistent achievement gaps on standardized tests.

The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, which has a mission to ensure equal access to education, according to its Web site, hopes to use these compliance reviews to provide technical assistance to help districts improve their performance.

On March 15 President Obama presented to Congress his "Blueprint for Reform," which seeks to reform No Child Left Behind through four main areas of improvement.

Education professionals' response to the Blueprint ranges extensively—many disagree with the plan and largely top-down approach to reformation, while recognizing the need for change.

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, says the Blueprint is "a vast improvement over the flawed No Child Left Behind program, which it would now replace."

When registration opened at 7 a.m. on Feb. 23 for kindergarten at the Evanston/Skokie School District 65, about 120 parents in the suburban Chicago K8 district were already lined up, as if waiting for tickets to a hot rock concert.

A greater awareness of the impact of sports-related concussions has swept the country, as over 40 states are currently developing legislation that will set standards for when a student athlete can return to the playing field. Although these laws vary by state, the core principles include educating students, coaches, and parents about the dangers of concussions, removing athletes from the field if a concussion is suspected, and requiring medical clearance before they may return.

Shortly after the nation's governors, state commissioners of education, school administrators and education experts proposed a draft of common core standards for K12 in English and math last month, major education groups were quick to respond.

The National Education Association, the National School Boards Association and the Alliance for Excellent Education tout the new standards as promoting 21st-century skills of collaborating, problem solving and critical thinking."