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News Update


NCLB Gets Last Makeover under Bush—but Is It Better?

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued in October the longawaited final regulations to strengthen the No Child Left Behind law, focusing on improved accountability and transparency, improved parental notification for supplemental services and school choice, and a new requirement that states use a uniform graduation rate calculation.

Under the new regulations, all states will use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time and how many drop out.

“We haven’t really tackled high school accountability, and this is a giant step toward doing that,” Spellings said in an interview with the Associated Press shortly after the announcement.

Schools will have to meet annual targets for improving graduation rates, but states will be the ones that set the targets, which will be the same for all schools in that state. According to the Education Trust, a national nonprofit education group, more than half the states have targetsthat don’t make schools any better. The uniform graduation rate requirement comes from a 2005 meeting of the country’s governors, during which they agreed to adopt a more accurate graduation rate. At this time only 16 states have such calculations, says the DOE.

But the governors did not envision such a tracking system being used by federal officials to hold schools accountable, says the National Governors Association. The group has not yet said how it views the new rules.

Some experts are questioning why the new regulations are being put out right before the end of the Bush administration, saying that it will create huge levels of confusion and uncertainty when there are already budget cuts and pressures facing schools.

A panel of DOE officials held a media Webcast in late October on the new regulations. When asked why the changes were only being made now, Kerri Briggs, assistant secretary at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, responded that because “last year’s reauthorization never took place,” a lot of time has been spent building on Spellings’ work and travels around the country, as well as feedback from educators and policymakers and polling results.

“We are hopeful these new regulations will take NCLB to the next step toward sound reauthorization,” she added.

DOE officials say that if Congress decides to amend the education law under the new administration, the new regulations may well be impacted. But the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the basis of NC LB—“will not go away,” says Amanda Farris, DOE deputy assistant secretary.

The new regulations came into effect at the end of last month. However, the individual provisions each have their own timelines, and on the whole, the changes will not be implemented until the 2009-2010 school year.


Vouchers under the Radar

There may not be a more divisive issue than school vouchers in the public versus private education debate, but a new trend toward something a little more sneaky may be changing the landscape.

They’re called tax credit vouchers, or “neovouchers,” and since their inception in Arizona in 1997 they have been expanding to cover more students than the voucher policies they’re designed to emulate.

Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who specializes in small school reforms, tuition tax credits and vouchers, says 100,000 K12 students nationwide are currently having their private educations funded at least in part by neovouchers, compared to about 50,000 on regular vouchers.

The way it works is this: A private school, consortium of private schools, or archdiocese forms a nonprofit school tuition organization that taxpayers can donate to. The organization is run by the schools, and it bundles the donations and issues them to local parents as vouchers toward tuition at nonpublic schools. Then the donor receives some or all of the donated money back in the form of a tax credit.

The practice is state funded and state regulated and is currently in place in Arizona, Florida, Rhode Island, Iowa and Georgia. “More than half” of the country’s other states have introduced neovoucher legislation, says Welner.

Welner calls neovouchers an exercise in “distinction without difference.” But because the state never directly allocates the funds to pay for the nonpublic schools, that may account for less resistance toward neovoucher laws.

“Neovouchers have a better chance of surviving constitutional challenges,” says Welner. “They can fly under the radar. They’re confusing because of the tax code, and the extra steps may help stem” criticism against them, he adds.

For more on the structure, legality and policy implications of neovouchers, see Welner’s new book, NeoVouchers.

ASBO Awards honor business officers

More than 1,200 school business professionals met in Denver in November for the 94th Annual Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) Conference. Members were able to share best practices for effectively managing education resources. They also got to hobnob with some distinguished educators and administrators.

Four such educators were recipients of the 2008 ASBO Eagle Award, which honors school business officials who demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities and an exmplary commitment and dedication to education. They are: Nancy McKay, chief financial officer, Jenks (Okla.) Public Schools; Margaret Boice, deputy superintendent, Norwich City (N.Y.) SD; Cheryl Crates, chief financial officer, Community Unit SD #300, Carpentersville, Ill.; and Melody Douglas, chief financial officer, Kenai Peninsula Borough SD, Soldotna, Alaska.

Says McKay, the winner of the highest award, “As we move forward to meet the continued challenges of placing education first, school business officials must possess strong leadership qualities, be customer focused, and continuously improve our districts’ systems processes.”


A Push for Sustainable Teacher Learning

Today's young students are getting a little help from some national technology leaders—in particular, a push for more ongoing and relevant professional development for their present and future teachers.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA)—the main association for state technology directors and staff members, which provides professional development and leadership for the effective use of education technology—released its fourth of five reports in November as part of its Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education project.

The report, Empowering Teachers: A Professional and Collaborative Approach, lays out five key recommendations: making sustainable professional development available to all teachers, providing new teachers with integrated pedagogy, ensuring administrators have access to training and support, and conducting research investigating the efficacy of comprehensive professional development models.

Mary Ann Wolf, SETDA’s executive director, says professional development approaches must shift from “one-time, stand-alone workshops” to ongoing learning for teachers and administrators.

“Our action plan highlights the strengths of some district programs and encourages all states and districts to incorporate proven examples into existing professional models to maximize potential for student achievement,” says Christine Fox, SETDA’s director of professional development and research. Examples of ongoing professional development could include the use of online portals, online learning communities and coaches. Fox says that a district might conduct in-person training, followed by an online discussion via a blog or wiki and then conduct a videoconference for teachers to followup. “This type of multilevel approach can make a real impact on instruction,” Fox says.

Further, portals and online learning communities are off ered anytime anywhere, which eliminates the issue of teacher leave time and substitute costs. And blogs and wikis can be set up very inexpensively so teachers can work collaboratively without greatly impinging on

school budgets, Fox says.

Many districts have content area resource teachers, who can model, coach and train others as a cost-effective way to allocate resources, she says.

The report includes more than 20 examples from states and districts using innovative educator development programs, including coaching and education portals. It points out key components of eff ective professional development, including sustainability, leadership to guide continuous instructional improvement, knowledge or deep understanding of a subject, collaboration within the learning communities, evaluation or using data to improve instruction and teacher eff ectiveness, and ongoing professional development programs.

For more information on this report and other SETDA reports in the series, go to —Angela Pascopella


Government Law Gives New Impetus for Kids to Buckle Up

Smaller school buses will have to be equipped with lap-and-shoulder seat belts for the first time under a new government rule drafted after the deaths of four Alabama students on a bus that nose-dived off an overpass. Larger buses will also have higher seat backs under the policy.

Both requirements will take effect in 2011, and the seat belt rule will only apply to new buses weighing 5 tons or less. These smaller school buses are already required to have lap belts, but not the safer, harness-style belts.

For the larger buses, the seat back height will increase from 20 inches to 24 inches, and transportation secretary Mary Peters says the higher backs will help keep taller, heavier children from being thrown over seats in a crash.


People Watch


Barack Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States. His education agenda includes a universal pre-kindergarten plan, teacher pay raises tied to test scores, and an overhaul of NCLB to better measure student progress.



Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey has launched a campaign to address the state’s dropout problem. The plan calls for additional academic requirements and regional conferences to discuss prevention strategies and collect feedback.



Dallas schools Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says he has no intention of resigning, despite continued criticism of his administration. The district is struggling to rectify an $84 million budget deficit, which he promises to fix by year’s end.



Boston schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson’s plan for single-gender academies may be illegal under state law. Johnson may consider splitting male and female students into separate classes within schools, a legally sound alternative.



Clayton Christensen, author and Harvard business professor, has penned a new book, Disrupting Class. The book argues for a more “customized,” rather than standardized, approach to teaching.