Music Education Policy Roundup – Nov 4, 2016

Read here for brief updates on policy developments affecting music education around the United States. These news items are compiled periodically by Lynn Tuttle, NAfME Director of Content and Policy, and include federal, state, and local items that may be of interest to music educators.

Federal Updates

SEEKING COMMENTS ON ‘SUPPLEMENT, NOT SUPPLANT’: Monday is the deadline for public comment on the Education Department’s controversial draft for “supplement, not supplant,” a Title I spending rule under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. pushed a draft in August that set a strong goal for equity, seeking to equalize funding among schools in order to solve a historic problem: the most at-risk students often aren’t getting their fair share of state and local education funding. But state education chiefs, superintendents, teachers unions and others worry that the Education Department’s rule would pose an enormous burden when it comes to compliance.

National Education Association members have already flooded the department with comments using a template, calling on the agency to rethink the draft rule. The National School Boards Association said the rule, as it stands now, would “undermine ongoing efforts by local school board members to increase opportunities for students in need, forcing local education leaders to focus more on regulatory compliance than on the educational needs of their students.” And a bipartisan group of 10 senators, including ESSA architect Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, wrote President Barack Obama in September to tell him that the Education Department’s proposed rules were outside the scope of ESSA and ignored congressional intent.


Bipartisan group to Obama: Scale back ESSA rules

Politico By Caitlin Emma 11/03/2016 06:05 PM EDT

A bipartisan group of 10 senators told President Barack Obama in September that two of the Education Department’s proposed rules under the Every Student Succeeds Act violate the language of the law and congressional intent.

In a one-page letter, they wrote that the department’s draft rules for accountability and “supplement, not supplant” place an added burden on states and rob them of the flexibility that’s integral to ESSA.

Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander was the first to sign the letter, followed by Republicans Mike Enzi, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch and Johnny Isakson. Democrats Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp also signed the letter, along with Independent Angus King. The letter was first reported by The Washington Post.

“We urge you to make certain that the Department of Education regulations stay within the statutory text,” they wrote. “We are available to work with you to help achieve that.”

Education Department officials declined to comment today on the substance of the regulations while the agency is still collecting feedback for final versions, due out later this year. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray — an architect of ESSA along with Alexander — has been a notable supporter of the draft rules, along with fellow Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Chris Murphy and Cory Booker.

“These proposed regulations are within the spirit of ESSA and the congressional intent that we agreed to around that balanced approach,” Murray said in a statement to the Post.


Alexander back state chiefs on “supplement, not supplant” plan

Politico By Caitlin Emma 11/02/2016 12:19 PM EDT

Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander today said he backs a plan put forth by state education chiefs across the country for a Title I spending rule under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Council of Chief State School Officers released its plan for the “supplement, not supplant” provision of ESSA on Tuesday. That provision says school districts can’t use federal Title I dollars for poor students to make up for gaps in state and local funding.

CCSSO’s plan is very different from the draft rule published by the Education Department in August. Alexander has said he’ll do everything possible to dismantle the department’s regulation, if necessary. Alexander and a number of other groups believe the department is going further than the law allows.

Alexander said CCSSO’s plan is “practical and is in keeping with what Congress wrote and intended in the new education law. The department should listen to this idea rather than moving forward on its proposed rule, which violates the law and congressional intent by effectively having the federal government decide how to distribute state and local education dollars.”


State education chiefs push Title I spending plan

Politico By Caitlin Emma 11/01/2016 05:30 PM EDT

The nonprofit representing state education chiefs nationwide released its own plan today for a Title I spending rule under the Every Student Succeeds Act — and it’s a clear departure from the draft plan pushed by federal officials this summer.

ESSA’s “supplement, not supplant” provision is meant to ensure that school districts aren’t using federal Title I dollars for poor students to fill gaps in state and local education funding. The law requires districts to come up with a way to show they’re compliant. The Education Department’s draft rule, released in August, gave districts four options.

Districts could distribute state and local funds by a weighted student funding formula or by a formula based on staffing and supplies. States could also develop their own model — with some restrictions. Or, in a fourth option, districts could show that per-student state and local spending in Title I schools is at least as much as the average spent per student in other schools.

The new plan pushed by the Council of Chief State School Officers today scraps those four options. Under this proposal, districts would have to distribute state and local funds using a method that doesn’t take Title I participation into account. Districts would also have to publish that method, show they’re following through with it and show how that method affects the lowest-performing schools.

CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich said he hopes the plan is a starting point in finding common ground with federal officials. If the Education Department doesn’t make significant changes to its final rule, “we’ll be stuck with an unworkable solution moving into the next administration,” Minnich said.

Minnich said the department is looking to publish a final rule before January.


HIGHER ED ‘STATE AUTHORIZATION’ RULES DELAYED (Politico – 11/02/16): The Education Department missed a Nov. 1 deadline on proposed rules aimed at pushing states to more-aggressively police colleges that offer online courses across state lines. The rule had to be published by Nov. 1 to go into effect in July. Missing the deadline could mean the controversial rules — which the Obama administration has pursued multiple times over the last six years — may be delayed for yet another year, potentially punting them to the next administration. The new requirements, known as “state authorization” rules, surfaced again over the summer when the department posted the proposed rules and began collecting comments on them. The regulations would apply to all types of degree-granting schools that offer distance education and online programs, which collectively enroll 5.5 million students.


Rumors on possible choices for next Education Secretary  (Politico)– There have been rumors that if Hillary Clinton is elected President, the next Secretary of Education could come from higher education rather than the elementary and secondary world, which is the background of all past Secretaries.  One possibilty being mentioned is Nancy Zimpher, who next year is retiring as chancellor of the State University of New York, the country’s largest public university system.  Zimpher’s views support CEF’s focus on investing in the whole continuum of education, from pre-school through higher education, from cradle to career.  “I don’t think it will be any better to have someone with a higher education background if they can’t see the relationship to K-12 than it would be to have someone from K-12 if they can’t see the relationship to higher education,” Zimpher has said.


State Updates

California Arts Ed Database Highlights Gaps in Hopes of Spurring Change

Last school year, 101,374 students attending California schools had no access to arts instruction at school, according to recently released data by Create CA, in partnership with the California Department of Education and the nationwide Arts Education Data Project. 
While 97 percent of secondary students have access to some level of arts education (at least one course at school), only 26 percent have access to all four arts disciplines – music, theater, visual and dance – as required by state law.


Essa Draft: ID Schools to Pick Their Own Accountability Measure
Local school leaders may get to decide how their school is rated next year. According to Idaho’s new draft plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, educators can choose either student test proficiency or student growth as a way to measure their school’s success. (Idaho Education News, Nov. 2)


9-step program in Nevada to address teacher shortages


A national campaign from the Center for American Progress has unveiled a nine-step strategy that states such as Nevada can use to address dire teacher shortages under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The TeachStrong campaign, similar to the What’s Next Nevada campaign, aims to improve and support the teaching profession nationwide.

The campaign highlighted portions of the federal law, the latest version of the Education and Secondary Education Act, that districts could use to attract high-quality teachers.

The nine steps include increasing compensation, creating stronger career pathways to teaching and raising the bar for teacher licensure.

Dena Durish, state deputy superintendent for educator effectiveness and family engagement, outlined a few initiatives Nevada has already taken to address the issue, including Teach Nevada scholarships and new regulations for teacher evaluations.

“There are some holes in these nine principles that we can certainly fill in,” she said of Nevada’s efforts so far. “I’m excited about this new work.”


Delaware governor urges states to stick with higher academic standards

Politico By Caitlin Emma 11/01/2016 01:19 PM EDT

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell today stressed that states and school districts should stick with more-rigorous academic standards and aligned tests because states are starting to see results.

Markell joined the pro-Common Core advocacy group, Collaborative for Student Success, to discuss results on state standardized tests this year. The Delaware governor’s name has been floated by some as a possible education secretary if Hillary Clinton is elected president.

This is the second year that many states have administered new tests aligned to the Common Core or similar standards. Thirty-six states have already reported results and 31 of those states are showing improvements in test scores, said Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success.

New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera acknowledged that there’s often a bump in scores in the second year of a new test administration, due in part to increased student engagement and familiarity. But she said she expects the progress to continue.

Markell said that while states have new flexibility under the Every Student Succeeds Act, they should consider building on their progress so far.

“Our focus should not be on starting from scratch, but rather building on the hard work that has taken place in the last few years,” he said.

The remaining states will report test results this fall and winter.


New Jersey: New PARCC data shows number of students who weren’t tested

POLITICO Pro By Linh Tat 11/02/2016 08:24 PM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. — New PARCC data released Wednesday show that of the 897,434 students in grades 3 through 11 who were registered to take the English exams last spring, 71,013 (7.9 percent) weren’t tested. And 67,369 students (7.7 percent) of the 877,810 students registered to take the math exams did not do so.

There’s no way of knowing exactly how many students who didn’t sit for PARCC were part of the state’s test-refusal movement, since the state does not track non-test takers that way.

The number of “not tested” students include not only those who refused the exam, but also students who were absent or had medical emergencies, those who wound up taking other tests, those whose exams were voided and those who experienced issues that may have prevented from completing the exams.

State officials did report in August, when preliminary results were released, that 56,542 more students took the English exams and 65,575 more students took the math exams during the latest round of testing.

On Wednesday, Department of Education deputy commissioner Peter Shulman continued to stress the increase in overall participation.

“Thousands more students are voting with their feet and taking the assessment,” he said during a presentation to the state Board of Education.

The state saw an unprecedented test-refusal movement in spring 2015, when PARCC was administered for the first time. Skeptical parents questioned the quality of test questions, while others took issue with tying teacher evaluations to test scores or the amount of time schools were devoting to testing.

Schulam argued that the fact that thousands more sat for the exams during the last administration shows that teachers, parents and students “are seeing the value” of PARCC. Proponents of PARCC say the exam is a strong indicator of college and career readiness and that it helps educators and parents identify particular areas in the curriculum their students may need additional help on.

Susan Cauldwell of Save Our Schools NJ, which has been at the forefront of the test opt-out movement, had a different take on the data.

“Save Our Schools NJ is pleasantly surprised that despite the DOE’s high pressure campaign to force students to take PARCC, tens of thousand of students still refused this unvalidated test,” she told POLITICO.

The percentage of students not tested consistently rose with each grade level, from 3.4 percent in grade 3 to 22.9 percent in grade 11 for the English exams, and from 3.4 percent in grade 3 to about eight percent in grade 8 and those in Algebra I. About 19 percent of Algebra II students also did not test.

The state has not released official test participation rates, which will be reported to the federal government later this school year, a DOE spokesman said.

In addition to the number of non-test takers, the data released Wednesday allow for side-by-side comparisons of school districts or schools. Districts were sent their individual results, which they previously shared with their local school communities. But until this week, the information was not available as part of a comprehensive online database for the public to access.

Preliminary results released in August also showed that despite overall gains statewide, the majority of students still fell short of expectations in math. Similarly, less than half the students in a handful of grade levels met the English standards.

On Wednesday, Shulman acknowledged an achievement gap between subgroups of students, with low-income students, African-Americans and Hispanics posting lower scores, and he said more needs to be done to help all students become proficient.


New lawsuit challenging teacher tenure filed in New Jersey

Politico By Caitlin Emma 11/01/2016 12:28 PM EDT

The education reform nonprofit founded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is backing another lawsuit challenging teacher tenure, this time on behalf of six parents in Newark, N.J.

The lawsuit, HG v. Harrington, is challenging the constitutionality of the state’s “last in, first out” law. Kimberly Harrington, the acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey state board and Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf are named as defendants.

Cerf could not immediately be reached for comment, and a Department of Education spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint says the LIFO law disproportionately affects school districts serving low-income students, leading to the firing of newer, more-effective teachers and the retention of ineffective teachers based on seniority. The law compels districts like Newark to either reduce their teaching force based on an unfair law, or freeze hiring and firing teachers and cut spending elsewhere in the budget, even when already faced with budget reductions, the complaint alleges.

“Failed by politics for too long, these determined parents refuse to quietly sit by while their schools face dramatic budget cuts and the loss of great teachers because of New Jersey’s unjust teacher layoff law,” said Ralia Polechronis, executive director at Partnership for Educational Justice, the group founded by Brown.

A similar lawsuit backed by PEJ in Minnesota was dismissed last week by a judge, while a New York lawsuit is still ongoing. Education reform groups also suffered a high-profile defeat in August when the California Supreme Court upheld state laws that govern the hiring and firing of teachers in the Vergara case.


Texas education officials deny capping special education enrollment

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 11/02/2016 03:41 PM EDT

Texas state education officials today said they have “never set a cap, limit or policy” on the number of students in special education courses, as a Houston Chronicle investigation alleges.

The Houston Chronicle investigation found the Texas Education Agency had quietly imposed a 8.5 percent enrollment target for the share of students who receive specialized education. School districts who exceed the benchmark have to create corrective action plans, and the newspaper found that the policy effectively operates as a cap on the number of students who are provided special education services in the state.

The Texas Education Agency denied the cap in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, which last month told Texas education officials that they must stop using special education enrollment targets unless they’re able to show it’s not impeding the ability of students with disabilities to access services.

“Allegations that TEA issued fines, conducted on-site monitoring visits, required the hiring of consultants, etc. when districts provided special education services to more than 8.5 percent of their students are entirely false,” Penny Schwinn, the state’s deputy commissioner of academics, wrote.

The state’s education commissioner also defended the agency’s work.

“Policy related to special education is extremely complex, so attempting to pinpoint one factor as the sole reason from an increase or decrease in the representation rate is simplistic,” Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said in a statement. “From my discussions with superintendents, I believe Texas school districts are well aware of their obligations, by law and agency policy, to identify and provide services to all students who require special education services.”


California AG releases report outlining best practices for protecting students’ data

Politico By Ramsen Shamon 11/02/2016 07:06 PM EDT

California Attorney General Kamala Harris released a new report today that highlights a set of guidelines to protect students’ data and privacy online, including for educational entities to contractually bar tech providers from selling or disclosing the sensitive information.

Harris, a Democrat who is running for California’s open U.S. Senate seat, also focuses on the need for more security measures to protect students’ data.

“Technology in the classroom can unlock countless new opportunities to educate students for the workforce of tomorrow,” Harris said. “At the same time, we must protect our children’s privacy as they learn.”

The report, written for the education technology industry, calls for transparent privacy policies. It also advises against advertisements that target students via data collected through classroom tech offerings.

The report was conducted by the California AG’s Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit, which reviewed best practices with educators, privacy advocates, and education technology experts. Read the full report here.


Massachusetts tests public’s appetite for charter schools

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 11/03/2016 05:00 AM EDT

The Democratic Party’s growing division over charter schools is playing out in the blue state of Massachusetts, where a ballot referendum on the expansion of charter schools has attracted national attention and tens of millions in political spending.

State and national teachers unions are leading the charge to kill it, with support from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the Democratic State Committee. They are pitted against such prominent Democrats as Barack Obama’s Education Secretary John B. King Jr., former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch and state House Speaker Robert DeLeo — all of whom appear in an online ad that says, “Real Democrats are YES on Question 2.”

The pro-charter side also has overwhelming backing from Republican lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker, as well as from a slew of hedge fund managers and billionaires such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Blocking the state’s expansion of charter schools would be a significant symbolic coup for teachers unions, who have been early and outspoken supporters of Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s campaign has declined to take a side on the referendum. A win for the unions would provide one more reason for Clinton — a longtime supporter of charter schools — to tamp down her enthusiasm. It might also deter other states from considering such expansions amid signs the anti-charter side is gaining momentum.

“This is a really important one for us,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor union with roughly 3 million members.

Charter schools use public funds, but are typically operated by an outside group and not confined by many of the same rules as traditional schools — a structure, backers say, that allows them to succeed in communities long failed by traditional public schools. Most significantly in the eyes of some critics and supporters, they usually don’t have unionized workers.

With the support of every president since Bill Clinton, charter schools have blossomed in popularity in the last 25 years, and about 7 percent of U.S. school children attend a charter school. All but seven states have laws on the books allowing them.

Along the way, charter schools have been wholeheartedly embraced by Republican leaders.

But there are signs their Democratic support may be eroding. Already, teachers unions claimed victory this summer after the party’s platform committee adopted language much more hostile toward charters than in previous election cycles. That decision came after a personal plea from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Then, last month, the NAACP adopted language opposing the expansion of charter schools.

That backlash in some Democratic circles contrasts with charter schools’ eager embrace by President Barack Obama and his administration.


Research and other articles of interest

New report: Homeschooling continues to grow in popularity

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 11/01/2016 10:51 AM EDT

The number of U.S. students homeschooled has more than doubled over the course of a 13-year period, according to a new government report released today.

About 3.4 percent of school kids — or an estimated 1.8 million students — were homeschooled in 2012. In comparison, 850,000 were educated at home in 1999, which was roughly 1.7 percent of the student population then.

The estimates are from the National Center for Education Statistics, based on data collected as part of the National Household Education Surveys Program. The most recent figures in the report were from 2012.

In terms of demographics, most students homeschooled in 2012 were white and considered “nonpoor.”

Other findings:

— About 90 percent of the parents cited concern about school environments as an important reason to homeschool.

— Roughly a quarter of the parents who were homeschooling said they took a course to prepare to teach at home.

— About a third of students spanning the middle school and high school ages took online courses, while 11 percent of elementary school age kids did.

— Parents doing the homeschooling had an education level ranging from a high school degree (23 percent) to a graduate degree (18 percent).


High school diplomas don’t necessarily prepare students for college or career report says

Politico By Aubree Eliza Weaver 11/03/2016 01:59 PM EDT

Many states report how many of their students graduate high school each year, but awarding a diploma doesn’t necessarily correlate to college- or career-readiness, according to new analysis from Achieve, a nonprofit education reform organization.

“While it’s true that there has been an overall increase in graduation rates across the country, what’s less apparent is what that diploma really represents,” Sandy Boyd, Achieve chief operating officer, said in a statement. “There’s plenty of evidence that far too many students who get a diploma still lack the knowledge they need to succeed in college and careers after high school.”

Sixteen states offer a diploma without requiring students to complete college- and career-ready courses in English and mathematics, according to Achieve.

Overall, states offer students 95 options to receive a high school diploma, the nonprofit’s analysis says.

“States have adopted rigorous academic standards in core subjects that reflect the real-world demands of life after high school, but too many states aren’t taking the next step, which is to require students to take courses that actually teach those standards in order to graduate,” Boyd added. “For many kids, a high school diploma provides false assurances of academic readiness for success after high school.”


ESSA, Equity and Exploring Specific Student Populations

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) seeks to ensure that all youth receive an equitable education and creates new opportunities for states to develop policies supporting educational attainment of specific youth populations that face educational disparities.

To assist state education leaders in the policymaking process, Education Commission of the States is releasing five reports focused on a few of these student populations:

The reports provide descriptive information about these student populations, explore their educational challenges, review currently enacted state and federal policies designed to address their needs, and provide policy considerations for schools, districts and/or state governments.

“As part of a comprehensive approach to ensuring equity and addressing the pervasive achievement gap, it is important that state policymakers address all student groups,” said Jeremy Anderson, president of Education Commission of the States. “These five reports provide insight into very important, yet often overlooked, student populations.”


THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF SCHOOL CLIMATE: An analysis of 15 years’ worth of research finds that positive school climates — which can include students’ sense of safety from bullying, supportive teachers and parental involvement — can help narrow achievement gaps between low-income students and their wealthier peers. The study was published in Review of Educational Research. The study’s authors also find a lot of variation in how school climate is defined. “”There is a tangible, immediate need to construct a common definition and reliable climate measurements that can be translated into practice and policy guidelines,” they said. “In the absence of a clear and uniform definition and measurement of school climate, the ability of researchers and stakeholders to evaluate school climate growth over time is restricted.” Read more here.

A new article in Education Next says students are less likely to be removed from school as punishment when they’re the same race as their teacher. The article looks at student/teacher demographic and discipline data from North Carolina elementary schools. “We find consistent evidence that North Carolina students are less likely to be removed from school as punishment when they and their teachers are the same race,” the article says. “This effect is driven almost entirely by black students, especially black boys, who are markedly less likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline when taught by black teachers. There is little evidence of any benefit for white students of being matched with white teachers.” Read it here.