Music Education Policy Roundup – Oct 31, 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.

NAfME Update: Title IV-A Guidance

On Friday, October 21, the U.S. Department of Education issued non-regulatory guidance on Title IV, Part A of ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The policy staff at NAfME have prepared an analysis of that guidance, which you can find here:

If you would like to see the ED guidance in full, go here:

To learn more about how guidance relates to rules and regulations, read Tooshar’s excellent blog on all things regulatory here:

And for more information on Title IV-A, including how to build needs assessments using NAfME’s 2015 Opportunity-to-Learn Standards, visit our archived webinar from August, 2016 here:


Federal Updates

ESSA’S BEST ‘FIFTH INDICATOR’? The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states the opportunity to add a new measure of “school climate or student success” to their systems for holding schools accountable. Since passage of the law last year, the education policy world has been buzzing about the best options for that so-called “fifth indicator.” Now, The Hamilton Project authors at The Brookings Institution are endorsing chronic absenteeism, saying that “prior experience with school-based accountability measures suggests that essentially any accountability measure can be gamed or corrupted to some extent … With these constraints in mind, we argue that chronic absenteeism is likely to perform well based on lessons learned from [No Child Left Behind], and that the downside risk of schools gaming the metric is minimal.” Read the report<>or check out Brookings’ interactive map<>on chronic absenteeism in the U.S.

Nation’s fourth and eigth graders see jump in science scores (NAEP results)

Politico By Caitlin Emma 10/27/2016 12:01 AM EDT

The nation’s fourth and eighth graders are doing better in science since 2009, but the scores of high school seniors have remained stagnant, according to the newly-released 2015 science results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The gains come after years of falling or stagnant scores on the NAEP math and English tests.

Racial and gender achievement gaps in science are shrinking in the younger grades. Scores also increased across all racial and ethnic student groups. In total, about 38 percent of students were considered proficient or better, compared to 34 percent in 2009. Still, that means 62 percent of fourth graders are performing at basic or below basic levels.

In eighth grade, 34 percent of students were proficient or better in science in 2015, compared to 30 percent in 2009. Between 2009 and 2015, about a fifth of high school seniors were proficient in science and racial and gender gaps persisted. More high school seniors reported enrollment in a science course, however, with 57 percent reporting in 2015 compared to 53 percent in 2009. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said he’s optimistic that the gains in lower grades will eventually show themselves in high school.

“More than half of the students in the U.S. are now going to school in schools where new science standards are in place,” said National Science Teachers Association Executive Director David Evans. While it’s too soon to see the impact of new science standards across the country, the results might indicate positive changes in curriculum for lower grades, he said.


Federal study finds no clear evidence that Race to the Top was successful

Politico By Caitlin Emma 10/26/2016 03:27 PM EDT

It’s unclear if more than $4 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants helped students perform better in the classroom.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new report released by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. In exchange for millions of dollars, Race to the Top encouraged states to adopt more rigorous academic standards and tests, evaluate teachers in part by how students perform on tests, foster successful environments for charter schools and turn around the lowest-performing schools.

The report measured student outcomes by looking at state-level scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It notes that the Obama administration sought to reward states through Race to the Top for proposing strong plans for reform and having strong records on reform. Some states were already pushing policies endorsed by Race to the Top prior to receiving a grant or making other changes during the grant period that could’ve boosted student outcomes, the report notes.

As a result, it’s difficult to say whether the actual grants led to better outcomes for students, the report says. The authors of the study say that “readers should use caution when interpreting the results because the findings are based on self-reported use of policies and practices.”


Education Department awards last round of School Improvement Grants to states

Politico By Caitlin Emma 10/25/2016 01:42 PM EDT

The Education Department today awarded $427 million to states in the last round of School Improvement Grants.

Since 2009, the Obama administration has invested more than $7 billion into the program — in an effort to help turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The department awards multi-million dollar grants to states, which then use the money to award competitive grants to school districts.

In a release, the Education Department credited the program with improving student achievement and high school graduation rates. A federal analysis shows “that SIG schools are improving faster than other schools, including gains in mathematics and reading proficiency and improved graduation rates,” the department says. “Among the first three cohorts of high schools that received support though SIG, increases in graduation rates out-paced the national average.”

Other research has shown mixed results, with about two-thirds of SIG schools nationwide making modest or no gains and about a third of schools getting worse. A POLITICO investigation last year revealed that many districts weren’t prepared to take the money, and they struggled to see results due to issues such as inadequate leadership and a lack of teacher, union and community buy-in.

This is the last round of funding for SIG because the Every Student Succeeds Act consolidated the program into Title I, while also changing the percentage of funds that states can set aside for school improvement from 4 percent to 7 percent.


Education Department says debt relief rules will cost more than $16 billion

Politico By Michael Stratford 10/28/2016 09:48 AM EDT

The Obama administration today released the full text of its final rules governing debt relief for defrauded student loan borrowers.

The Education Department’s best estimate is that the final regulations will cost taxpayers $16.6 billion over the next decade. The department previously estimated that its proposed rule would cost between nearly $2 million and $42.7 billion over 10 years.

The bulk of the cost is driven by borrower defense to repayment claims that the government expects it won’t be able to recover from the colleges where the misconduct occurred. The new provisions making closed school discharges automatic will also contribute to the cost.

The department says its lower estimate for the overall cost of the rule is in response to changes it made to its underlying budget assumptions.

Among other things, the department’s estimate now includes the possibility that some debt relief claims could come from law schools. “We still do not expect many successful claims to come from these sectors but did increase the level to account for the possibility,” the department says


In reversal, Education Department will restore Pell grants for students at closed schools

Politico By Michael Stratford 10/28/2016 12:01 AM EDT

The Obama administration, in a reversal, plans to use its existing legal authority to restore the Pell grant eligibility of thousands of students whose education was interrupted by a college’s sudden closure.

The change in position, announced early Friday by the Education Department, comes after the department insisted for more than a year it needed Congress to grant it the power to reset a student’s Pell grant eligibility when a college shuts down.

The department said that the new policy would immediately make “several thousand students” eligible to receive additional Pell grant funding to continue their education that was interrupted by their school’s closure.

The issue first arose in 2015 with the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a chain of for-profit schools. ITT Tech, another for-profit giant, collapsed last month. In both cases, thousands of students were displaced.

Federal law allows students at a closed school to seek a discharge of the federal loans they took out to attend the institution. But the Obama administration said it didn’t have the power to reset those students’ Pell grant eligibility — which has a lifetime cap of 18 semesters for a student pursuing a four-year degree.

Education Secretary John B. King Jr. previously backed legislation in Congress that he said was needed for his agency to restore those benefits. But the department said in a statement today that it “has determined it has the authority” to do so without Congressional action.

The change in the administration’s interpretation of the law comes just several weeks after Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, pressed the Education Department to use its existing authority to resolve the issue. Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) also separately called on the department to make the change earlier this month.

It’s unclear when the students affected by the school closures will be able to obtain new Pell grants. The department said today that it was “still exploring the operational changes required to implement this policy” and that it would “work to ensure that all eligible students see this change made automatically.”


State Updates

Teachers unions want investigation into pro-charter spending in Massachusetts

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 10/28/2016 10:08 AM EDT

Massachusetts teachers unions are seeking federal and state probes of the “propriety” of donations made by wealthy hedge fund managers in support of the contentious ballot question in Massachusetts that would lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.

The request by the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts stems from an International Business Times/MapLight report that revealed that $778,000 was donated to the campaign supporting the ballot initiative by executives from eight financial firms with management contracts with the state pension fund.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker — a big proponent of lifting the charter cap — appoints three of the nine members to the board.

“This is about the integrity of our pension investments and the integrity of our elections,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni. “We need an investigation to find out whether these firms are wielding inappropriate influence in state government.”

Baker’s political adviser, Jim Conroy, dismissed the issue, telling the Boston Globe that the governor is not personally raising money for the campaign.

“While Governor Baker has worked hard to advance the goals of the campaign to offer children a better education, the solicitation of campaign contributions is left to the campaign fund-raising operation,” Conroy said.

A release from the two unions acknowledges that federal law does not cover money donated to the governor’s policy initiatives, but it said “big questions need to be answered about the propriety of these donations.”

The number of charter schools in Massachusetts is capped at 120. Voters in the state will be asked on Nov. 8 whether they want to allow up to 12 new charter schools to be authorized per year.


TN Makes Huge Strides in Science Scores
The state’s fourth- and eighth-grade students outperformed students nationally on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress science test, according to results released late Wednesday. (Tennessean, Oct. 26)


Minnesota judge dismisses teacher tenure lawsuit

Politico By Caitlin Emma 10/27/2016 11:57 AM EDT

A Minnesota judge this week dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and “last in, first out” laws — representing another setback for the education reform movement’s battle against teacher tenure.

The Minnesota lawsuit, first filed in April, said the laws protect ineffective teachers and deny all students the right to a quality education.

The lawsuit was backed by the reform groups Students for Education Reform — Minnesota and Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit founded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown that’s behind a similar case in New York.

Denise Specht, president of the state’s teachers union, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that it’s now time to move on.

“I hope we can talk about ways to recruit and retain great educators,” she said. “Talking about how teachers are laid off is simply not how we are going to get better outcomes for students.”

But Ralia Polechronis, Executive Director of Partnership for Educational Justice, said “the plaintiff families are preparing to appeal, and remain committed as ever to continue this fight until students’ rights are justly put above unfair job protections for chronically ineffective teachers.”

Latasha Gandy, executive director of SFER Minnesota, said she was “very disappointed by the ruling today, but proud of the mothers who took this courageous step on behalf of their kids.”

The dismissal comes after reform groups suffered a high-profile defeat in August, when the California Supreme Court upheld state laws that govern the hiring and firing of teachers.


New Jersey: Groups challenge state decision to use PARCC scores as graduation requirement

Politico By Linh Tat 10/24/2016 04:13 PM EDT

Several civil rights and parent advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit challenging a recent state decision requiring high school students pass the highly controversial PARCC assessment in order to graduate, group members said today.

Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s New Jersey chapter, said in a statement that the state Board of Education has put students on a course that “disproportionately harms the most vulnerable students.”

“The state knows about the PARCC’s high failure rates, extreme racial disparities, and deep economic divisions in passing scores, and yet officials decided to use this test as a key criterion for graduation despite the glaring problems,” he stated.

The state board voted in August to require students, starting with the class of 2021, to pass the 10th grade English and Algebra I PARCC exams.

The PARCC assessment will also be used as an exit exam for students graduating before 2021, though those students could also use scores from other approved tests to fulfill graduation requirements. But critics say many of the alternative tests, such as the SATs, are fee-based and not affordable to low-income students.

This month’s lawsuit was filed in state Superior Court on Friday on behalf of the Latino Action Network, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, the Paterson Education Fund, and the Education Law Center, according to the ACLU news release. The Education Law Center and ACLU-NJ are representing the plaintiffs.

An attorney with the law center had indicated immediately after the state board’s vote that the organization might mount a legal challenge.

A state Department of Education spokesman said Monday the department does not comment on pending litigation.


OK Cited as a Leader in Transition to New Federal Education Law
Oklahoma is among the leaders halfway through the transition to new federal education law. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is replacing the No Child Left Behind Act. (Public Radio Tulsa, Oct. 24)


DOJ reviewing alleged noose attack on Mississippi black student

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 10/26/2016 03:38 PM EDT

The Justice Department is reviewing an incident in Mississippi in which a black high school football player was said to have been approached in a locker room by a group of white students who allegedly placed a noose around his neck and pulled it tight.

Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson has called for a federal hate crime probe of the Oct. 13 incident. A Justice Department spokesman said in a statement to POLITICO that DOJ is “aware of the incident at Stone High School in Wiggins, Miss., and is working to determine whether federal action is warranted.”

The alleged victim is a 15-year-old sophomore. Various reports indicated he did not suffer physical harm, but endured emotional duress and is fearful over having reported the incident. He remains a student at the school.

Johnson told The New York Times that the student’s parents contacted the NAACP after school officials didn’t respond to them and the Stone County Sheriff’s Department instructed them that they would be better off not seeking charges. The AP quoted a sheriff’s department official as saying the agency is investigating, as well as a lawyer for the district saying a student had been disciplined.

“No child should be walking down the hall or in a locker room and be accosted with a noose [placed] around their neck,” Johnson said during a press conference Monday, The Associated Press reported. “This is 2016, not 1916. This is America. This is a place where children should go to school and feel safe in their environment.”


IN – A Sweeping Plan to Boost Indy’s Economy Will Push High Schools to Prepare Students for Open Jobs
Former Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth today announced a new $7 million effort aimed at strengthening the connection among K-12 schools, colleges, training programs and local employers. (Chalkbeat, Oct. 25)


Research and other articles of interest

Study: Poverty, not race, is key factor in student achievement

Politico By Aubree Eliza Weaver 10/24/2016 11:52 AM EDT

Worse educational outcomes among minority students have more to do with school quality and the concentration of poverty, rather than of racial segregation, according to a new report from Brookings.

While school districts tend to be less racially segregated than in the past, the report notes they have become more economically segregated. And concentration of poverty has a bigger impact on student achievement than a school’s racial makeup — although there is still a strong correlation between race and economic status since black students are nearly four times more likely than whites to attend a high-poverty school.

“Interventions that involve providing low-income and minority students with greater access to schools that are higher performing and more diverse (through school choice or housing policy) demonstrate positive impacts that appear to be mediated by the quality of schools rather than their racial composition,” wrote Brookings senior fellows Russ Whitehurst and Richard Reeves, and senior research assistant Edward Rodrigue.

Individual charter schools are also more likely to be racially segregated, compared to traditional public schools that serve the same geographic area. Despite that segregation, studies of urban charter schools present compelling evidence that high-quality urban charters can overcome the effects of segregation on student achievement, the study says.

“Student achievement is substantially higher in urban charter schools, in particular those that focus on academic achievement, than in comparison traditional public schools serving the same neighborhoods and students,” the report states.


Poor students less likely to complete college

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 10/27/2016 02:02 PM EDT

Students from high-poverty high schools are significantly less likely to enroll in and complete college than their affluent peers, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Forty five percent of students who graduated from wealthy high schools in 2009 earned a degree six years later, compared to 24 percent of students who graduated from low-income schools, according to the report. Graduates of high schools where 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch were also significantly less likely to enroll in college after graduating from high school. Just 51 percent of those students enrolled in the fall after graduating — compared to 76 percent of students from wealthier schools, the report found.

The annual report used data from public and private high schools in all 50 states and from the majority of the 100 largest districts in the United States. It includes data on nearly 5 million high school graduates each year — more than a quarter of all public high school graduates.

“After finishing high school, entering college and earning a degree are the next critical steps to reaching the levels of education that the 21st century demands,” Doug Shapiro, executive research director at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a statement. “But those steps are insurmountable barriers for too many students, particularly those from schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students. These national benchmarks, combined with comparable data for their own schools, enable communities and educators to pinpoint areas of concern and work more effectively to improve outcomes for all students.”


Biden says free community college is ‘going to happen’

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 10/26/2016 03:41 PM EDT

Free community college will happen — and could be easily paid for by closing tax loopholes — Vice President Joe Biden told a group of college leaders gathered at the vice president’s residence on Wednesday.

“We are absolutely committed and I’m telling you it’s going to happen,” Biden said. “Particularly if my team wins this race.”

Free community college is an expensive proposal, and would cost $60 million a year, Biden acknowledged. But the vice president said the tab could be covered by closing tax loopholes — specifically, Biden targeted an obscure part of the tax code known as “stepped-up basis” that allows people who inherit assets to avoid paying capital gains taxes on the appreciation of those assets. The Clinton campaign has proposed doing away with the rule as part of its tax plan.

“I didn’t even know what stepped-up basis was, to be honest with you,” Biden told the crowd. But Biden said closing the loophole would affect just four-tenths of one percent of the population, whom he described as “very, very wealthy” Americans. The vice president said the change would save $17 billion a year.

“If we eliminated the one single — one single — loophole, we could pay for every single solitary person in community college for free for three years, and we could reduce the deficit by another $11 billion,” Biden said.

Leaders from dozens of community colleges across the country were gathered at the vice president’s residence Wednesday to celebrate the growth of the College Promise Campaign, which has worked over the last couple of years to get communities and states to find ways to make community college free. Since President Barack Obama pitched the idea of free community college in 2015, more than 150 free college programs have been launched in 37 states, according to the campaign. Jill Biden, who also spoke on Wednesday, is the honorary chair of the campaign.

The White House estimates that by 2020, 65 percent of job openings will require some college. The president has argued that to improve the economy, the U.S. needs to make public education a 14-year endeavor.

Biden said Wednesday that free community college would boost GDP by two-tenths of 1 percent a year.

“That’s productivity,” Biden said.


NCAA to pay schools based on academic performance

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 10/27/2016 02:08 PM EDT

The NCAA announced today it will pay schools based on how their student athletes perform academically.

The new policy will send a portion of broadcast revenues from the men’s basketball tournament to Division I schools whose athletes meet certain academic benchmarks.

The payouts, through a fund made up of 75 percent of the increase in broadcast revenues between 2019 and 2024, will begin in 2019 and be ramped up gradually over time. By 2024, the NCAA plans to send $157 million to Division I schools under the new plan.

“This landmark change benefits schools at which student-athletes succeed academically and graduate,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “The creation of an academic distribution unit underscores the NCAA’s commitment to putting its money where its mission is — with students. We’ve distributed funds to assist schools whose students need help in the classroom, but this is the first time revenue distribution will be determined by a school’s academic achievement. It’s an important moment for us as an Association.”


Only 3 percent of foster youth go on to earn Bachelor’s degrees, report shows

Politico By Aubree Eliza Weaver 10/27/2016 10:23 AM EDT

Youth in the foster care system are less likely to receive a high school diploma or go on to pursue a postsecondary degree than their peers, according to a new report from the Education Commission of the States.

Just 46 percent of the 415,000 youth in foster care will graduate from high school or earn a GED. That number drops even further when considering higher education, with just 3 percent obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

“Youth who have spent time in the foster care system are among the most marginalized student populations,” the report states. “As a result of personal, social and systemic issues, many of these youth struggle to reach successful outcomes in a variety of areas, including postsecondary enrollment and degree attainment.”

In an effort to combat this problem, 28 states have committed resources to tuition assistance policies specifically for foster youth. However, the requirements and extent of these policies vary greatly by state.

For example, Maine offers aid if an individual has been accepted to an in-state school and is either currently or formerly in the foster care system, but the state caps their program at just 30 students per year. On the other hand, North Carolina is considered to have taken some of the broadest steps to support its foster youth — offering financial support, housing, meals, books and supplies, child care and more.

“Many states have funding options, but it can be difficult to understand what is available, who is eligible and under what guidelines,” the report states.