Since the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, tens of thousands of students across the country have opted out of federally mandated assessments. The opt-out movement has become a way for parents and students to protest the implementation of the Common Core State Standards as well as the overabundance of testing in schools.
One of the key provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requires school districts to maintain a 95 percent assessment participation rate. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently told states they risk losing federal funds if they fall below 95 percent compliance. This could have major implications for low-income and rural school districts that rely heavily on federal funding to hire staff, upgrade schools, and incorporate new programs.
On May 15, 2015, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Tom Reed (R-NY) announced the introduction of The Enable More Parents to Opt-Out Without Endangering Resources Act (H.R. 2382), which would guarantee parents the right to opt out of assessments. The EMPOWER Act would prevent the federal government from punishing states that fall below the 95 percent compliance rate and would allow parents to opt their child out of an assessment for any reason. The National Education Association (NEA) has already endorsed the EMPOWER Act and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) signed on as an original co-sponsor. As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization process moves forward, debates over opting out, as well as the proper role of assessments, are expected to continue and could potentially derail the entire process.
The high-stakes testing culture originated from the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provision of NCLB that placed heavy emphasis on testing and labeled schools based on assessment performance. Each label was accompanied with a list of consequences that provided states with recommendations for improving the schools that failed to meet AYP. In many cases, these labels led to the firing of teachers and school administrators, school closings, or turnaround efforts led by charter school networks. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education started granting states NCLB flexibility waivers in exchange for increased standards, improved accountability, and teacher improvement efforts. While many of the states that received waivers were no longer required to meet AYP requirements, testing in schools continued to increase as accountability and teacher evaluation initiatives progressed.
This April, JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) wrote a letter to parents in response to the opt-out movement. In this letter, Executive Director Bartoletti acknowledges NCLB has created a culture of over testing and sympathizes with parents who have children taking monthly standardized tests. At the same time, she discusses the major implications reduced federal funding could have on state education budgets and tells parents opting out could ultimately reduce educational opportunities for their children.
In addition to advocating for reducing the reliance on assessments, NASSP will continue to support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards as well as next generation assessments that measure what students actually need to be college and career ready.
As we reported in a blog post earlier this month, student data privacy continues to be a hot topic on Capitol Hill with a whopping five legislative proposals in circulation. While earlier bills focused on education technology companies and their use of student data, the new proposals would reauthorize the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and have a great impact on principals and how they run their schools.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) released a discussion draft to totally rewrite FERPA in early April. The draft would grant parents the right to inspect and review their children’s education records and require educators to grant requests within 30 days. Educational agencies would be prohibited from releasing education records or personally identifiable information (PII) of students without written consent of their parents with few exceptions. Unidentifiable student data could be released for the purpose of education research, but the draft proposes a requirement that parents be notified of the studies and be given a reasonable amount of time to opt out. Educational agencies would be required to establish policies and procedures to protect the education records, and the draft proposes fines of $2,000 per student if there are violations. The draft would also prohibit marketing and advertising directly to students based on any information collected from education records.
NASSP and a number of other national education organizations submitted informal comments to Kline and Scott in which we outlined concerns with the discussion draft. We offered recommendations to support capacity building for educators at the state, district, and school levels; require parents to access and review their child’s education records only through their local school or district; clarify how educators should notify parents about new operator contracts; and ensure that schools, districts, and states do not have to disclose information that could open up their secure data systems to hackers.
On May 13, Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) reintroduced the Protecting Student Privacy Act (S. 1322), which had first been introduced in 2014. The bill would amend FERPA to ensure that educational agencies implement information security policies and procedures that protect PII included in education records and require any outside party with access to student data to have a comprehensive security program designed to protect PII.
The following day, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act (S. 1341), which would ensure that parents and students retain control of their education records. While the text is not yet available, a summary on his website says the bill would:
- Reinstate protections originally outlined under FERPA by clarifying who can access student data and what information is accessible.
- Require educational agencies to gain prior consent from students or parents and implement measures to ensure records remain private.
- Extend FERPA’s protections to ensure records of homeschooled students are treated equally.
- Prohibit educational agencies, schools, and the US Secretary of Education from including PII obtained from federal or state agencies through data matches in student data.
NASSP will continue to review all of the legislative proposals and meet with congressional staff to ensure they include the policy recommendations approved by our Board of Directors in February 2015.
As the use of digital technology rises in schools, so does the concern about the security of student data. Numerous state bills have been introduced and passed in the past few years, but now Congress is starting to examine a federal response and NASSP has been at the table for these discussions. Our objective is aligned to the position statement approved by the Board of Directors in February 2015: to ensure the protection of student privacy and appropriate use of student data to improve teaching and learning in the classroom.
On April 29, Reps. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act (H.R. 2092), which mandates what education technology vendors can and cannot do with student data. The bill would require operators to disclose publicly and directly to K–12 schools the types of information being collected and how that information will be used. Operators would have to establish and maintain strong security procedures to prevent data breaches and notification policies in the event of a data breach. Operators would also be prohibited from allowing targeted advertising or selling a student’s information to a third party.
NASSP participated in a number of meetings and conference calls with staff for Reps. Polis and Messer as they drafted the bill and is pleased that they considered our input in the final version. We joined 10 other national education organizations in sending a letter of endorsement for H.R. 2092 because it “strikes a good balance between protecting student privacy and promoting personalized learning informed by data and powered by educational technology.” We are also pleased that the bill would not place an undue burden on schools, principals, or teachers and give them confidence about the digital tools used in the classroom.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has also announced that he is working on draft legislation related to student data privacy. Similar to the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, the bill would focus on the data collected by education technology vendors, but there will be some differences from the House bill. According to Politico, the bill will give parents more control over their child’s data, add early childhood education, and include “strong enforcement tools and robust regulatory language.”
Also of interest to school leaders, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-CA) released a discussion draft for reauthorization of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). NASSP and other national education organizations met with committee staff last week and will likely work together to draft comments on the proposal. At first glance, we are very concerned that the discussion draft is silent on the need to build educator capacity. NASSP recommends that states and districts should provide teachers and principals with specialized training on student data privacy issues that will help them comply with FERPA and other state laws or regulations.
Earlier this week, NASSP joined 17 other national organizations in releasing The Federal Role in Safeguarding Student Data. The document outlines three potential areas for federal action on this issue:
- Ensure that federal laws provide a strong foundation to protect student information in a constantly changing and increasingly digital school environment.
- Ensure that the federal government coordinates across agencies to provide clarity to those on the ground as to how privacy laws work together.
- Support state and local capacity to safeguard data.
NASSP will continue to work closely with our coalition of national education organizations as these proposals move forward. Be sure to visit the Principal’s Policy Blog for regular updates.
On April 16, President Obama signed the Medicare Access and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Reauthorization Act of 2015 into law. Included in this legislation is a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. This law, which was enacted after rural communities were devastated by logging industry regulations, requires that 15 to 20 percent of the United States Forest Service’s county payments be used for specific purposes. These purposes include supporting or expanding rural schools, improving roads in rural communities, increasing public safety, or developing special projects on federal lands.
While Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a bill that would extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for three years, this two-year reauthorization will have a major impact on funding and development in rural communities across the country.
In addition to the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, NASSP is also keeping a close eye on the Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations process for the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. Specifically, NASSP will be monitoring funding levels for the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), which provides formula grants to small and low-income schools in rural areas through the Small, Rural School Achievement (SRSA) program and the Rural and Low-Income School (RLIS) program. This program remains in Title VI of the Every Child Achieves Act and would allow for dually eligible districts to choose which program they would like to apply for funding, which is not allowed under current law.
As ESEA reauthorization and the Appropriations process move forward, NASSP will continue monitoring resource distribution in rural communities.
After two days of debate and consideration of nearly 90 amendments, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved its bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in a historic, 22-0, vote on April 16. The Every Child Achieves Act was the end result of weeks of bipartisan negotiations between Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and their leadership was evident throughout the cordial committee debate.
NASSP was pleased that the first amendment approved by committee would authorize a competitive grant for states and districts to audit their assessment systems, including the number of tests and the time spent on test-taking, in order to reduce redundant or unnecessary state and district assessments. The amendment was based on the SMART Act (S. 907) and introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) who also sponsored the bill.
Another amendment strongly supported by NASSP would authorize the Innovative Technology Expands Children’s Horizons (I-TECH) program to provide technology-specific professional development for teachers to compliment the acquisition of infrastructure and hardware in the classroom. Districts would be required to spend 50% of the grant funds on professional development related to digital learning. The amendment was based on the Enhancing Education Through Technology Act and introduced by Sen. Baldwin who also sponsored the bill.
Other amendments supported by NASSP that passed would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program and require state, local and school report cards to include information on the number of students attaining career and technical education proficiencies.
NASSP also supported a number of amendments that were offered, but then withdrawn, pertaining to middle schools, high school redesign, the definition of profession-ready teachers and principals, and nondiscrimination of LGBT students. Our hope is that the sponsors of those amendments will be able to find Republican cosponsors and then offer them again on the Senate floor.
Controversial amendments, such as those pertaining to Title I portability and private school vouchers, were also withdrawn, but Senators Alexander and Tim Scott (R-SC) both indicated that they would introduce them on the Senate floor.
Alexander announced his hope that the full Senate would consider the Every Child Achieves Act before Memorial Day. The floor debate is expected to be much more contentious since there will be an open amendment process that allows Senators to offer any amendment related to K-12 education, which could cause some Democrats to oppose the bill in the end.
Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) yesterday introduced the Better Educator Support and Training (BEST) Act that amends Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to elevate the teaching and principal professions, support educators, improve student achievement, and ensure equity in the nation’s schools. The BEST Act would accomplish this by increasing the capacity of states and local educational agencies to develop and sustain a coherent, comprehensive, and aligned professional continuum for teachers, principals, and other educators that leads to accomplished practice, leadership opportunities, and increased student learning.
““I’m proud to introduce the Better Educator Support and Training (BEST) Act to ensure that our teachers and principals receive the support they deserve to give our children the best education possible,” said Senator Casey. “By providing greater support and training for educators, we can keep the best teachers in the classroom and better prepare our students for the college or career of their choice.”
The legislation aims to increase the capacity of local educational agencies, schools, teachers, principals, and other educators to increase the academic achievement of the most disadvantaged students, including students with disabilities, English language learners, low-income, and minority students. The act would require each State Education Agency (SEA) to conduct an analysis of district-by-district gaps for disadvantaged students and their access to profession-ready educators resulting in the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to improve educator development and support.
Of interest to NASSP members is language in the bill that requires SEAs to use not less than 2 percent and not more than 5 percent of its total allotment of federal funds to improve the effectiveness of principals and other school leaders in high need schools through comprehensive, job-embedded professional development opportunities as part of their implementation plans. In addition, an SEA must use funds to strengthen teacher and principal certification (including recertification) or licensing requirements to ensure that all new teachers, principals, and other educators are profession-ready prior to becoming the educator of record
Over the course of the past several months, NASSP advocacy staff worked closely with staff from Sen. Casey’s and Reed’s offices to ensure that the final bill language reflected the skills, knowledge, and attributes linked to effective leadership at the school building level. While the BEST Act will not be voted on separately in the Senate, it provides a strong foundation for a possible amendment to be offered during the upcoming debate on ESEA reauthorization to improve Title II of ESEA, ultimately helping to ensure that local education agencies have the resources to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers and principals serving their most disadvantaged students.
As the ESEA debate continues, NASSP will strongly advocate improving policies that have inadvertently overlooked principal professional development. Currently, only about 4 percent of federal funds are specifically spent on principal activities. The research clearly demonstrates that in order to improve student achievement and ensure equity in our schools, effective school leadership is second only to direct classroom instruction and teachers and principals must be supported in a comprehensive continuum of services.
In an effort to help high schools that enroll traditionally underserved students in the development and implementation of comprehensive, evidence-based reform, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has introduced the Next Generation (NextGen) High Schools Act. NASSP strongly supports the bill, which mirrors many of the recommendations contained in the Breaking Ranks framework for school improvement.
“A high school diploma is the gateway to success and the ultimate goal of a K–12 education,” said Sen. Baldwin in a press release. “Unfortunately, the promise of a high-quality education is not realized by many of the nation’s youth, especially students of color and those from low-income families. By personalizing education, integrating coursework with career-based learning, and connecting their learning to real-world experiences, the NextGen High Schools Act will ensure our students are well situated to graduate college and career-ready.”
The NextGen High Schools Act would authorize $300 million for a competitive grant program to ensure that low-performing high schools provide students with challenging, engaging, and relevant academic and career-related experiences that will allow them to be college and career ready upon graduation. Districts would be required to implement an early warning indicator system in high schools and their feeder middle schools that identifies struggling students and create a system of evidence-based and linguistically and culturally relevant interventions. Schools would also be required to personalize the learning experience; providing comprehensive, ongoing job-embedded professional development for school leaders and teachers, and strengthening the transition between high school and postsecondary education.
“The NextGen High Schools Act has the same priority as all of our member principals—to increase the number and percentage of students who graduate from high school ready for college and a career,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “The bill’s recommendations for getting there are very much on target: whole school improvement efforts, early identification and intervention for low-performing schools, and specialized supports for schools most in need. We are confident that the provisions of the NextGen High Schools Act will make a positive contribution to personalized, real-world learning for students across the nation.”
NASSP will continue to work with Sen. Baldwin and her staff in the coming weeks to ensure that the NextGen High Schools Act is enacted as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
During consideration of the House bill (H.R. 5) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), an amendment was approved that underscores the vital role school principals play in their schools every day. NASSP worked closely with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA) to encourage Reps. Susan Davis (D-CA), Robert Dold (R-IL), and Jared Polis (D-CO) to introduce the amendment and activated our grassroots network to ensure its approval.
As written in the original bill, the definition of “school leader” failed to make clear to state and school districts that a school leader is an individual who runs the operations and instructional programs within a school building. As a result, states and districts could have interpreted this definition to apply to an assistant superintendent of curriculum or instruction, or a subject matter content specialist who oversees instructional practices within an LEA, but is not in a school building on a daily basis. Additionally, if left unchanged, it was possible that district administrators could become eligible for Title II professional development funds currently aimed at improving the quality of our nation’s school principals. And those Title II funds are already stretched too thin.
NASSP was also very pleased that the House approved an amendment offered by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Ryan Costello (R-PA) that would encourage states to conduct assessment audits. We hear from many principals about testing fatigue and concerns about the instructional time lost to testing and test prep activities. This provision will help states get a clear picture of their testing systems, the time spent on test taking and preparation, and how to streamline and improve the quality of assessments for purposes of informing instruction and learning.
Finally, a potential amendment to expand the Title I portability provision to private schools and essentially create a new private school voucher program was ruled out of order and was not considered on the House floor. This was another huge victory for NASSP and our colleagues at the National Coalition for Public Education, which had sent numerous action alerts in opposition to the amendment.
The House considered more than 40 amendments over a two-day period and was expected to pass H.R. 5 on Friday afternoon, February 27. However, concerns from conservative members of the Republican Party and bipartisan politics related to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill and a possible agency shutdown caused the House leadership to delay the final vote until next week. And it still remains unclear whether there will be enough votes to pass the bill this year.
All eyes are now on the Senate where bipartisan negotiations between Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) continue. The latest rumor is that they would like to mark up a bill in the Senate HELP Committee the week of March 9 with full Senate consideration later this spring.
NASSP will continue to collaborate with NAESP and AFSA to ensure that the principal is at the table during ESEA negotiations, and all three organizations are urging members of Congress to oppose H.R. 5. Visit the Principal’s Legislative Action Center to email your representative, continue to check the Principal’s Policy Blog for updates, and follow me at @akarhuse for live tweets!
We know that the principalship is important, but only in recent years have we been able to quantify just how important. More than a decade of rigorous research by the Wallace Foundation has confirmed that the quality of leadership is second only to the quality of instruction in school-based factors that affect student learning. But do not let that “second” label lead you to believe schools can do without effective leadership. The Wallace Foundation was unable to identify a single instance of a school turning around to become high achieving without a strong, skillful leader. To further quantify the principal’s impact, a research project led by Robert Marzano calculated that a full 25 percent of schoolwide achievement can be attributed to how the principal chooses to dedicate time, what the principal emphasizes, and the culture the principal fosters.
Unfortunately, support for the principal has not grown along with our understanding of the role’s importance. Like most professionals, principals need opportunities to update their knowledge, improve their skills, and connect with colleagues in professional learning networks. These activities take time. And money. Such activities are perfectly appropriate uses for the $2.5 billion allocated under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). But the funds are not used that way. The federal government has expanded the list of “allowable uses” so broadly that principal professional development does not even register on the radar. Schools are forced to compete for those funds with other important priorities like class-size reduction, teacher recruitment, teacher development, and others. As a result, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, of the 44 percent of funds used for professional development, a meager 4 percent was dedicated to principal development.
That low level of funding would matter far less if we were not in the midst of a crisis in the principalship. As high stakes accountability and pressures mount, it is becoming more difficult to find well-prepared professionals who are willing to occupy the principal’s chair. And when we find them, it is even more difficult to keep them. It takes five to seven years for a principal to lead a culture change that will really last in a school. Yet, only 27 percent of principals felt supported enough to remain in place for year five. That means most high school principals are not in place to see their freshman class graduate. More importantly, only one in four schools has an opportunity to see a change initiative through to completion. A new leader introduces new priorities and school communities pay the price of the jerky stop-and-start of school improvement plans.
Fortunately, we can now begin to change that condition. While Congress discusses the next version of ESEA, NASSP along with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the American Federation of School Administrators have proposed that Congress require 10 percent of Title II funds be dedicated to principals’ ongoing development.
To raise awareness of the need for more professional development for principals, we have launched the #PD4Principals campaign. We invite everyone who is concerned about the issue to tweet with the hashtag and a link back to this blog entry (www.nassp.org/title2). To make the tweet more personal, take a picture with one of our campaign posters and tweet the picture to members of Congress:
- “Investing in the principal = investing in student success.”
- “School leaders need support, too.”
- “25% of student achievement results from my leadership.”
- “You can’t have a great school without a great leader.”
We all know how important the principalship is. Let’s work to make sure our principals are the best they can be.