Looking Back and Forward

With the school year drawing to a close, I thought it appropriate to look back at key happenings in education policy from the past year while also looking forward to what I see as the most critical time for K–12 education.

When I began writing these columns last fall, the U.S. Congress was working on updates to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. Several months later, there have been no changes on that front, and with congressional elections this fall, change is not likely in the near future.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has granted over 40 states flexibility from certain provisions of ESEA through waivers, but concern is growing about whether states are being held responsible for the learning outcomes of low-income students and students of color, particularly around high school graduation rates.

Other federal activity around education includes President Obama’s goal of providing 99% of America’s students with high-speed broadband in their schools and libraries within the next five years. In February, the Federal Communications Commission made a down payment toward that goal by announcing that it would double its investment in high-speed broadband to $2 billion to connect more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students over the next two years. I believe high-speed broadband can close an educational digital divide by providing all students with a rich, personalized educational experience.

Looking ahead, the next several months are critical for education as many states will have to make “go” or “no-go” decisions on implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The first question is whether participating states will move forward with the 2014–2015 administration of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessments, which are aligned with the CCSS. Field testing begins this year; full-scale administration will follow. Some states have opted out; others feel the political pressure building.

Dropping out seems to buy only temporary relief, as abandoning states grapple with the question of what replaces the consortia—and at what cost? Other key decisions include how assessments will be used for accountability, including teacher evaluations. And will state legislators provide comprehensive professional development that the CCSS require for teachers to be truly effective?

Every state legislature must also make decisions about funding. Cuts to education funding when teachers and students are being asked to do more should be avoided.

Another key issue will be how to encourage and fund new education technologies. Almost everyone recognizes the need for using various technologies, but creating a climate for effective planning and implementation often requires legislative action.

Other key policy issues will quickly arise, such as whether to move to competency-based advancement and how to ensure accountability and transparency in respect to how data will be collected, stored, and used to protect student privacy.

Will policymakers make the tough decisions that aggressively implement these standards? Or will they overtly abandon them?

It’s important for you to listen to what your governors and state legislators are saying about the CCSS, education technology, and other key education issues. What they say—and do—over the next few months will likely have an impact that will last well beyond legislators’ terms of office.

Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington, D.C.  alliance@all4ed.org

This article was published in AMLE Magazine, May 2014.