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Civic Duty

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My mother taught me that there are two topics that one always stays away from when in polite society – religion and politics.  This week, I am writing not about politics, but about civic duty.

I have been spending a lot of time in airports recently, and have overheard several conversations that go like this:  “Why bother to even vote?  Nothing that I can do will really have any impact on the decisions that government makes.”  Or, “It doesn’t really matter who’s in the White House; they can’t change what’s happening in my job (neighborhood, school, etc.)”

While I am not one to express my political views, I strongly believe that we are privileged to live in a society where we have the opportunity to have a voice in who runs our government, and it is a responsibility to vote.  For whom is each of our own business.

Tonight is, of course, the first of the Presidential debates, focusing on domestic issues that will supposedly include health care and the economy.  The debates, and subsequent election, are on my mind in part because I just finished a series of four presentations as part of the internal ‘selling’ of research projects to win dollars to fund them, inside Pearson.  This was one of the responsibilities that I agreed to fulfill in coming to NNSTOY.

Those presentations included a lengthy historical overview of the Federal and State policy landscapes as related to educator effectiveness.  In working in this arena for the past eight or more years, I was actively engaged in understanding what was happening legislatively, and in terms of mandates, that impacts what we do in the classroom.  To stand back now and put together this historical overview for others less immersed in it was eye-opening for me.

One of the things that struck me hard was the tremendous impact on state policy of Federal education policies over the past eight years.  With No Child Left Behind (NCLB), in order to accept Federal education dollars – which are badly needed in most states – states had to agree to take steps to enact a number of, what proved to be in many cases, new policies and commitments.  These included:

–        Teacher quality – teachers must hold appropriate certificates and endorsements to teach content they are assigned (bachelor’s degree, full state certification, demonstrated subject-matter expertise)

–        Equitable distribution – highly qualified teachers must be equitably distributed  (ensure poor and minority students have equal access to experienced and qualified teachers)

–        Show gains annually in percentage of students meeting proficiency standards in math and reading with the goal of 100% proficiency by 2014 (we will not meet this standard in most states, leading to a new Federal program, waivers)

–        Develop longitudinal data systems to track students and teachers

–        Develop high quality standards for teaching and learning

–        Required assessments of students in reading and math grades 3-8 and once in high school

In order to accept Federal dollars, states scrambled to put programs in place to meet these requirements.

With our current administration, we saw competitions for Federal dollars through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and programs like Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the Investing in Innovation program, and others.  In this instance, in order to be competitive, states had to align their state policies with certain Federal requirements, including, for Race to the Top (the two general rounds for states):

–        Educator effectiveness:  highly qualified teachers must demonstrate that they are effective in working in classrooms

–        Equitable distribution:  focus on most talented teachers being equitably distributed (ensure most talented teachers are placed in schools and subjects where they are needed most)

–        Implement statewide longitudinal data system; use data to inform decisions and improve instruction

–        Common core standards across states

–        Assessments that measure college and career readiness based on common core (funding for consortia – PARCC and Smarter Balanced awarded)

 

States were awarded point values based on having these programs in place; while they were not required, it was difficult to win without them. So, states began to pass legislation and modify policy to increase likelihood of winning.  Key changes include:

–        Alternative certification – opening new routes to certification

–        Educator evaluation

  • Ways of measuring, including use of student test scores
  • Use of evaluation results for tiered certification and/or compensation and tenure

–        Teacher compensation

  • Pay for performance systems

–        Equitable distribution

–        Tenure:  moving from advancement based on years of service to performance-based advancement (and salary increases)

 

Whether states won RTTT dollars or not, state legislation passed must now be implemented.  Take a look at the two graphics below to see the impact on state policy of Federal education programs.

Source:  Potemski,

Brennan-Gac, Kershaw  2010

 

You can see that the majority of states did pass legislation to comply with Federal education grant stipulations.  And now have to implement the legislation that they passed, Federal dollars or no.

So, I get a little annoyed when I hear people state that they are not going to vote because what the Federal government does really has little impact on their work or personal lives, and they have no say in it anyway.

Whichever candidate wins this election, his education policy is likely to have a significant impact on the education policies in the states.  And, that will impact what happens in districts and classrooms.  I would encourage all of us to be students of the education policies of both candidates, and consider them in making our choices about which to vote for; and, to vote period.




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