Duncan offers ‘guiding principles’ for rewriting NCLB

In rewarding excellence, the administration seeks to shift more federal funding over to competitive grant programs instead of formula-based grants. That’s a change that worries some AASA members.

“Formula-driven funding represents a dedicated funding stream that allows school districts to appropriately plan for and invest in innovation and reform,” said the organization in a Feb. 3 statement on the president’s budget proposal. “Our members are concerned that competitive grants will have a disproportionately negative impact on small and rural districts that do not have the capacity to prepare grant applications.”

Duncan addressed these concerns directly in his Feb. 12 speech, saying: “Now, while most money will stay in formula programs under the [proposed 2011] budget—Title I and IDEA are untouched—it is true that we are shifting toward more competitive grants in some areas. But we are going to administer competitions in ways that ensure a level playing field for rural districts.”

In programs such as Invest in Innovation (I3), he said, rural districts will have a competitive advantage. In other programs, “we will be looking at set-asides for rural areas and providing technical assistance to ensure small districts can successfully compete.”

He added: “Geographic location should not dictate results.”

Duncan also addressed concerns about using data to improve instruction and define teacher quality—a key focal point of the administration’s school-reform efforts.

“I have said repeatedly—and will repeat here—that we need to use multiple measures of student achievement, not just one test score, and that better data must inform classroom instruction,” he said. “I’m much more interested in student growth and gain than absolute test scores. I want every child being challenged, not just the small percentage around that proficiency cut score.”

It’s also important for superintendents to gather data on the climate and culture of their schools, Duncan said.

Calling parental trust in their children’s schools “a leading indicator” of performance, he encouraged superintendents to survey the parents in their district.

“See what they think about how schools in their district are performing,” he said. “And ask them what the schools in your district are doing to foster a college-going culture.”

Duncan also challenged superintendents to use technology to help deliver high-quality instruction to all students.

“The tremendous potential for high-quality distance learning has yet to be really tapped,” he said, noting that only about one in five rural schools now offers distance-learning courses through satellite, television, or the internet.

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Dennis Pierce

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