Leadership in focus at annual AASA conference

eSchool News honored the 10 winners of its 2010 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards.
Education leaders from coast to coast gathered in Phoenix last month for the American Association of School Administrators' annual conference.

Educational leadership was the focus of the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education in Phoenix last month.

One outstanding leader, Harlem Children’s Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada, provided a sobering wake-up call for U.S. policy makers, while another, National Superintendent of the Year winner Elizabeth Morgan, discussed the keys to her district’s success.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for a change in how the nation’s school superintendents are prepared, saying their training should be more relevant to the challenges they’ll face in their jobs every day.…Read More

Obama administration seeks converts to education plan

Facing intense resistance from teachers’ unions, the Obama administration has begun trying to persuade union leaders, teachers, and the public that its proposals for overhauling federal education policies are good for teachers and for public schools, reports the New York Times. In remarks prepared for delivery to Congress on March 17, Education Secretary Arne Duncan argued that the proposed policies would elevate the teaching profession by encouraging better tests, by ending the demoralizing practice of mislabeling thousands of schools as failures, and by offering teachers opportunities for career growth. “We think there is a lot in our proposal that teachers will like,” Duncan says in the remarks. But union leaders were not easily convinced. In interviews, they said the administration’s proposal would continue what they called an overemphasis on standardized tests, impose federal mandates on issues traditionally handled in collective bargaining, and probably lead to mass firings of teachers in low-performing schools. Duncan says the administration is requesting $3.9 billion, an increase of $350 million, to strengthen the teaching profession. He says the administration’s plan would encourage states and school districts to develop better teacher evaluation systems, better teacher education programs, and more effective career advancement systems. But still reverberating through the debate was the decision last month by a Rhode Island school board, following the administration’s recommendations, to fire all 93 teachers at the local high school, a move both Duncan and President Obama endorsed…

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Groups make renewed push for student loan reform

Some Senate Democrats haven't committed support for SAFRA.
Some Senate Democrats haven't committed support for SAFRA.

Higher education and K-12 activist groups have stepped up their support in recent days for President Obama’s student lending reform legislation, which has stalled in the U.S. Senate while high-ranking Democrats consider passing the reform package with a simple majority vote.

Days after one of Obama’s signature proposals was said to be in trouble on Capitol Hill, reform advocates were energized March 12 by news that Democrats could pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) alongside health care legislation through a process known as reconciliation, which doesn’t require 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate.

The student lending overhaul—pushed in recent weeks by Education Secretary Arne Duncan—would allow the federal government to lend money directly to students, instead of having students go through commercial lenders. Duncan said SAFRA would save taxpayers $87 billion over 10 years by doing away with subsidies to private lending companies, who then tack on interest to student loan payments.…Read More

Ed officials to step up civil-rights enforcement

The federal Education Department plans to intensify its civil-rights enforcement efforts in schools around the country, including a deeper look at issues ranging from programs for immigrant students learning English to equal access to college preparatory courses, reports the Associated Press. Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to outline the department’s plans in a speech delivered March 8 in Alabama to commemorate the 45th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” in which several hundred civil-rights protesters were beaten by state troopers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge during a voting rights march in 1965. “For us, this is very much about working to meet the president’s goal that by 2020, we will regain our status in the world as the No. 1 producer of college graduates,” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights. The department is expecting to conduct 38 compliance reviews around 40 different issues this year, Ali said. In his prepared remarks, Duncan highlights several jarring inequities: At the end of high school, white students are about six times more likely to be college-ready in biology than black students, and more than four times as likely to be prepared for college algebra…

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Duncan to publishers: Create engaging digital content

'We need to make school more relevant and engaging,' Duncan told education publishers.
'We need to make school more relevant and engaging,' Duncan told education publishers.

The federal government’s investment in education technology is an opportunity for the publishing industry, which must respond by creating more engaging content that is relevant for today’s tech-savvy students, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Speaking before the Association of American Publishers on March 4, Duncan said most young people can’t remember a time without the internet.

“But right now,” he said, “many students’ learning experiences in school don’t match the reality outside of school. We need to bridge this gap. We need to make school more relevant and engaging. We must make the on-demand, personalized tech applications that are part of students’ daily lives a more strategic part of their academic lives.”…Read More

Plan to stem dropout rate stirs controversy

Only about 70 percent of high school freshmen go on to graduate, the White House says.
Only about 70 percent of high school freshmen go on to graduate, the White House says.

The Obama administration is offering a $900 million carrot to the nation’s school systems to tackle what many view as an abysmal dropout rate that threatens America’s ability to compete in the new global economy. But it’s the “stick” portion of the administration’s plan that has rankled many educators.

Districts would get the money only if they agree to one of four plans to dramatically change or even shut down their worst performing schools. One of these plans involves firing the principal and at least half of the staff members at a struggling school—a turnaround plan that captured national attention when it was tried by the Central Falls, R.I., school system last week.

President Obama took aim at the nation’s school dropout epidemic in a March 1 speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. During the event—which was sponsored by the America’s Promise Alliance, a youth-oriented organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma—Obama noted the economic impact that dropouts have on America’s ability to compete.…Read More

Duncan pushes back against private lenders

Duncan said he has "a lot of confidence in the Senate leadership to step up" and pass the direct lending bill.
Duncan said he has "a lot of confidence in the Senate leadership to step up" and pass the direct lending bill.

Responding to private lenders’ lobbying efforts against White House plans for direct federal loans, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Feb. 17 that he trusts the U.S. Senate will pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) and “end this boondoggle for banks.”

Five months after the U.S. House of Representatives passed SAFRA, senators have not voted on the bill, while private lending companies have organized town-hall style meetings and aired television ads opposing the bill in several states.

In an afternoon conference call with reporters on Feb. 17, Duncan emphasized that there isn’t a “drop dead date” for passage of the direct lending legislation, and he promised that education officials are “in this for the long haul.”…Read More

Duncan offers ‘guiding principles’ for rewriting NCLB

“We should be tight on standards … but loose about how to get there,” Duncan said.
“We should be tight on standards … but loose about how to get there,” Duncan said.

Calling No Child Left Behind a “blunt instrument” that placed more emphasis on defining failure than encouraging success, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Feb. 12 outlined the Obama administration’s vision for rewriting the nation’s education law.

Speaking to school superintendents during the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education, Duncan identified three principles that will guide the administration’s approach toward rewriting NCLB: (1) higher standards, (2) rewarding excellence, and (3) a “smarter, tighter federal role” in ensuring that all students succeed.

“I’ll always give credit to NCLB for exposing achievement gaps and advancing standards-based reform. But better than anyone, you know [the law’s] shortcomings,” Duncan told the assembled education leaders. “NCLB allows, even encourages, states to lower their standards. In too many classrooms, it encourages teachers to narrow the curriculum. It relies too much on bubble tests in a couple of subjects. It mislabels schools, even when they are showing progress on important measures.”…Read More

Duncan: Superintendent prep programs must change

Even more than theory, superintendents need hands-on vocational training, Sec. Duncan said.
Superintendents need hands-on vocational training, Sec. Duncan said.

States and school systems, with the help of the federal government, must work harder to improve the way superintendents are trained and prepared to lead the nation’s schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told attendees of the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference Feb. 12.

Duncan, himself a former superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, said policy makers should question whether the requirements in superintendent certification programs accurately reflect what we know about effective school district leadership.

“Successful superintendents don’t just need a Ph.D. in educational administration,” Duncan said. “Even more than educational theory, superintendents need hands-on vocational training. Superintendents require business skills, expertise in dealing with the media, the ability to negotiate with a variety of stakeholders, and a command of budgeting. Those skills are hard to acquire in a classroom.”…Read More

Education secretary pushes to revise student loan practices

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday urged the Senate to overhaul student lending, asserting that the banking industry has had “a free ride from taxpayers for too long” and that executives with lending giant Sallie Mae have enriched themselves as borrowers rack up college debt, reports the Washington Post.

“Working Americans pay while bankers get rich,” Duncan said in a prepared statement. “Sallie Mae executives have paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade while teachers, nurses, and scientists — the backbone of the new economy — face crushing debt because of runaway college tuition costs.”

Duncan’s unusually pointed critique marked an escalation in the student loan debate as the Obama administration seeks to end a program that uses private lenders as middlemen for federally backed loans. The tone of the comments echoed President Obama’s recent populist rhetoric about the need to expand regulation of Wall Street……Read More