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States were working on a common set of education standards before the Obama administration decided to make adoption of them part of its Race to the Top competition. The prospect of winning federal money motivated some states to pass the standards, but the administration’s blessing might have turned others away, Stateline.org reports. Nine states and the District of Columbia were awarded Race to the Top education grants Aug. 24, ending the interstate competition. Nowhere was the competition among states more fierce than in their efforts to adopt a common academic curriculum known as the “Common Core” standards. So far, 36 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards. Many of them seemed motivated by the possibility that doing so would help their applications for the Race to the Top money. But even though advocates for the standards are encouraged by the enthusiasm with which state officials have bought into common standards, they also are wary of the political baggage that can come with an endorsement from the Obama administration. In 2005, the National Governors Association led an initiative to get states to use the same measures to calculate graduation rates. That initiative evolved into a broader effort over the past year, as education officials from 48 states—Alaska and Texas did not participate—worked on developing a new set of academic standards for K-12 schools in conjunction with the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Those quiet state-led efforts got tied up in national politics when the administration decided to use the standards as a criterion for Race to the Top. That has made it harder for state officials to convince conservative legislators or board of education members to sign off on the Common Core standards, some observers say……Read More
Academia might be a bastion of liberal thought, but in the past two years, the higher-education industry often has lined up opposite the White House and congressional Democrats—and has spent a lot on lobbyists in the process, reports the Washington Post. The most recent example is the resistance from for-profit colleges to the Obama administration’s proposal to raise standards for institutions receiving federal student aid. But traditional colleges and universities also have opposed Democratic initiatives. First there was President Obama’s plan to cap the charitable tax deduction for the wealthy, bringing their tax break closer to everyone else’s. The measure would have raised $318 billion over 10 years, but it died quickly on Capitol Hill. Charities were the most visible opponents, but universities also worried that it would reduce giving by wealthy donors: the American Council on Education (ACE), higher education’s main trade group, lobbied on the issue in 2009, records show. The next conflict was over the Democratic proposal to eliminate subsidies for student loan providers. The overhaul would provide billions of dollars in Pell grants for low-income students and billions more for colleges to improve graduation rates. But schools were ambivalent about cracking down on private lenders, with whom they had built close relationships over the years. And they were opposed to the strings that would come with the additional institutional funding: requirements that they provide more data on student outcomes and submit to more state oversight……Read More
With the Obama administration pouring billions of dollars into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money, reports the New York Times. A husband-and-wife team that has specialized in teaching communication skills but never led a single school overhaul is seeking contracts in Ohio and Virginia. A corporation that has run into trouble with parents or the authorities in several states in its charter school management business has now opened a school-turnaround subsidiary. Other companies seeking federal money include offshoots of textbook conglomerates and classroom technology vendors. Many of the new companies seem unprepared for the challenge of making over a public school, yet neither the federal government nor many state governments are organized to offer effective oversight, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. “Many of these companies clearly just smell the money,” Jennings said. The Obama administration has sharply increased federal financing for school turnarounds, to $3.5 billion this year, about 28 times as much as in 2007. Under federal rules, school districts can hire companies or nonprofits to help, and experts said a significant percentage—perhaps a majority—were likely to hire at least one outside contractor. Recognizing the risks facing school districts that sign contracts with untested groups, the American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit conservative policy group, issued a report last month urging that districts require performance guarantees, under which contractors failing to meet achievement targets would forfeit payments……Read More
The Obama administration on July 23 offered a series of proposals aimed at enhancing access to web sites for people with disabilities, Reuters reports. Most of the proposals are aimed primarily at improved access for the deaf and the blind. With the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, the Justice Department issued four proposals for public comment aimed at finding ways to keep up with advancing technologies so people with disabilities are not left behind. “Just as these quantum leaps can help all of us, they can also set us back—if regulations are not updated or compliance codes become too confusing to implement,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. However, the proposals could draw criticism from the business community, which already has a rocky relationship with the Obama administration over issues including new regulations on the financial industry. One key proposal focused on improving access for people with disabilities to the web sites of state and local governments, as well as the sites of private businesses such as restaurants and hotels. Noting that the internet has evolved substantially since the 1990 law went into effect, the department asked for comment on what resources are available to help those with disabilities access existing web sites, as well as what the costs would be for making them accessible……Read More