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Federal Update: December 4, 2012
posted by: Tim | December 05, 2012, 12:27 AM   

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released a new state-by-state graduation rate report. The data details four-year high school graduation rates in 2010-11 – the first year for which all states used a common, rigorous measure. 

The varying methods formerly used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable. According to the Department of Education, the new common metric can be used by states, districts and schools to promote greater accountability and to develop strategies that will reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide.

While the new numbers may seem significantly more dismal, the new rigorous standards reflect a more accurate picture of each state's matriculation rate. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented, "Through this uniform method, states are raising the bar on data standards, and simply being more honest."

According to the data, states with the highest graduation rates were Iowa at 88%, and Wisconsin and Vermont at 87% respectively. Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas each had an 86% graduation rate. Conversely, Georgia ranks last with just 67% of students graduating.

The new rates are coming as a reality check to education advocates nationwide. "By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed," Duncan said in a statement Monday. "Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready."

Click here to view a breakdown of data by state.

Office for Civil Rights Releases Report on Education Equality

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released a report describing progress and activity over the last four years on civil rights, enforcement, and educational equity. The report describes how OCR has transformed its enforcement and educational equity, as well its approach to promote and advance education equity for all students.

The release also highlighted the OCR's work to support the equal rights of students to a safe school environment and to resources and programs they need in order to be prepared for college and careers. It discussed their work to revamp the Civil Rights Data Collection to provide educators and the public with a clearer picture of the "equity health" of schools. Lastly, it announced its plan to align its efforts with President Obama's goal of restoring this nation's position as a global leader in the proportion of college graduates by 2020, by improving educational equity and excellence.

"OCR's work over the last four years has moved us closer to equal access and opportunity for all students, no matter what their race, sex or disability status," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "The OCR team has accomplished a lot through its innovation and its passion for equity."

Click here to read the full report.

School Improvement Data Indicates Progress

Last week, the Department of Education released a preliminary report of student performance at schools that received federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) funding. These grants are part of the agency's efforts to specifically improve the nation's lowest performing schools.

While the data is not all inclusive, spanning only the 2009-2011 school years, it already shows improvements. Two-thirds of schools showed gains in reading, and two-thirds showed gains in math. Seventy percent of elementary schools showed gains in reading, and 70% showed gains in math. The greatest gains were recorded in small towns and rural communities.

"There's dramatic change happening in these schools, and in the long-term process of turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, one year of test scores only tells a small piece of the story," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "But what's clear already is that almost without exception, schools moving in the right direction have two things in common; a dynamic principal with a clear vision for establishing a culture of high expectations, and talented teachers who share that vision, with a relentless commitment to improving instruction."

Despite the positive correlation between SIG funding and improvements, it is impossible to establish a causal connection yet. However, the Institute of Education Science is conducting a long-term evaluation of the SIG program that will compare schools receiving SIG funding to similarly situated schools that did not receive SIG funds.

Professor Thomas Dee, at Stanford University, already found positive results in schools receiving SIG funding compared to similar schools that are not receiving funds.

Click here to read the full report.

Secretary Duncan Stresses Teacher Quality in Second Term Agenda

In a speech last week in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan continued to lay out his priorities for the next four years of the Obama administration. As one of the many high-profile cabinet members to stay on for another term, Secretary Duncan emphasized that he thinks teacher preparation is broken and that the best educators need to be teaching the highest-need children.

Duncan said he has an "ambitious" second-term agenda that includes holding the line on initiatives he started during his first four years. He cited specifically the tough road ahead for common standards, common tests, and teacher evaluations.

As for renewed areas of focus, Duncan wants to work on teacher and principal quality. He said teacher education programs are "part of the problem." Without getting specific, Duncan said there are a "number of things we plan to do," and said the department is looking at some sort of competitive initiative to foster innovation in schools of education. He continued, "We need to push very, very hard in schools of education."

Duncan also expressed concern that new educational efforts need to work "systemically" to identify the best teachers and principals then place them with the children with the highest needs. "We're not even in the game. We're not there yet," he said.

Lastly, Duncan also indicated that early education would get a renewed focus in his second term.
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