May 17, 2016(1)

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

AASA Supports the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act

Tomorrow, the House Education and the Workforce Committee will mark up the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act, to reauthorize what is now the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. This bill will improve the nutrition standards by requiring a study of any regulations taking into account their impact on cost, participation and nutrition of students to ensure that the standards do not increase the cost of a meal past the federal reimbursement rate and do not cause students who would otherwise eat at school to eat elsewhere. The bill also includes a 3 cent per meal increase for breakfast reimbursement and changes the review period from every three years to every five years, cutting down on administrative time. 

AASA does have three concerns with the bill. As with the Senate bill, it increases the required verification of free and reduced price lunch eligibility, it raises the threshold for the Community Eligibility Provision from 40 percent to 60 percent, and it includes a pilot program that would essentially block grant school nutrition funding for three states while exempting them from all federal mandates. We will work with the committee and the Senate to ensure a final bill best allows districts to run their nutrition programs effectively and efficiently. 

Our letter of support is available here

May 17, 2016

(RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS, GUEST BLOGS) Permanent link

Guest Blog Post: Don’t Be Tricked by the Reading Paradox

Today's guest blog post comes from Lisa Hansel and Robert Pondiscio of Knowledge Matters

A paradox lies at the heart of efforts to raise reading achievement: If elementary schools make more time for explicit reading instruction by taking time away from science, social studies, and the arts, they are more likely to slow children’s growth in reading comprehension than to increase it. This slowing might not be apparent right away; it might not be apparent in the elementary grades at all. But in later grades—when students are expected to read historical speeches or science textbooks or biographies of artists—they will struggle. 

Reading comprehension is not a “skill” like riding a bike or throwing a ball. The ability to make meaning from text is best thought of as a reflection of a child’s overall education. You need to know a little bit about the subject matter—and sometimes a lot—to make sense of what you’re reading about. Thus, broad reading comprehension depends on a broad education, rich in science, social studies, and the arts—not just reading.

At its heart, the reading achievement gap is an opportunity gap. Think of knowledge and vocabulary like compound interest: If one kindergartner comes to school having heard 30 million more words than a less-fortunate peer, the “interest” on her knowledge and vocabulary allows her to grow richer still; the child with less academic knowledge and vocabulary falls further behind day after day. Low-income children are equally capable of learning as their more-fortunate peers, but have far fewer opportunities to be immersed in academic subject matter and enrichment. 

As Nell K. Duke, one of the nation’s top reading researchers, and Meghan Block wrote in The Future of Children: “Perhaps the greatest obstacle to improving primary-grade reading is a short-term orientation toward instruction and instructional reform. When the aim is to show reading improvements in a short period of time, spending large amounts of time on word-reading skill and its foundations, and relatively little on comprehension, vocabulary, and conceptual and content knowledge, makes sense…. Yet the long-term consequences of failing to attend to these areas cannot be overstated.”

District leaders must do everything in their power to ensure all children, but particularly those in low socioeconomic status families, benefit from a knowledge-rich curriculum from the earliest possible moment. They must not be tricked by the reading paradox.

Lisa Hansel is director of Knowledge Matters, a new campaign to restore wonder and excitement to the classroom by building broad knowledge in science, social studies, and the arts. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine of education research and ideas published by the American Federation of Teachers. Robert Pondiscio is executive director of Knowledge Matters and also senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Previously, he was a 5th grade teacher at a South Bronx public school.

May 16, 2016

 Permanent link

AASA Comments on Proposed Reg on Significant Disproportionality

Thank you to the many superintendents and school leaders who have commented on this important proposed regulation by the U.S. Department of Education. Click here to read the comments AASA submitted today in response to the NPRM.

May 13, 2016

(WELL-BEING) Permanent link

U.S. Departments of Education and Justice Release Joint Guidance to Help Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students

Today, The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to help provide educators the information they need to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.

The press release from USED states the following:

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status. The guidance makes clear that both federal agencies treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX. 

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “This guidance further clarifies what we’ve said repeatedly – that gender identity is protected under Title IX. Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law. We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

You can continue reading the full press release here.

In short, the guidance also explains schools' obligations to:

  • Respond promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students, including harassment based on a student's actual or perceived gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition;
  • Treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their school records or identification documents indicate a different sex;
  • Allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and access sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity; and
  • Protect students' privacy related to their transgender status under Title IX and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Please review the following resources provided by the departments to help ensure that all students can enjoy a safe and discrimination-free environment in school:

 

 

May 5, 2016

(IDEA) Permanent link

AASA Call to Action: Comment on Proposed IDEA Regs

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed new regulations on how states and districts will calculate significant disproportionality under IDEA. Their proposal will result in a significant increase in the number of districts that must set-aside 15% of IDEA Part B funds to address significant racial and ethnic disproportionality of special education students. Based on the Department’s projections 23 states will require between 50-80% of all districts to set-aside 15% of their federal share for early intervening services to remedy significant racial and ethnic disproportionality in at least one disability, educational environment or discipline category. Nationally, a minimum of $550 million dollars will be redirected to early intervening services.

While we acknowledge that racial and ethnic is disproportionality is an important and complex problem for districts to address, AASA has very substantive concerns with the Department’s proposal and how districts may be inappropriately identified as having significant disproportionality. As school leaders responsible for compliance with IDEA we urge you to take action on these regulations right away. The deadline to submit comments is May 16th. Submitting the comments directly is super easy—simply complete the form here. Below is a summary of the parts of the proposed regulations we support and oppose, so you have a better understanding of the issues.  

Our concerns with the proposed regulations are as follows: 

  • If States must adopt a more rigorous methodology for measuring significant disproportionality, then States must also have greater flexibility in exempting districts from setting aside Part B funds to address this issue. Specifically, very small districts, districts with specialized schools, districts with highly regarded programs for students with disabilities in states with popular open-enrollment policies, districts with high numbers of students in foster care, districts recovering from an environmental or health disaster and districts with very low rates of special education identification, restrictive placements or exclusionary discipline for all students should not be automatically required to set-aside funding.  
  • The Department should not expand the data collection around significant disproportionality to track the placement rates of students who spend between 40-80% of their time in the general education classroom. Reporting on whether a child spends 65 percent versus 80 percent of his time in a general education classroom says nothing about the severity of his disability, the classroom supports he receives, or the quality of services he may obtain in that setting. 
  • A mandatory “n” size of ten may result in many small districts being identified for significant disproportionality. There is no data suggesting ten is the right number or an appropriate one. There is no federal “n” size in ESSA or any other federal education law. States are best positioned to set the “n” size.
  • A requirement that significant disproportionality be examined and addressed for students with autism or other health impairments is highly inappropriate given that it is rare that a district diagnoses a student as having one of these disabilities. 

There are aspects of the proposed regulations we do support: 

  • We support allowing early intervening services like RTI/MTSS to be used on students with disabilities as well as students not yet identified as disabled. 
  • We support requiring states to relying on 3 years of data before deciding a district must address significant disproportionality.  
  • We support allowing States to exempt districts that show reasonable progress in addressing significant disproportionality from setting aside more funds.  

Please take a few minutes to comment on these critical changes to IDEA’s significant disproportionality calculations. To comment directly, go to: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/03/02/2016-03938/assistance-to-states-for-the-education-of-children-with-disabilities-preschool-grants-for-children#open-comment and complete the form.