July 26, 2016

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ED issues new guidance re students with ADHD

Today, the U.S. Department of Education released a new guidance document clarifying the obligation of districts to ensure students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are appropriately identified under Section 504. In the press release, ED stated that over the last five years, OCR has received more than 16,000 complaints that allege discrimination on the basis of disability in elementary and secondary education programs, and more than 10 percent involve allegations of discrimination against students with ADHD. 

The majority of the complaints revolve around concerns that students are not timely or appropriately evaluated for or provided services for ADHD even if there are known academic or behavioral difficulties.  

The guidance: 

  • States that OCR will presume unless there is evidence to the contrary, that a student with a diagnosis of ADHD needs a 504 plan at a minimum. 
  • Specifies that even if a student is taking medication, the school district cannot consider any ameliorative effects of that medication or any other mitigating measures, when evaluating whether the student needs a 504 plan.
  • Discusses the obligation to provide services based on students’ specific needs and not based on generalizations about disabilities, or ADHD, in particular. For example, the guidance makes clear that schools must not rely on the generalization that students who perform well academically cannot also be substantially limited in major life activities, such as reading, learning, writing and thinking; and that such a student can, in fact, be a person with a disability.
  • Clarifies that students who experience behavioral challenges, or present as unfocused or distractible, could have ADHD and may need an evaluation to determine their educational needs.
  •  Reminds schools that they must provide parents and guardians with due process and allow them to appeal decisions regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of students with disabilities, including students with ADHD.

ED also released a document for parents explaining their rights, which can be accessed here

July 19, 2016

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Legislative Advocacy Conference from a First-Timer's Perspective

I am Deanna Atkins, AASA’s advocacy and communications specialist. In this role, I split my time between the communications and advocacy departments, and I was on site for last week’s legislative advocacy conference. As I expand my work with the policy and advocacy team, I shadowed a handful of superintendents as they lobbied on Capitol Hill as part of the conference, to share their perspectives and round out our coverage of the event.

While my task at hand was to tag along with superintendents who are new to the conference, it’s also important to note that this was my first Legislative Advocacy Conference as well – and I could not have dreamed up a better time.

Being among 200 school system leaders who traveled from all across the country to the nation’s capital all to be a part of three jam-packed days of panel discussions, meetings on Capitol Hill, and presentations from members of Congress was an empowering feeling – and it’s no wonder why the agenda included a few receptions. They were well deserved by all!

The conference took place July 12-14 at the Marriott Metro Center in Washington, D.C. Presented in partnership by AASA and the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), and sponsored by AXA, the conference was highly regarded among both veteran and first-time attendees. 

“The conference [met] my expectations and being able to meet several colleagues from across the nation was a highlight,” said Randy Russell, superintendent, Freeman School District 358 (Wash.) and AASA Governing Board member. “You can always learn from others and perspective is an important piece when thinking about how our issues in Washington compare with the issues across the U.S.”

While Day No. 1 of the conference was filled with panel discussions on hot topics from ESSA implementation to Perkins & Career Technical Education, Day No. 2 truly asked the most of attendees as they planned ahead to meet with their Congressional delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to discuss their respective districts' needs and priorities.

Conference rookie Alicia Henderson, superintendent, Bellevue Union School District (Calif.), had not previously lobbied at the Hill, but she came prepared with three meetings scheduled – all of which she handled exceptionally well.

“Three meetings were a comfortable amount,” said Henderson. “The best meeting was my first meeting with Representative Mike Thompson. I appreciated being able to talk about my district with him because it felt like he really cared.”

“I also appreciated meeting in Senator Feinstein’s office because I liked having my colleagues there with me. Even though the three of us had just met, it was great to have a unified voice – we were all on the same page,” said Henderson.

When attending meetings on the Hill, many superintendents identified attendees in their states and agreed to meet with representatives as a group, instead of flying solo. In fact, a team of Michigan superintendents had 11 meetings on the Hill, which is a pretty incredible amount.

AASA Governing Board member and Superintendent of Westwood Community School District (Mich.) Sue Carnell also attended the conference for the first time and said the overall conference was “better than expected.”

With the highlight of conference being the Hill visits for Carnell, her advice to herself for next year is to “be a little more vocal. I mostly observed this time.”

Echoing that, superintendent Russell said, “The advice I would give to a first-time attendee is to connect and attend with someone - like Michelle and Frank - they were great mentors and really helped me maximize what the conference had to offer!”

“Next year will be another great opportunity to learn even more and be better connected with national issues and trends,” said Russell.

You can learn more about AASA’s Legislative Advocacy Conference and view materials shared during the conference here. I would also encourage you to check out the conference Storify, which highlights all of the dialogue that took place on Twitter. 

Lastly, a sincere "thank you" to all of the conference attendees who allowed me to be a part of their experiences. I look forward to seeing you all again next year!

July 19, 2016(1)


Of Appropriations, Advocacy Conference, and More

This blog post is a catch-all, including a few additional items related to last week's legislative advocacy conference as well as a few advocacy-related updates and items.

Appropriations: Last week, AASA joined the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) in sending a joint letter to the House Appropriations Committee as it considered its Labor/Health/Human Services/Education/Other (where education funding lies) funding proposal for FY17. Check out this chart for a side-by-side comparison of FY16 levels, the President's FY17 proposal, the Senate bill and the House bill. The joint letter calls on Congress to address the true long-term pressure impacting education investment, the funding caps. 

"We commend the sub-committee for their work to move an LHHS budget, acknowledge the education-related increases in the bill and recognize the budget pressures facing each appropriations sub-committee, we continue to emphasize the importance of eliminating the discretionary funding caps. Adequate investment in education is at the foundation of our nation’s economic viability and the current caps significantly hamper the ability of Congress to invest in education."

Advocacy Conference: In an update to the blog post from last week, here is the full set of advocacy conference materials, including power point presentations, talking points AND the feedback form. 

Environmental Protection Agency Takes Action on PCB Regulations (Impacting School Districts, Opportunity to Participate in July 28 meeting): The EPA is circling back to an earlier proposal, from 2013, related to the removal of PCBs (a known carcinogen) from public buildings. In this newest iteration, they are expected to relay that they are narrowing the focus to public schools and day care facilities. The meeting is set for 2 pm ET on July 28 and will be open to your participation via webinar. You can read the invitation letter hereThis blog post will be updated when the enrollment information is available

  • Background: In 2013, the EPA started an effort aimed at reducing the presence of PCBs (a known carcinogen) from public buildings. This would include public schools. AASA collaborated with ASBO and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to respond to the proposal, which was sensitive to balancing the critical responsibility of environmental safety for students and staff with the fiscal implications of removal timelines. This effort is emerging with renewed focus this month, and will narrow its requirements for removing PCBs to only public schools. Talking points:
    • School administrators, school board members, and school business officials remain steadfast in their commitments to providing the students they serve with an excellent education in a safe learning environment, which includes removing potentially harmful environmental factors (like PCBs).  
    • With any federal policy or regulation, the success of the end goal—in this case, elimination of light ballasts with PCBs—depends as much on the policy itself as it does in recognizing the importance of state and local leadership as well as the unintended consequences, costs, and burdens that may come with the policy or regulation.
    • Current regulations (the “lamps rule” through the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE]) have implications for the phasing out/removal of PCB-bearing light ballasts. Given that this rule is already accelerating the removal of old fluorescent light ballasts (FLBs) nationwide, and the compelling data from our comprehensive national data, we question the need for further regulation from the EPA.
    • While we appreciate EPA being diligent in bringing in state and local governance groups in an effort to grow support for providing state and local funding to help offset the costs associated with this redundant regulation, the reality is two-fold: this pressure has been in place for years and few states have acted proactively to provide support to eliminate PCBs. Also, explicit to schools, 31 states are currently spending less per pupil than they did in 2010. This push for funding for PCBs would be at the direct expense of making state education budgets barely break even with levels more than six years ago.

ESSA Call to Action: Earlier this summer, USED released their proposed regulation for the accountability and state plans provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). These regulations, once final, will guide the implementation of the ESSA accountability provision. Now is the time to weigh in, to provide feedback for USED to consider as they review and revise the proposal into its final form. AASA reviewed the proposed regulation and  shared our summary and analysis last month. This call to action is designed to support our members in their work to respond to this proposal. AASA has drafted a template response for you to use as part of our Call to Action. All responses must be submitted by August 1. Full details are available on the blog.


July 19, 2016


Moving Beyond Pilot Phase: District Conditions for Scaling Personalized Learning

Today's guest blog post comes from Matt Williams, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy at KnowledgeWorks and features their latest report, District Conditions for Scale.

KnowledgeWorks is a social enterprise focused on ensuring that every student experiences meaningful personalized learning that allows him or her to thrive in college, career and civic life. By offering a portfolio of innovative education approaches and advancing aligned policies, KnowledgeWorks seeks to activate and develop the capacity of communities and educators to build and sustain vibrant learning ecosystems that allow each student to thrive.

The District Conditions for Scale were constructed upon the hard won lessons of district level trailblazers from across the country. These district leaders piloted, assessed, recalibrated, and scaled without an instruction manual. KnowledgeWorks interviewed over 30 district leaders from across the country in an effort to refine, align, and validate the conditions against what is working in the field. The conditions and the cross cutting meta-themes provide a framework for district leaders to scale personalized learning.

Personalized learning is stuck in the school pilot phase. There are countless examples of personalized learning environments and schools from coast to coast. We have all seen that great school and the world of possibilities it offers for the students that attend the school. But how do we move from the isolated examples to whole systems designed around providing personalized learning options for all students? How do we build a school system, a learning system, with personalized learning at the core?

One important step in this work is to identify the conditions of scale that exist at a district level. KnowledgeWorks released District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning. The report focuses on the conditions that a K-12 school district should put in place to support the scaling of personalized learning. The conditions that we put forth and examine are based on interviews with district leaders from across the country that are leading system level change around personalized learning. 

One might ask why focus on scaling personalized learning at the district level? First, the district level is closest to the schools and thus the students as well as to the educators. Moreover, the district level has the most control over system vision, curriculum, and instruction, as well as formative assessment and student supports. Secondly, by solving for scale at the district level we gain a clearer vision for what supportive and catalytic policy can look like at both the state and federal level creating a better aligned, more supportive education system that is oriented towards putting the student at the center of the system. 

The conditions themselves aren’t rocket science or even unfamiliar ranging from curriculum to instruction, from student supports to professional development, from learning environments to leadership development. What gives the conditions their power is a predisposed drive towards personalized learning as well as cross cutting meta-themes. Several meta-themes emerged as the interviewees discussed their experiences: 

Vision: Included in all comments from district leaders, directly or indirectly, was the idea of an aligned vision. All parts of a district should be aligned to the vision, including professional development, the selection of curriculum and instructional practices, and the process of innovation. While it was assumed that the vision would include student achievement, district leaders focused on the general idea of having a vision rather than the specifics of their districts’ visions.

Culture: The shared vision of a district clearly informs the system culture that a district will establish. For many of the district leaders, a key element of culture is expectations around innovation. Many of the districts were forced to make changes with no additional, or in some cases decreased, resources and money. As a result, innovative thinking is an expectation at all levels, including in partnerships, and especially encouraged at the school level. District leaders emphasized the importance of continuous improvement and fixing problems immediately.

Transparency: Resulting from the notion that members of the education community must feel safe to make mistakes, transparency was another overarching theme of interviews with district leaders. Districts need to be transparent to the board, unions, parents, partners, and the public. 

The District Conditions were constructed upon the hard won lessons of district level trailblazers from across the country. These district leaders piloted, assessed, recalibrated, and scaled without an instruction manual. It is our hope that these conditions begin to help districts from across the country implement a more aligned, supportive education system that is oriented towards putting the student at the center of the system through an expressed focus on personalized learning. 

July 13 2016

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AASA Call to Action: ESSA Accountability

Earlier this summer, USED released their proposed regulation for the accountability and state plans provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). These regulations, once final, will guide the implementation of the ESSA accountability provision. Now is the time to weigh in, to provide feedback for USED to consider as they review and revise the proposal into its final form.

AASA reviewed the proposed regulation and  shared our summary and analysis last month. This call to action is designed to support our members in their work to respond to this proposal. 

CALL TO ACTION: Your voice matters. Please take the time to personalize the template form. Insert you district letterhead, and follow the prompts (in italics) in the template for types of information to share to personalize the response. Feel free to add on or remove content based on your read of the regulations and our analysis. The important thing is that you weigh in. All comments must be filed by August 1, 2016. 

  1. Access AASA’s template response.
  2. Personalize the draft letter as appropriate, including district/association letterhead.
  3. Save the form.
  4. Submit the form. You cab submit it through the regulations.gov online portal OR you can email it to Noelle to file for you. In your email to Noelle, sent no later than Thursday July 28, please use the subject line ‘File ESSA Comments’ and list your name, title, district/association, street address and email address.



July 12, 2016


Legislative Advocacy Conference Materials

Our legislative advocacy conference is now in full swing! To those of you joining us, it is great having you here! We are excited to send you all to the Hill tomorrow. The resources we have shared are all available here:

Advocacy Update Slideshow

Talking points:

After your meetings on the Hill, be sure to let us know how they went and give us any feedback on the conference here: http://goo.gl/forms/PKps6rs1w7KxUUh52 and be sure to tweet out pictures and stories using #AASAAdv.

We hope you have a great day on the Hill. If you have any questions or want some company, please be sure to call/email/find us!

 If you are not able to join us this year, I hope you consider coming next year – we’re having a great time!

July 6, 2016

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AASA Supports House Bipartisan Perkins Reauthorization

Yesterday, AASA submitted a letter to the House Education and Workforce Committee on their legislation to reauthorize the Perkins CTE Act. You can read the letter here.

June 29, 2016

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House Introduces Bipartisan CTE Reauth Bill


Yesterday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee released the "Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act," a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. You can read the bill here: http://edworkforce.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Strengthening_Career_and_Technical_Education_for_the_21st_Century_Act.pdf 

The House Education Committee is expected to mark-up the bill very soon, and there’s a small chance the bill will move to the floor prior to the August recess. The Senate HELP Committee has not yet introduced a bill to reauthorize Perkins.

There is much to like in the bipartisan bill and many ideas that AASA pushed for inclusion in the reauthorization have been incorporated. Chief among them is the major complaint by school leaders about the onerous administrative requirements for Perkins funding, particularly given the low levels of federal funding for Perkins. The House bill addresses the paperwork burden by allowing districts to fill out a simple, easy-to-complete local application. This is a radical departure from current law and will ensure that no district turns down Perkins funding because the associated paperwork does not justify the award amount.

AASA knows every district with high-quality CTE programs is continuously engaging with both higher education and business/industry partners. We are so pleased to see that as part of the development of a local plan, districts would conduct a needs assessment (an idea suggested by AASA) on a biennial basis that provides business/industry and higher education partners, as well as other key stakeholders, an opportunity to provide input into the local plan to ensure the district is directing its limited resources towards relevant, well-aligned programs of study. In addition, the bill ensures districts have access to, and take into consideration, critical labor market information that will detail current, intermediate, or long-term labor market projections when determining whether to maintain, develop or eliminate programs of study

The House bill also streamlines the accountability system in Perkins and aligns performance measures with those set by each state under ESSA. Districts must report on CTE graduation rates, post-secondary outcomes, and academic proficiency, but States have the discretion to choose another factor, such as the attainment rate of an industry recognized credential, the rate of dual-enrollment or the rate of students participating in work-based learning, that they can use as a fourth indicator. This flexibility ensures that States can use a metric that prioritizes their state policy and investments in CTE and aligns with what they may already require districts to track and report.  Moreover, the accountability system only focuses on the performance of those students who are CTE concentrators, defined as students who have completed three or more CTE courses or who have completed at least two courses in a single CTE program of study.  While we are disappointed to see the continuation of the non-traditional measure in the accountability system, AASA is pleased that this measure only requires districts to focus on the participation of non-traditional students in CTE, rather than participation and completion.

In light of what we have seen with the use of NCLB waivers and the current implementation efforts in ESSA, AASA remains vigilantly opposed to federal legislation that would enhance or maintain the role of the Secretary in determining or adjusting State accountability systems. The strong prohibitions that are added to the bill will prevent the Secretary from much over-reaching, and AASA is committed to working with the Committee to strengthen the limitations placed on the Secretary. Of importance to school leaders is that the bill does repeal the requirement in current law that States must negotiate their targeted levels of performance with the Secretary, which frees States to set more reasonable targets for accountability. It also requires that when the State sets new performance targets, they discuss these proposed targets with school superintendents, teachers, workforce development boards and other key stakeholders.  The House bill also prevents the Secretary from withholding funds from a State that does not meet certain performance targets and empowers State leaders to develop an improvement plan that works best for the needs and circumstances in their States. Even more importantly, at the local level, LEA improvement plans are developed by the LEA with limited input from state leaders, and state leaders are discouraged from requiring districts to redirect limited resources towards improving specific indicators.