Category Archives: Federal Education Policy

If Trump’s Serious About Championing Women and Families, He Should Start by Supporting Home Visiting

In celebration of NAEYC’s “The Week of the Young Child” April 24 – 28, Bellwether looks at programs that improve the lives of young children.

Earlier this week, Ivanka Trump got boos and jeers in Berlin when she called President Trump a “champion for supporting families” and an “empowerer” of women. This has been her line since the campaign trail, often accompanied by a deeply flawed child care plan.

If Ivanka wants to start making those talking points a reality, and maybe even get cheers from the early childhood community, she should talk to her father about home visiting programs.

In these programs, pregnant women and families with young children at-risk of poverty or other factors receive regular at-home visits designed to encourage healthy parenting, support maternal health and child development, and connect families with other services. Home visiting is growing, but currently these programs reach only about 5 percent of the over 3 million American infants and toddlers living in poverty.

Supporting home visiting programs sounds like something everyone can agree on, right? So why are they missing from Trump’s budget proposal and Ivanka’s “women and children” speeches?

On one hand, it is hard to imagine President Trump supporting any program that was a cornerstone of Hillary Clinton’s campaign promises in early childhood, not to mention the fact that federal home visiting grants were originally created as part of the Affordable Care Act. On the other hand, with a solid evidence base across multiple program models and geographies, home visiting has garnered praise and support from both sides of the aisle in recent House hearings and Senate briefings, and it’s the kind of cost-efficient preventative program that can save money in the long term.

While home visiting programs like these have been around for decades, when the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting grant program (MIECHV) was established in 2010, it helped spread home visiting across the country. There are 18 home visiting models that meet federal evidence standards, and most of these allow for lots of variation, so home visiting programs can take many forms on the ground. Here are two examples:

  • Last summer, my Bellwether colleague Marnie Kaplan described the HIPPY program  after Hillary Clinton touted it. HIPPY focuses on preschool-aged children, and offers families training and materials to support early literacy and language development in weekly home visits.
  • Another highly-rated program is Healthy Families America (HFA), which primarily serves families with infants (birth to 12 months), and focuses on preventing child abuse and neglect by encouraging nurturing parent-child relationships. Home visitors screen for child development and family risk factors, teach families about child development, promote health and nutrition, and help parents develop positive knowledge, skills, and attitudes towards parenting.

Home visiting programs are not a replacement for more intensive early care and education programs, like Head Start, but they can provide important supports for families in a cost-efficient and flexible way. Part of the beauty of home visiting programs is that they are locally-run and administered, and are flexible to a variety of community contexts — for example, training home visitors within rural communities can create jobs, ensure community-responsive services, and reach more people than a single brick-and-mortar social services site.

While the Trump administration has been quiet on these programs so far, hopefully the combination of strong evidence, local control, and cost-efficiency could protect programs from looming budget cuts, or even see them grow in the future. If Trump commits support and resources for programs that work for children and families, that could be something to applaud.

We Need Real Education Transition Policies for Incarcerated Students

Last month, I gave testimony before the California Senate Education Committee on SB 304, a bill to define the required elements of an education transition plan for a student leaving a juvenile court school and returning to a community-based school. Current California law requires agencies to coordinate a transition plan but doesn’t specify what needs to be in that plan. Some jurisdictions have developed robust policies and practices supporting integrated service provision and continuous care, but many have not, leaving already marginalized students to fend for themselves when their education is disrupted.

The outcomes aren’t good: incarcerated ninth graders may eventually return to school in their communities but within a year of re-enrolling, an estimated two-thirds to three-fourths drop out. After four years, less than fifteen percent of them will complete high school. Aside from hurting these students’ lives and opportunities, this pattern destabilizes communities, creates a drag on our economy, and affects the outcomes for the next generation of young people.

This bill defines the elements of a transition plan, including the most basic expectations like a portfolio of documents that includes current transcripts and results of academic assessments. Conveniently, this bill aligns perfectly with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which now requires states to provide transition plans that assist students moving from correctional facilities to locally operated schools. Continue reading

Are Better Schools Enough to Advance STEM Learning? A Q&A With Ron Ottinger

Ron Ottinger, Director of STEM Next

Ron Ottinger, Director of STEM Next

I’ve long thought that the best way to get more kids into STEM fields is just to give them better schools. This way more Americans are in a position to make choices about their career paths and vocations. But there is obviously more to it than that, so I asked Ron Ottinger, champion of STEM learning and the Director of STEM Next, a few questions about changing the STEM status quo. (Interview edited for length and clarity).

Andy Rotherham: Why isn’t creating great schools so kids can make their own career and academic choices enough to advance STEM attainment in this country?

Ron Ottinger: There is just not enough time in the school day to actively engage students in STEM. Young people are only in the classroom for about 20 percent of their day and must shift from one subject to the next, without being able to fully immerse themselves in any one subject.

From my years of investing in helping build the field of STEM, spending 12 years on the San Diego City School Board and 10 as executive director of the Noyce Foundation, I have seen how high-quality afterschool and summer programs can support schools in improving students’ understanding of and interest in STEM.

Our studies at the Noyce Foundation and others show that consistent participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to increased interest, engagement, and persistence in STEM subjects, and that some afterschool programs have helped close the math achievement gap.

We now have new, large-scale research from The PEAR Institute at Harvard University and The Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis, and Policy at Texas Tech that involve nearly 1,600 youth across 11 states. The research shows increased interest in STEM careers and gains in important 21st century skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce — such as critical thinking and perseverance — as a result of participation in an afterschool STEM program. Additionally, 80 percent of students reported a positive gain in their STEM career knowledge.

AR: What is the biggest obstacle to expanding STEM afterschool programs across the country? Continue reading

Trump’s Proposal to Eliminate This Teacher-Focused Program Could be an Opportunity

President Trump’s newly released budget would slash $9 billion or 13.5 percent of funding from the Department of Education. That’s a dramatic change. It’s important to remember, however, that Congress controls the country’s purse strings, so a President’s budget proposal serves more as a statement of priorities than a concrete action plan.

For those of us who work on teacher quality issues, that’s a relief. For one, Trump’s proposed Education Department cuts include the complete elimination of the roughly $2.3 billion Title II program. States and districts use Title II’s Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants for teacher quality activities, like recruiting teachers and supporting effective instruction.  

Unsurprisingly, the mention of defunding Title II has teachers unions and advocacy organizations up in arms. Many state departments of education, districts, and schools have relied on this funding to support teacher-related activities for years.

But the effectiveness of the Title II dollars spent is questionable. Although states and districts are given a wide array of choices on how to spend Title II dollars, they tend to stick to the same activities. A closer look at the data on Title II use reveals that for more than a decade, districts have been using at least three quarters of Title II funding on just two activities: class-size reduction and professional development.

Title II

Data via U.S. Department of Education; Chart via author.

This funding allocation is problematic because there is no data to suggest that class-size reduction or professional development widely or consistently impact student achievement. Research shows that the effects of class-size reduction are restricted to only certain grades, with particular influence on students in early elementary grades. And while some districts and schools have been able to crack the code to ensure that teacher professional development positively impacts student learning, it is not happening at scale. Continue reading

How Will States Handle New Title I Powers with Minimal Federal Oversight?

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, photo by Michael Vadon via Flickr

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, photo by Michael Vadon via Flickr

Last week Congress threw Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability regulations out the window, and all signs from the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos point to a minimal review of state ESSA plans. For example, a little known ESSA provision could change the shape of Title I spending in schools, and under new guidelines, states don’t even have to describe their plans for implementing this new power.

Title I is a $14 billion federal grant program aimed at supporting low-income students. For decades, Title I programs have been split into two categories: targeted programs, where funds exclusively support low-achieving students, and schoolwide programs, where funds can support schoolwide improvements more flexibly. Prior federal law restricted schoolwide programs to schools with more than 40 percent low-income students. Under ESSA, all states now have the power to waive the 40 percent requirement and allow schools with less concentrated poverty to implement schoolwide reforms using Title I funds. This new flexibility could make Title I programs more effective for disadvantaged students — if states step up and use their new power wisely. But, while the Obama-era regulations required states to explain how they would issue schoolwide Title I waivers, the new template issued yesterday by the Trump administration doesn’t ask states about this provision.

There are several upsides to the expansion of schoolwide programs. Schoolwide Title I programs require schools to perform a comprehensive needs assessment, while targeted programs do not. These needs assessments are designed to engage the whole school community, and use data to identify to key areas for improvement. In contrast, a common criticism of targeted Title I programs is that they encourage schools to implement small add-on programs, like tutoring, rather than addressing bigger issues that impact all students, like curriculum and teacher quality. Schoolwide programs also allow for Title I funds to be combined with other federal and state funding streams, amplifying the impact of multiple small funding streams and reducing administrative overhead.

But there are risks that come along with this flexibility. Title I’s convoluted funding formulas already give plenty of money to wealthy, large school districts, and unchecked flexibility in spending could further dilute the effects of Title I on its intended beneficiaries — low-income students. While combining multiple funding streams reduces administrative burdens, it can also remove guardrails to ensure that money is being spent responsibly and equitably. That is why state monitoring of school Title I plans and interim progress indicators are all even more important under ESSA.

In a few states, schools below 40 percent low-income students are already allowed to implement schoolwide Title I programs. Even before the passage of ESSA, the Education Flexibility Partnership Act (Ed-Flex) approved ten states for Title I flexibility beginning in 1999. More recently, several states used their No Child Left Behind Flexibility Waivers to allow for schoolwide Title I programs in their lowest performing schools.

The success of this new nationwide flexibility will depend on states taking an active role to monitor and assess schoolwide Title I programs — whether they are enacted at schools above or below the 40 percent threshold. Early drafts of ESSA state plans suggest that many states do not yet have a clear vision for this — and now they don’t even have to include details on Title I waivers in their state plans at all. Out of 15 draft ESSA state plans available online last week (all likely to be rewritten), nine states had very broad, non-specific language for how they would review requests to shift to a schoolwide Title I program.

Light oversight is no excuse for states to take it easy. States should not just rubber-stamp requests for flexibility when it comes to Title I when there is so much at stake for low-income students, and advocates should push for more specifics on how states will ensure Title I money is well-spent.