Washington Week: a rundown of K-12 legislation, policy and politics

This week President Barak Obama made public schools a centerpiece of his State of the Union address while two senior senators from different parties announced plans to overhaul the nation's primary education law and a key advocacy group handed out a report card on the state of the nation's teachers.

Following the impact of the federal Race to the Top competition, expectations were that the Obama administration would look to include some of the same goals into a revision of the No Child Left Behind Act. Obama, who outlined a long list of ambitious national goals in his speech Tuesday night, also explicitly said he wanted to replace" and not fix the legislation.

Only a day later, the top Democrat - Tom Harkin from Iowa - and the Republican - Lamar Alexander from Tennessee - on the Senate education committee announced plans to deliver by late summer a revised education bill, including a new name.

Bipartisanship also raised its head in the House, sort of, when Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, formally co-sponsored a bill with Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman that would expand the school voucher program for the District of Columbia. Boehner told reporters that the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act or SOAR, is a "model for similar programs throughout our country."

As proposed, the bill would reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and provide funding for city public schools, both traditional and charter. The measure also includes increases in cash grant scholarships while imposing new stronger evaluation of the predecessor program.

Meanwhile, the National Council on Teacher Quality - a nonpartisan advocacy group in support of more effective instruction - issued its annual review of state laws, rules and regulations governing the teaching profession.

The report's authors noted that because of Race to the Top, there was considerable legislation on the state level changing numerous aspects of classroom instruction.

The numbers of states, for instance, that require annual evaluations of all teachers jumped from 15 states in 2009 to 21 states in 2010. Also more than doubling was the number of states that used student learning as a primary criterion in teacher evaluations went from 4 states in 2009 to 10 states in 2010.

California received grades that fell short of passing:

  • C in delivering well prepared teachers.

  • D+ in expanding the teaching pool.

  • D- in identifying effective teachers.

  • C+ in retaining effective teachers.

  • D- to exit ineffective teachers.

One issue raised by the report dealt with teacher pensions, as the authors noted that California taxpayers spend $310,028 for each teacher that retires at an early age with unreduced benefits until that teacher reaches 65 years of age.

Here's a link to the report: http://j.mp/dNUd2Y

Here's a rundown of some of the federal education bills introduced in January:

S. 154 (Kohl, Wisconsin), introduced the "Fast Track to College Act," to authorize the Secretary of Education to make grants to support early-college high schools and dual-enrollment programs.

H.R. 458 (Slaughter, New York), introduced to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to direct certain coeducational elementary and secondary schools to make available information on equality in school athletic programs.

H.R. 469 (Bishop, New York), introduced the Protecting Student Athletes Concussions Act, to promote minimum state requirements for the prevention and treatment of concussions caused by participation in school sports.

H.R. 472 (Boren, Oklahoma), introduced to reauthorize the Impact Aid Program under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

H.R. 415 (Cohen, Tennessee), introduced the "Restorative Justice in Schools Act," to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to allow a local educational agency that receives a subgrant under section 2121 [allocations to local educational agencies] of the Act to use the funds to provide professional development activities that train school personnel about restorative justice and conflict resolution.

H.R. 422 (Baca, California), introduced the "Physical Education to Create a Healthier Nation Act," to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to ensure that schools have physical education programs that meet minimum requirements for physical education.

H.R. 379 (Lee, California), to assist teachers and public safety officers in obtaining affordable housing.

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