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A Look Back: The Big Stories from the 2014-2015 School Year

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Skyward Best Practices - Experience, Collaboration, and Leadership

It can be hard to keep up with the news out of Washington while school is in session – we all have enough to worry about closer to home. With some issues, there are changes almost daily. On others, it takes a really close look to see the nuance.

We've put together a brief primer on some of the hottest education issues from the just-concluded school year, so you can be more prepared for the changes coming down the pike.


No Child Left Behind Reauthorization       

No Child Left Behind expired in 2007. In the absence of a reauthorization of the law, the Department of Education has had the power to waive certain aspects based on policies that schools and districts promise to adopt in alignment with the administration's goals. Many of those waivers take place under the “Race to the Top” grant process. Recently, efforts have been made to review, revise, and reauthorize the law to fit the current landscape.

The current proposal that emerged from the House Education Committee rebrands the law as the “Student Success Act," and once included language for what is being called “Title I Portability." Currently, Title I funding is allocated based on the proportion of free/reduced lunch students a school has. With portability, each underprivileged student has money that follows them to any school they attend—including affluent and charter schools. That has since been abandoned by the amendment’s sponsor for being too divisive, but changes to Title I still seem to be on the table.

The House process has been marked by partisanship and, from the outside, does not appear to be producing anything that has a chance of going into effect in the short term. 

The Senate's process, on the other hand, has been refreshingly bi-partisan. In committee, their proposed bill – the Every Child Achieves Act – was co-sponsored by the committee chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander (R) and Senator Patty Murray (D). The bill strikes a compromise between rolling back federal powers and making sure states still meet some baseline requirements. Limiting the amount of testing students undertake was a primary focus during the amendment process.

As we approach a new election season, time is quickly running out for any bill to get traction and make it to the president’s desk. It will be interesting to see what comes of the discussions already underway.


The Status of the Common Core 

What's in a name? Well, when it comes to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), quite a bit.

In many parts of the country, the mere mention of the CCSS is enough to earn an intensely negative reaction. Politicians who were once firmly behind the idea are quickly distancing themselves in efforts to boost their chances in upcoming elections, even as some stand behind the ideals that led to the standards in the first place.
Oklahoma and Indiana have officially pulled out of the Common Core. Some states, like Florida, have pulled out in name only, rebranding the standards but keeping them mainly intact. Many more states, including New York and New Jersey, are examining their options with at least rebranding likely.
Even though an overwhelming majority of states have implemented some variation of the CCSS and have been through at least a year of testing, it is clear that the issue is far from dead. As the phrase “Common Core” continues to be a divisive one, more rebrands are likely. 

At least for now, the standards themselves do not appear to be going anywhere, regardless of how many different names they are known by. Should this remain true over the next several years, we will finally have an opportunity to see whether the standards are having a positive impact on student achievement.


Next-Generation Testing

The consortia that were created to assess CCSS benchmarks have had less success staying intact than the standards themselves. PARCC and Smarter Balanced lost five and three states respectively in the last school year before their testing had even begun. Seventeen states made the decision to contract with their own testing providers, foregoing the consortia altogether. 

The initial results appear to be a mixed bag. Although scores have not yet been released, the operational challenge of administering online exams either went relatively smoothly or was a complete disaster, depending on technology hangups and level of preparedness. This held true for consortium and independent states alike, proving that no one was completely immune to the challenge of such a significant change. 


The Changing Role of the CTO

This is not a new change, but rather a continuing trend that began years ago. More than ever before, district technology leaders' jobs are intersecting with those of curriculum directors, business managers, and administrators. Strategic planning and implementation support for a wide range of technologies, both hard and soft, has become critically important to the district's success. With questions about student data privacy, the digital literacy gap, and district-wide culture and buy-in at the forefront of education technology discussions, effective CTOs need to be much more than just "techies."

Many of the CTOs we work with have identified the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) as an invaluable destination for today's K-12 tech leader. CoSN provides a Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO, a blossoming Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) program, and many other resources to help you keep your district up to date and future ready, which leads us to... 


The Future Ready District Pledge

Established at the tail end of 2014, the Future Ready District Pledge is a commitment from superintendents to transition their districts to a personalized, digital learning environment. The pledge itself establishes a strong conceptual framework, while the Office of Education Technology promises to provide district leaders with "implementation guidance, online resources, and other support they need to transition to effective digital learning and achieve tangible outcomes for the students they serve."

Along with the impressive number of signees in the pledge's first full year of existence (almost 2,000 at the time of this writing), the overarching concepts are closely aligned with the ongoing shift in culture and pedagogy toward a model of empowerment that applies both to educators and students. Personalized learning is an impossible goal when data remains in the hands of administrators – Future Ready superintendents have pledged to "provide tools to help teachers effectively leverage learning data to make better instructional decisions."

The pledge also requires a focus on universal accessibility for the purpose of giving students "opportunities to be active learners, creating and sharing content, not just consuming it." This language offers a stark contrast to the days of direct instruction in orderly rows and is consistent with the number of districts that have begun to shift to a more mobile and flexible learning environment, supported by blended learning and positive attendance. 

Were there any more large-scale changes or trends that rocked your world in the 2014-2015 school year? Let us know in the comments below. For more on how Skyward can help you stay Future Ready, please contact us here. 



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