State school chiefs seek Obama’s ear

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released a list of recommendations Dec. 15 it says President-elect Barack Obama should focus on during his first 100 days in office–including the promotion of state innovation, equitable access to technology for all students and their families, and continuous school improvement.

A task force of 11 state school chiefs met Dec. 1 with Linda Darling-Hammond, Obama’s transition chief for education, as well as other members of Obama’s transition team and members of Congress and the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

"We just want to be able to get our ideas in front of Obama’s team and express where we are and where we want to be in the future," said Judy Jeffrey, director of the Iowa Department of Education.

CCSSO’s 11-member presidential transition task force focused on redefining and strengthening the state-federal partnership to improve education.

"The task force and I are both very interested in having a much stronger partnership between [ED] and state agencies," Jeffrey said. "We need to work together for the benefit of all of the students."

To create a more collaborative atmosphere between state and federal education departments, the task force recommended that Obama and his education secretary work to promote innovation and continuous improvement, strategically invest in state and local capacity building, accelerate change through an improved focus on teachers, and promote better integration and coordination of federal child-focused programs.

Both Jeffery and Kansas Commissioner of Education Alexa Posney said they hope to see better coordination of federal child-focused programs such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Perkins Act.

"This is near and dear to my heart," Posney said. "They need to reorganize the U.S. Department of Education office to make certain leadership in key offices work together to ensure better coordination. And they would report to the same assistant secretary. It would really reduce duplication in the acts."

Jeffrey said the language also needs to be consistent across the acts.

"A lot of times we’re scrambling for different ways that the data need to be reported, or we might not have the ability to report [information] in the way they’re asking for it," she said.

The school chiefs also recommended that Obama focus on innovation and improvement. The recommendations say federal education laws and leadership should encourage, not stifle, innovation and provide a policy environment that supports multiple educationally sound models, rather than enforcing narrow compliance with a single, federal approach.

"We’re looking at innovation and using new technology and the importance of having access to technology. Most of all, there needs to be equitable access to technology for students and their families," Jeffrey said.

Posney added that having broadband internet access is important for educational success–a theme echoed earlier by Obama himself (See "Ed tech central to Obama’s recovery plan.").

"Each and every school in the nation needs to have access to broadband. That opens up the door to the world," she said.

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said he hopes the Obama administration eventually will be able to switch to the growth model of assessment, because he said that approach provides a more accurate portrayal of school progress.

"We need to continue to focus on the achievement gap. Right now we have a one-size-fits-all approach," he said. "There are very definitive changes that need to be made; we need better funding, and not [to] set schools up for failure."

Currently, if one of the 44 subgroups of No Child Left Behind testing doesn’t receive passing scores, the entire school is placed in the needs-improvement category, Posney said.

"So there are 44 ways in which you could fail," O’Connell said. "And that’s not fair."

CCSSO Recommendations for the President-Elect’s Education Transition Team and Congress

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom