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Education Report January 28, 2011

The Education Report

JANUARY 28, 2011
Della Cronin, Editor

The Education Report, a weekly publication of WPLLC, provides an executive summary of
public policy issues affecting American education. Please use the bookmarks below to
navigate to your area of interest:

  1. Budget and Appropriations
  2. In Brief
  3. New Publications
  4. In the News
  5. About WPLLC

  6. Budget and Appropriations
    On Tuesday, the new Congress took on an old tradition—hosting the President for the annual
    State of the Union address—and added a new twist by mixing up the seating so Republicans and
    Democrats sat side-by-side instead of being divided by party. Building up to the address, pundits
    speculated that innovation, education and infrastructure would be front and center, and they were
    proved right. President Obama also addressed the federal deficit, the nation’s involvement in the
    Middle East and the angst surrounding the controversial healthcare reform bill passed by the
    111th Congress. Overall, the President spoke of creating an efficient, effective, competent
    government that fosters innovative economic growth to sustain this nation’s place as “a light to
    the world.” Borrowing terms from the era of President John F. Kennedy, the President asserted
    today to be our generation’s “Sputnik moment.” He noted the importance of maintaining the
    nation’s “leadership in research and technology” and linked this imperative to innovatively
    educating America’s youth. The President, concerned as U.S. students continue to fall behind
    their international peers in math and science achievement and college graduation rates, expressed
    his continued support for what he considers to be the most “meaningful reform of our public
    schools in a generation,” the Race To the Top initiative, and pointed to the program as one that
    might serve as a framework for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education
    Act (ESEA). Overall, education was a substantial piece of the President’s address and is a clear

As the President spoke to the nation, materials flooded the White House’s web site that include
fact sheets on the policy areas he discussed, organized around the address’ four themes:
innovate, educate, build, reform and responsibility. These materials emphasized issues familiar
to education advocates: raising expectations to reform America’s schools; preparing 100,000
new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teachers; promoting college
access and completion; and reforming immigration laws to stop expelling talent. These
documents can be found at:

While the Congressional audience at the State of the Union address tried to demonstrate a new
tone of civility in the Nation’s capitol, the week wasn’t without some new posturing as
evidenced by the approval of legislation in the House that would support the new Republican
majority’s rhetoric on cutting federal spending. Hours before the State of the Union address,
every House Republican and 17 Democrats, voted to approve legislation that not only gives the
Chairman of the Budget Committee, Paul Ryan (R-WI), authority to issue a new budget
allocation for the still-unfinished FY2011 budget, but also approval to reduce non-security
discretionary spending to FY2008 levels for FY2011. This means that when the House begins
debate on the FY2011 Continuing Resolution the week of February 14th, deep cuts in
discretionary spending should be expected. It’s important to remember that the current
Continuing Resolution expires on March 4th. Also on tap for the week of February 14th is the
release of the President’s proposed FY2012 budget. Not a week full of warm, fuzzy Valentines
for education, almost surely.

The Senate also reconvened this week and debated rules and procedures for the 112th Congress.
At the top of this list was the filibuster. Ironically, without a filibuster, Majority Leader Harry
Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached a compromise or
“gentleman’s agreement” as they describe it: Republicans will limit the use of the filibuster on
“initial, motion to proceed votes” and, in return, Reid will “exercise restraint” on amendments
which will enable more Republicans to file their own amendments to bills. Civility, apparently,
is not dead. For now.

Lastly, another point of contention between Democrats and Republicans that will be debated in
coming days is the issue of raising the debt limit. Democrats believe that allowing the limit to be
capped at current levels will result in catastrophic economic ills while Republicans cite raising
the limit as another example of irresponsible, reprehensibly frivolous spending by the federal
government. This argument will begin to ramp up as the end of March deadline approaches and
the federal budget is debated in Congress. You didn’t think they were going to play nice on this
one, did you?
Back to top.

  1. In Brief
    On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) hosted another in its ongoing series of
    Stakeholders Forums to update advocates, national education organizations and parent and
    community organizations about ED’s reform efforts and programmatic activities. This briefing
    included information on the upcoming Labor-Management Conference; the launch of the U.S.
    Education Dashboard; an update on the School Improvement Grants; and an address by
    Secretary Arne Duncan providing an overview of his expectations for 2011. Describing the
    Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration funded by the Ford Foundation and hosted in
    partnership with the Department of Education, the American Federation of Teachers, the
    National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the American
    Association of School Administrators, the Council of the Great City Schools and the Federal
    Mediation and Conciliation Service, Jo Anderson framed the intent and format of the two-day
    event being held February 15 -16. With over 150 districts represented at the conference, ED’s
    goal is to engage marquee education players across the country that can support the momentum
    this event is expected to create and foster an environment where key stakeholders can make good
    on their commitments to affect change in their schools back home. Secretary Arne Duncan then
    took to the stage and discussed his hope for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary
    Education Act (ESEA) this coming year and, upon request, highlighted the places where the
    Administration and Republicans can find agreement. He highlighted: 1) a smaller federal
    “footprint” and allowing more state control; 2) more flexibility; 3) shortening of ESEA; 4)
    providing better incentives to obtain faster rates of growth; 5) the importance of comprehensive
    education that includes music, art and financial literacy; and 6) supporting research and
    development. Additionally, ED introduced a new data tracking tool called the United States
    Education Dashboard,, which currently reflects 16 key indicators
    including equity, early education and STEM education. According to Tony Miller, Deputy
    Secretary of Education, this tool uses data to create greater transparency and will allow the
    education community to “focus on best practices that yield the best results in tough budget
    times,” enabling a better informed discussion regarding education reform. Finally, Sandra
    Abrevaya, Press Secretary at ED, shared that the Department has awarded approximately $4
    billion in School Improvement Grants. Of those funds, $3 billion was from the American
    Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $500,000 was from FY2009 funds. Throughout
    44 states, in both rural and urban settings, 1,000 districts are implementing the “turnaround”
    model. Soon to be launched is a map of where these schools are and information regarding the
    schools’ demographics and the improvement model chosen. A video and transcript of the forum
    is available at:

On Tuesday morning, hours before President Obama delivered a State of the Union address that
emphasized the importance of reforming education and supporting innovation in the United
States, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) released the disappointing 2009
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science scores for the country. Just 34
percent of fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders, and 21 percent of twelfth-graders are
performing at or above “proficient” in the most recent NAEP snapshot, which gives science
scores from tests administered in 2009. A very small number of American students—only 1 or 2
percent at each grade level—reached scores at the “advanced” level, and relatively large numbers
of students did not reach “basic” levels of achievement. This NAEP science test was revised
since the last time students were tested, and, as a result, scores from previous years cannot be
compared to this year’s scores. The new testing framework takes into account scientific
advances, science educators say, and does a better job of measuring higher-level scientific
thinking. For instance, many questions are open-ended and ask students to design or evaluate
experiments. Science educators consider the changes a marked improvement. Secretary of
Education Arne Duncan issued a statement related to the news, which said, in part, “The results
released today show that our Nation's students aren't learning at a rate that will maintain
America's role as an international leader in the sciences. When only 1 or 2 percent of children
score at the advanced levels on NAEP, the next generation will not be ready to be world-class
inventors, doctors, and engineers.” The statement goes on to say, “President Obama is
committed to improving achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM). He has made a call for all hands on deck to parents, teachers, administrators,
academics, local leaders and the private sector to work together to advance science and
mathematics education, and has set a goal to recruit 10,000 new science and mathematics
teachers over the next two years. Our Nation's long-term economic prosperity depends on
providing a world-class education to all students, especially in mathematics and science." For
more information on the NAEP results, visit:

On Wednesday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held the first hearing of the
112th Congress to discuss the state of the American workforce. Witnesses included Governor
Bob McDonnell (R) from the Commonwealth of Virginia; Doug Hotlz-Eakin from the American
Action Forum; Dyke Messinger from Power Curbers, Inc.; and Heather Boushey with the Center
for American Progress. In his opening statement, Chairman Kline asserted the purpose of the
hearing was “to learn about the policies that may be standing in the way of job creation and find
better solutions to protect the rights, safety and prosperity of the country’s workers.” This was
the hearing’s primary focus, but the first witness to testify, Governor Bob McDonnell, included
higher education as a key point in his remarks. Emphasizing that Virginia’s economic success is
attributed to limited regulations, low tax rates and a competent labor force, McDonnell
announced his state has the ninth lowest unemployment rate in the Nation. While his efforts
have been focused on attracting businesses to the state, simultaneously, he also has been working
to “strengthen the workforce.” In his written and verbal testimony McDonnell announced his
“Top Jobs for the 21st Century” initiative that will enable the state’s higher education institutions
to issue an additional 100,000 degrees over the next 15 years, making Virginia one of the most
highly educated states in the nation. According to McDonnell, “Our initiative also places a
greater emphasis on the high demand science, technology, engineering and math subjects
through the formation of a public-private partnership that will engage the business and
professional community in leveraging best practices for K-12 and higher education.” While this
was the extent of his comments regarding K-12 education, when asked by Congressman Bobby
Scott (D-VA), “What will it take to create 100,000 new degrees?” McDonnell provided a more
comprehensive answer. He explained that Virginia must expand the opportunities offered to
students by expanding the option of degrees and methods to achieve them. Currently, only 38
percent of Virginian students applying to college are able to obtain a degree from a Virginia
institution due to capacity limitations. Therefore, McDonnell maintained that schools need to
“utilize distance education and use virtual learning experiences and there must be a focus on
STEM education.” For more information on this hearing, visit:

As a supplement to the education portions of President Obama’s State of the Union address,
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participated in an on-line roundtable discussion via
Facebook on Thursday with community representatives and the general public. Moderated by
Kori Schulman from the White House Department on New Media, Kevin Short, representing
MTV, asked the first basic question—even in difficult economic times, should education funding
be cut? Secretary Duncan replied that there are “thoughtful” ways to cut even education
spending and stated that the federal government “can’t stave off all cuts.” Linda Murray from asked about early childhood education, to which Secretary Duncan responded
that investments in early education are the “best investment[s] we can make,” and he explained
that the Department of Education (ED) is pushing for universal access to high quality early
education programs. Murray also inquired about the federal role in education. Secretary Duncan
stated that the goal is for ED to play a narrower role as an “engine of innovation” that encourages
and recognizes “good work” because “answers are locally” found and the federal government
should “shine a spotlight on what is working.” He also highlighted key Administration
initiatives including Race to the Top Assessment grant program; teacher merit pay; increasing
funding for Pell Grants; and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
To view the roundtable discussion, visit:
Back to top.

  1. New Publications
    “The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009 Grades 4, 8, and 12” (January 2011)

    “Meeting the Challenge: The Role of School Leaders in Turning Around the Lowest-Performing
    High Schools” (January 2011)

"Charter School Laws Across the States" (January 2011)
Back to top.

  1. In the News
    “College Test Leaves Questions Unanswered” Wall Street Journal (1/22/11)

“Public Universities Relying More on Tuition than State Money” New York Times (1/24/11)

“Less than Half of Students Proficient in Science” Washington Post (1/25/11)

“State of the Union Mystery: What so Obama’s Race to the Top Plans Mean?” Christian Science
Monitor (1/26/11)

“Senators Pledge to Work Jointly on Education” Washington Post (1/26/11)

“The Political Education of Michelle Rhee” Politico (1/27/11)

“A Clash Over Drug Curbs at Schools” Boston Globe (1/28/11)
Back to top.

  1. About WPLLC
    For over 30 years, the principals and staff at WPLLC have specialized in the field of education, making sure the voices of
    associations and nonprofit organizations are heard—on Capitol Hill and in the media. As a full service government affairs and
    public relations firm, we work in strong partnership with our clients to position them for the greatest success now and in the
    future. Working as a team, relationships are structured to maximize the strengths of each client; the client’s mission is our driving
    force as we help them clarify needs, set goals and craft and implement successful strategies. WPLLC provides expertise in a
    variety of services:

• Government Relations
• Public Relations & Communications
• Policy Research and Analysis
• Strategic Planning
• Grassroots Activities
• Association Management
• Meeting and Conference Planning

For more information, please call us at 202.289.3900 or visit our website at
• • •
This publication contains links to Internet sites for the convenience of World Wide Web users. Washington Partners, LLC is not
responsible for the availability or content of these external sites, nor does Washington Partners, LLC endorse, warrant or
guarantee the information, services, or products described or offered at these other Internet sites.

Copyright 2011. Washington Partners, LLC. Redistribution of this memorandum or its content outside the immediate
organization of the intended recipient without the express prior permission of Washington Partners, LLC is prohibited. Readers
are encouraged to send comments about this publication to Della Cronin at or call 202.289.3900.

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