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Looking to the Future: Trends for 2014 and Beyond

It's a Mid-term Election Year!

Introduction

Mid-term Election Year

PHOTO COURTESY OF UNITED STATES SENATE

One should always be very cautious making legislative predications in a mid-term election year. It is slightly easier to anticipate some trends, but those too can be overtaken by events that no one expected. Given the less than congenial political environment in which we find ourselves, one never knows how things may end up.

And it is nearly impossible to predict “the strange bedfellow partnerships” that appear to resolve an issue or promote a solution.

The stalemate on Capitol Hill coupled with the mid-term election will continue to delay and deter resolution of several key pieces of education and related legislation that are overdue for reauthorization. However, there seems to be movement for a few selected pieces of legislation.

What will trend and occur nationally in education for pre-K through postsecondary is a bit more predictable. There is no question for several topics and issues that 2014 will be a pivotal year. It will be very intriguing to see what happens with the Common Core State Standards, new assessments, NCLB waivers, teacher evaluations and preparation, early learning, e-rate and education technology, student financial aid, postsecondary accountability, project-based learning, competencybased credits, extended learning time, online learning and MOOCs to name a few.

Legislation

The docket is full when it comes to pending federal education legislation. This may be the first time almost every piece of education legislation is overdue for reauthorization. In many respects this is embarrassing. Given the second session of the 113th Congress is the swan song for several members of Congress, one hope will infl uence the passage of several key pieces of pending legislation. Often, legislation has been passed as a legacy to that member(s). But, don’t get your hopes up. There is a small glimmer of hope that the House and Senate can come to a meeting of the minds and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind — NCLB). But the chasm is wide between the House and Senate bills. It will be very interesting to see if there is some give and take as deference to Senator Tom Harkin who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is retiring. Chances are slim for any agreement until after the mid-term election. If one thing will push Congress to act in a collective fashion, it will be their belief that the waivers issued by the Department to NCLB exceed its authority under the current law. Thus, requiring Congress to act.

Similarly, there is a need to update the E-Rate, which was originally shepherded through Congress by Senator Jay Rockefeller. The revision does not require Congressional action, just the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act. It would be nice to have the update named after Rockefeller. The effort is tied to the Administration’s ConnectEd proposal to move from funding school wiring to providing better broadband, bandwidth and wireless for schools and libraries, as well as making some 21st century technology adjustments to what is allowable to be funded. The changes will occur in 2014.

The reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act has been halted because of funding level differences arising at the Committee level. There will resolution in 2014.

Also behind schedule is the Perkins Act addressing Vocational and Adult Education. Given the significant differences in approach to revising this legislation given 21st-century skills and experience needs, the bill won’t be finalized until 2015, but discussions will continue.

The Farm Bill has been put off until January 2014, which includes the funding for school lunch. This should be resolved in the next few months and be enacted before the summer.

Long overdue, but surely not a candidate for quick passage under present political conditions, is the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.

Also in the wings is a reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which will take some additional time to be finalized.

Last but not least, is the hot-button issue of immigration reform that includes the DREAM Act. This legislation is totally tied up with the politics of the mid-term election. Closure will be determined by the will of the Congressional leadership to complete legislation in some fashion before November. Action, or lack there of, will be a factor in the November 2014 mid-term elections.

Trends

The budget and deficit reduction battle will continue in 2014, since at best there will only be a two-year solution for sequestration and an initial foray into deficit reduction by the end of the current session of Congress. There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel, possibly as a result of the midterm election results or because of the fast approaching mid-term election.

2014 is a pivotal year for the Common Core State Standards. How many states will in the end participate under that label or another? How many will develop their own? State and local politics will dictate the answers. Similarly, how many states will continue to participate in one of the two assessment consortia and agree to use either the PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessment? Which states will either decide to develop its own assessment or use another one such as ACT’s? This is hard to predict, since state legislatures, state boards and the local politics can make things very fickle. A majority of states will stay with the Common Core, but there will continue to be some drop-off from the original group of states to use one of the two assessments. Some states will partner together to create their own new assessment. What is unknown is whether the two assessment consortia be ready for 2015 or be delayed one more year.

One of the hot education topics in 2013 that will continue in 2014 is early learning and early childhood education. There is momentum at the local and state level to push for an increased federal role beyond Head Start. Be ready for more activity in state legislatures and Congress in 2014 to increase support for these programs.

If Congress does not act to reauthorize NCLB in early 2014, then there will be additional waivers for states, and even some larger school districts, for specific parts of the legislation in an effort to increase student achievement, enable reform efforts and provide districts with additional flexibility. Also, there will be some push back from selected members of Congress.

A controversial issue to continue in 2014 is teacher evaluation rules and requirements. While experience over time will improve the process, states and local districts are all over the map. The debate will continue over what should be included and the proportions. Time will provide a better understanding of how best to approach this process. Unless a reauthorization fixes the evaluations, one will see more waivers by the U.S. Department of Education. Tied to teacher evaluation is the debate over teacher preparation and professional learning. What should it look like, and how should it be structured? In 2014, there will be expanded efforts to change and improve how we prepare teachers, who are eligible to be trained, program options for preparation, professional learning and the transition from preparation to the classroom.

In 2014, there will be an expansion of online learning in K-12 and postsecondary education. In 2013, we saw the emergence of MOOCs. But in 2014, we will see an expansion of dual enrollment and early college online offerings while students attend high school. This increase may supplant the taking of AP courses, since no one is guaranteed college credit. Whereas, early college course enrollment will guarantee a student credit if the successfully pass the course. There will be no big changes in student financial aid programs in 2014, but there will be continued tweaking of the FASFA form and improved information for students on aid, including a new Toolkit developed by the U.S. Department of Education. Also, students and families will find more and better information about student aid, courses, programs and postsecondary education in general, through a variety of independent efforts such as Strive for College.

The improved e-rate will enable schools to provide better access to the Internet, acquire new equipment such as tablets, provide more extensive offerings online and assess online and get results in real time to better inform teaching and learning.

Both project-based learning and competency-based credits will be more widely used and accepted in K-12 and postsecondary education. This is the beginning of a change in how we assess what skills and knowledge students of all ages have acquired.

The last topic is expanded learning time, which is the evolution of afterschool programs. In 2014, there will be an expansion in extended school days and expanded learning time. Given that a majority of households have parents who work, it is logical for students to have new opportunities to learn and be active while under the supervision of adults. More states and districts will be offering these programs, because they work and are of value.

2014’s docket is full, and it could be a very exciting or frustrating year depending on what legislation is addressed; what policy solutions are enacted; and if the political divide mellows or not. Will there be a meeting of the minds that it is more important to find solutions and compromise than to continue to have an indefensible philosophical divide in education?

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.