ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Alabama Rep. Mac Buttram thinks it’s about time people start thinking about career and technical education in a different way. Buttram recently was appointed to Gov. Robert Bentley’s new Alabama Workforce Council. The council, comprised primarily of state business leaders, is designed to help K-12 and higher education institutions in the state better meet the needs of businesses and industries. He was one of the featured speakers at CSG’s Policy Academy on Workforce Development, held Aug. 9 at the CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference in Alaska.

Public education in the U.S. was established with a vitally important civic mission—to prepare each generation for informed and engaged citizenship. As part of CSG’s ongoing work exploring the history and current challenges of federalism, this session will take a step back and explore how we are teaching future generations about government and civic participation.

High-profile programs like Race to the Top and Common Core have brought education reform again to the front of the national agenda. Discussion, however, settles over class size, teacher certification and teacher compensation because they seem like the most important issues related to student achievement. Significantly less time is spent on discussing the role of the principal. With increasingly complex duties, higher accountability and only modest pay increases, the principal’s job has become frustrating and unappreciated. Nevertheless, new studies are shedding light on the substantial impact that principals, as a part of institutional leadership, have on student performance.

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for states to develop methods to place effective teachers in high-poverty schools in a letter earlier this month. Calling for a plan to ensure equal access to qualified teachers regardless of race or income from each state by April 2015, Duncan also introduced the Educator Equity Support Network, which will work with states by compiling best practices and providing technical support related to implementation. Concurrently, the Education Department will provide each state with its data file from the Civil Rights Data Collection which will serve to highlight current income- and race-based gaps in access.

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The state of Nebraska is planning to take a more active role in turning around its lowest-performing schools. Under LB 438, the state will designate three “priority schools” based on poor performance in areas such as student graduation rates and test scores. Nebraska’s education commissioner will then establish five-member intervention teams for each of these schools. Each team will submit plans to the Nebraska Board of Education on how to improve performance and to measure progress. A local school district must follow these plans or risk losing accreditation.

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From the standards they set for becoming a teacher to how they oversee the programs that train the future education workforce, state policymakers can play an important role in teacher preparation. And strengthening that oversight role has been the focus of measures passed in states such as Indiana and Wisconsin in recent years.

During a national briefing call on June 3, Texas Sen. John Whitmire noted that, in his state, 84% of African American boys had received one or more suspensions in their educational career.  This was a startling wake-up call for policymakers and is now a priority as they work to create welcoming school cultures and effective learning conditions to keep students in the classroom.

A recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) revealed that education is still feeling the economic sting of the recession. State budgets reflect per pupil expenditures in 35 states are lower than in 2007-2008 when adjusted for inflation, and 14 states have effectively cut funding per student by over 10 percent in the last six years. 

Exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsions) is contributing to the dropout crisis, particularly for those students at greatest risk. Research has shown that students who are suspended and expelled are less likely to graduate from high school—which comes with a big price tag to the nation.

Over the course of three years and hundreds of interviews, the Council of State Governments Justice Center has seen significant awareness to reform school discipline policies in a variety of school districts throughout the country. The map below offers just a glimpse of some of the impact made as schools work to keep students in the classroom while enforcing student safety and enabling all students to succeed.

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