Top 5 Issues for 2012 Expanded: Education

Educators and policymakers realize that all of America’s students need a high-quality education to prepare them for college and careers. 2012 promises to be another busy year in transformational strategies in education. In order to ensure a world-class education, leaders will likely address these top 5 issues facing states this year.

Reforming America’s Public School Systems:  What does the law allow?  

Because Congress has failed to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, states now can apply for No Child Left Behind waivers if they implement transformational initiatives to ensure students are college- and career-ready. States must address four major areas, including rigorous academic standards with aligned assessments; a robust accountability system; a plan to design an educator evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student growth; and eliminate unnecessary district reporting requirements such as school/district improvement requirements and Title 1 school-wide program restrictions.

Although waivers allow states some flexibility from NCLB’s mandates, the true resolution is reauthorization of ESEA.  Language has been put forth for consideration and some think 2012 will be the year that Congress can finally fix some of the challenges associated with the current law.  Some proponents note that relief from annual yearly progress, and the arbitrary deadline of all students performing at 100 percent proficiency by 2014, is welcomed.  Instead, schools will be required to demonstrate continuous improvement while still ensuring accountability.  College- and career-ready standards, positive behavioral supports and parental involvement are all strategies included to build capacity and success.  However, opponents say that the proposed focus on testing in narrow subject areas of English/Language Arts and Mathematics, lack of clear collective bargaining agreements and a continued punitive focus on low-achieving schools hamper the bill’s ability to succeed and provide the academic growth needed by all students.


States Strive to Transform Education through Increased Rigor and Accountability

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia are implementing the Common Core State Standards and moving toward assessments that accurately measure student progress.  Two consortia are developing instruments to assess all students and provide data to inform classroom instruction, direct professional development and ensure teachers know where their students stand on their path toward college- and career-readiness.  States also are looking to create deeper evaluation structures for accountability. Policymakers may consider a set of core principles, including annual accountability determinations, decisions based on student growth and outcomes, disaggregating data to determine achievement gaps, transparent reporting, diagnostic reviews of schools that will lead to quality supports and interventions targeted to the lowest-performing schools and districts. 

Most states have noted that they intend to change a variety of policies and practices as they continue to implement the new standards and assessments.  Curriculum guides and materials, professional development programs, teacher evaluation systems and local implementation measures all need to be reviewed in light of the new standards.  With the increased emphasis on what students need to know, states also can work to incorporate deeper components of learning such as problem solving, reasoning and decision making, communication skills, collaboration, and learning how to learn.

Policymakers also will want to discuss current accountability measures as they move toward 2014-2015 when the new assessment systems will be fully in place.  Interim scores will likely decrease across each state and reveal significant deficits in student achievement.  Leaders must determine how best to transition from current systems to next-generation systems without wide-scale sanctioning of districts.  Additionally, with such a great number of states on board with the changes, the opportunity is available to deliberately close the gap between K-12 and higher education.  Teacher preparation and induction programs should be adapted to the new standards so that all educators are prepared to implement rigor in their classrooms. 


Increasing Teacher Effectiveness Through Salary and Tenure Reform

To improve teacher quality, policymakers may consider interventions such as performance pay, which compensates teachers based in part on student test results and evaluations from administrators and peers. Another reform gaining traction involves changing teacher tenure laws to ensure tenure only after proving teacher effectiveness or providing ease in terminating ineffective educators. Tenure reform can include increasing the number of years it takes to be eligible, empowering local districts to remove tenured teachers for an increased number of offenses, or ending the practice of laying off teachers based primarily on seniority.

Supporters of performance-based pay contend Americans value hard work, and polls show most people support the idea of rewarding teachers who demonstrate success in the classroom. They also say performance pay provides incentives that will lead teachers to work harder and be more innovative with their lesson plans and it lead teachers to do more to help students who are struggling in their classes. Critics, however, counter there is no clear definition of what constitutes a good teacher. For example, some of the best attributes of good teaching (e.g. inspiration and motivation) are difficult to measure. They also contend performance-based compensation encourages competition rather than cooperation among colleagues and that performance pay based on evaluations can result in unfair results based on bias and favoritism.

Tenure reform, like performance pay, is an increasingly popular policy issue in state legislatures. Those opposing teacher tenure, in its traditional form, argue it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to remove underperforming teachers. A recent student showed the majority of school administrators knew of at least one poorly performing teacher at their school. However, most said they do not always pursue dismissal of these teachers because of the costly and time consuming process. Supporters of tenure, however, are quick to point out state tenure laws protect teachers from being fired for personal, political, or non-work related issues. They also contend without tenure laws, school districts might replace more experienced teachers earning higher salaries with younger, less experienced teachers in order to save money.


Using School Choice to Enhance Outcomes for Students 

Concern over the quality of public education may lead some policymakers to consider school choice options, providing parents with alternatives to traditional public school education. Polices can include vouchers or scholarships that use state revenue for children to enroll in private schools. State tax deductions for tuition paid for private schools and tax credits for contributions to nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations also give parents options. Other forms of school choice include non-traditional charters, early college high schools, or magnet schools focusing on specific learning areas such as arts, foreign language, or math and science. Policymakers may also consider whether regulations governing home schooling should be relaxed or strengthened in their states.

Historically, most parents have had two primary choices for their children’s education. They can send them to the public school in their designated attendance district or pay for them to enroll in a private school. Some parents have chosen a third option and home-schooled their children. Advocates of school choice argue increased competition from private and non-traditional public schools will force public schools to make changes to increase student achievement. They contend school choice programs can level the playing field by giving low-income and/or minority students access to a high-quality education otherwise unobtainable. Finally, school choice, according to supporters, allows parents to choose where to send their children to school from a greater array of alternatives, even if they are outside of their assigned school district, thus allowing them to take a more active role in shaping their child's education.

Opponents state school choice programs that involve private institutions are an inappropriate use of public funds. Diverting resources away from public schools that still serve the vast majority of students will only decrease the overall quality of education in the country. They also contend programs that involve private institutions and provide only a portion of the total cost of attending private schools, such as providing tax credits and tax deductions, primarily benefit affluent parents who can afford the additional costs.

Finally, state policies vary widely regarding home schooling. At least 10 states have no requirement for parents wishing to teach their children at home to contact school district officials. At the opposite extreme, five states have significant home school regulations. These states require parents to send notification or achievement test scores to state or local education agencies and/or professional evaluation, plus other requirements such as curriculum approval by the state, teacher qualification of parents, or home visits by state officials.


Overhauling Higher Education to Ensure our Country’s Competitive Edge

In order for the United States workforce to grow, and job creation rebound, millions of new jobs must be developed.  However, under the current trends, many potential workers will not have the skills necessary to be a productive employee.  The higher education pipeline must be strengthened for students to succeed.  Strategies such as investing in community colleges, increasing financial aid awareness, decreasing the number of students needing remedial education, focusing on first-generation and minority students, and competency-based degrees will all come under discussion this year.

President Obama’s ambitious college completion agenda has a very clear goal:  By 2020 the United States will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  We have a very long way to get to that goal and reforming higher education should be paramount in the discussion.  A traditional brick and mortar campus may not be the best or only alternative for college-goers.  Policymakers may use 2012 to look to other means to offer access to postsecondary education as well as accelerate degree completion. 

“Pay as you Earn” is one avenue for borrowers to manage their student loan debt beginning in 2012.  Truth in Lending is critical as is simple financial aid awareness programs for students and parents.  Investing in community colleges and restructuring academic programs to ensure high-demand skills are offered are both critical avenues for state deliberation.  Other options such as college credit for prior learning, online or distance learning, and targeted programming to first-generation and minority students are all options to increase the number of graduates so that American can regain our competitive edge. 


CSG’s Education Policy:  Resources


contact Pam Goins | 859.244.8142 | or

contact Tim Weldon | 859.244.8254 | or

See the rest of CSG's Top 5 Issues for 2012: