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JAN
20
2017

POLICY
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Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos testifies in Senate

By Erik Peterson

Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate HELP Committee on January 17.

On Tuesday evening, January 17, 2017, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee convened a hearing to consider President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Michigan philanthropist and education activist Betsy DeVos. During the course of the nominee’s three hour confirmation hearing, Senators’ questions addressed a wide range of issues from guns in schools to access to career and technical education.

DeVos’ background includes having served as chairwoman of the board of the Alliance for School Choice and directed the All Children Matter Political Action Committee, which she and her husband founded in 2003 to promote school vouchers, tax credits to businesses that give private school scholarships, and candidates who support these causes. She also served as chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which describes itself as "a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs."

In 1989, Betsy DeVos and her husband founded the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. The Foundation's giving, according to its website, is motivated by faith, and "is centered in cultivating leadership, accelerating transformation and leveraging support in five areas," namely education, community, arts, justice, and leadership. In addition to a wide range of other programs, the Foundation has supported afterschool programs and providers in Michigan, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids.

The subject of afterschool programs did not come up during the hearing. Questions from senators largely focused on DeVos’ background as an education activist, higher education, accountability, assessment, and protecting the rights of students with disabilities and LGBTQ youth.

Democrats took aim at her large financial donations to anti-union organizations, among others. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations, wrote in an opposition letter to Senate HELP Committee members that it "cannot support a nominee who has demonstrated that she seeks to undermine bedrock American principles of equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and public education itself." Similar opposition came from other organizations including both national teachers unions as well as the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban League and the American Association of University Women.

Republicans largely focused on the value of an outside perspective leading the Department. In a letter of support for her confirmation, 18 Republican governors praised DeVos as someone who “will fight to streamline the federal education bureaucracy, return authority back to states and local school boards, and ensure that more dollars are reaching the classroom." Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been particularly vocal in support of DeVos, who sat on the board of Bush’s organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Bush penned an op-ed praising her passion in advocating for local control of education.

Likewise, former Senator Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat turned Independent who serves on the board of the American Federation for Children, which DeVos previously chaired, introduced the nominee to the HELP Committee prior to her testimony.  Lieberman, who is a long-standing supporter of charter schools and voucher programs such as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, spoke in support of her nomination.

The next step in the confirmation process comes later this week when Senators will submit questions to the nominee for her written response. The full Senate is expected to vote on DeVos later this month or early next month.   

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learn more about: Department of Education
JAN
18
2017

POLICY
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Opportunities for afterschool abound as ESSA is implemented

By Jillian Luchner

President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.

In the New Year, states are busy getting ready for the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to go into full effect with the start of the new 2017-18 school year.

In these final months of preparation, states are finishing first and second rounds of stakeholder engagement, releasing first and second drafts of their state ESSA plans, and finalizing plans and submitting to the federal Department of Education for review. Arizona already has submitted a plan—far ahead of the required April and September deadlines for plan submission.

At this stage, things are moving quickly—luckily, it's easy to keep up with what your state is doing with our new interactive map tool! This new resource puts links to state webpages and ESSA plans at your fingertips.

What are states working to accomplish?

The new law is an opportunity to re-envision education within the state. Unlike the previous federal education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), ESSA provides more flexibility to states to decide what they want to track and measure beyond the familiar requirement of student proficiency on statewide English language arts (ELA) and math tests.

Guided by stakeholder engagement, states are determining the outcomes they want to see for their students and creating a system of reporting, interventions and support to ensure that districts and schools help students make progress toward those goals.

DEC
14
2016

POLICY
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Previewing the 115th Congress: What does it mean for afterschool?

By Erik Peterson

As 2016 comes to a close, so too does the 114th Congress. The 115th Congress will be called into session at noon on January 3 and will mark the first time in six years that the United States is under a unified government, meaning that the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the Presidency, are all under the control of the same party, the Republicans. What might the 115th Congress mean for afterschool programs and the children and parents they support?

New leadership

The new Congress will bring new leadership for several key committees that have jurisdiction over education policy and education spending. In the House of Representatives, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) has retired and the new Chairperson will be Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) will stay on as Ranking Member. House Appropriations Committee leadership changed as well, with new Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) taking over for Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who was term-limited out of the chairmanship. Ranking Member (and Afterschool Caucus co-chair) Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) will continue in her previous role in the 115th Congress.

On the Senate side, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) remain as leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP). Chairman Thad Cochran (R-TN) is staying on as Committee Chairman for the Senate Appropriations Committee with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) taking over for retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) as Ranking Member.

New challenges within the appropriations process

Friends of afterschool should closely follow the FY 2017 and FY 2018 appropriations cycles beginning early in 2017. With the continuing resolution authorizing federal spending at current 2016 fiscal year spending levels set to expire on April 28, 2017, finalizing the FY 2017 spending bill will be a key priority early in the 115th Congress. Constraints on available funding include discretionary spending caps that limit available funds as well as competing priorities outside of the education arena in areas like infrastructure and health. In late spring, Congress will also have to initiate the FY 2018 spending process, which will be even more challenging given the return of the sequester cuts after a two-year negotiated hiatus.

Making your voice heard early and often next year will be critical to educating the new Congress on the many valuable outcomes of local afterschool and summer learning programs. Use our action center to share your thoughts on the appropriations process and its impact on afterschool with your member of Congress to ensure that no cuts are made late in the fiscal cycle next year.   

DEC
6
2016

POLICY
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5 opportunities for afterschool in new Department of Education regulations for ESSA

By Jillian Luchner

President Obama signing the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.

On November 29th, the Department of Education issued final regulations on accountability, school support, data reporting, and consolidated state plan provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The regulations strengthen the voices of afterschool advocates who recognize the importance of being included in state plans by reinforcing the importance of stakeholder involvement, awareness of equitable resources, and state and local flexibility in decision making.

The new regulations responded to more than 20,000 comments on the draft regulations (including a submission by the Afterschool Alliance), in some cases clarifying the law, in other cases explaining the decision to not take action, and occasionally suggesting that more information would come in the form of non-regulatory guidance. We’ve identified the following five areas in the regulations where afterschool may play a major role.

1. Accountability

What the law says: The regulations emphasize “working closely with stakeholders to choose evidence based interventions that are tailored to local needs.” The new law also requires states to choose one or more indicators of school quality or student success (like student engagement or chronic absenteeism, for example), which will factor into the overall school score that is reported to parents under the accountability system. The regulations require that these indicators, also known as 5th indicators, have a research base tying them to student learning and achievement, such as improved GPAs, credit accumulation, graduation rates, college enrollment or career success.

Where afterschool fits in: Afterschool programs are a proven way to support students in academics, engagement and behavior. Afterschool advocates should ensure that state and local superintendents and school boards are aware of the research on afterschool’s role in boosting academic achievement and student success. The afterschool field is a well-positioned partner in supporting students and the school system under this section of the law.

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learn more about: Department of Education ESEA
NOV
30
2016

POLICY
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Who is Trump's nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos?

By Erik Peterson

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, President-elect Donald Trump announced the selection of Michigan philanthropist and education activist Betsy DeVos as his nominee for education secretary. DeVos is an advocate for school choice, including private school voucher programs, and is a past chairwoman of the Republican Party of Michigan.

DeVos is expected to go through the confirmation process in the Senate early next year. Little is known about her position on education issues; however, she has reportedly kept quiet about Common Core, which President-elect Trump heavily criticized during the campaign. She has served as chairwoman of the board of the Alliance for School Choice and heads the All Children Matter Political Action Committee, which she and her husband founded in 2003 to promote school vouchers, tax credits to businesses that give private school scholarships, and candidates who support these causes.

Her other activities on behalf of public-school reform have included membership on the boards of directors of  Advocates for School Choice, the American Education Reform Council, and the Education Freedom Fund. She has chaired the boards of Choices for Children and Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), and is chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which describes itself as "a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs."

DeVos also serves on the board the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization connected with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush that envisions an education system capable of maximizing every student's potential for learning and preparing them for success in the 21st century. 

NOV
11
2016

POLICY
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Looking toward a new year, administration and Congress

By Erik Peterson

The results of the 2016 presidential race, as of November 11, 2016. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

With the election behind us, many are asking what's next with regard to the next administration and Congress. While it's too soon to answer all the questions, it is a good time to think through timelines and strategies for working with the transition team for the new administration as well as the new 115th Congress.

President-elect Donald Trump's transition transition team has been quietly working in Washington for the past several months (as had Hillary Clinton's transition team), reviewing potential cabinet position nominees and developing plans for the first 100 days of Trump's presidency. While some potential cabinet members have been discussed in the media, there has been little speculation about a possible Secretary of Education, though former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has been floated as a possibility. President-elect Trump has also suggested that he might pick someone from business for the post. Williamson M. Evers and Gerard Robinson are on the Trump transition team, and have been developing possible education policy positions. Evers is a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, and Robinson, who was Florida’s commissioner of education for a year, is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Robinson also served as principal investigator on the 2007 Mott-funded study “More than homework, a snack, and basketball: Afterschool Programs as an Oasis of Hope for Black Parents in Four Cities,” published by the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

The Afterschool Alliance submitted a memo to the Trump transition team calling for continued support of children and working parents through leveraging federal funds used by local school and community based-afterschool and summer learning programs. Additionally, the memo calls for the following:

  • Set a date and agenda for a White House summit on the role community programs, faith-based organizations and supports beyond the school day can have in keeping young people safe and secure from crime and preparing young people for jobs and careers.
  • Participate in the April 5, 2017 Ready to Work Summit to be hosted by the University of Southern California Schwarzenegger Institute on the role of afterschool in preparing our students for the future, by sending an official representative.
  • Appoint a Secretary of Education that is a champion of school-community partnerships. A good leader understands the importance of partnerships, listens to the voices of young people and communities, and is aware of inequities that must be met head on to close persistent opportunity and achievement gaps. Our next Secretary of Education must focus on opportunities for every American student and lift up school-community partnerships such as those employed in afterschool programs and community schools as vehicles to do so.

During the campaign for the presidency, President-elect Trump put forth federal policy proposals that support afterschool programs for children, as part of his child care plan.

SEP
12
2016

POLICY
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Afterschool & Law Enforcement: New tools for working with school resource officers

By Erik Peterson

The Afterschool Alliance is pleased to present this post as part of the Afterschool & Law Enforcement blog series. For more information on the ways afterschool programs are partnering with local police, check out our previous blogs on building relationships and trust, the motivations for partnerships and on the law enforcement caucus’ briefing on youth mentoring.

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice released several new tools in the form of letters to states and districts emphasizing the importance of well-designed school resource officer (SRO) programs. School resource officers are law enforcement officers who provide security and crime prevention services to school communities. These new tools are intended to help SRO programs improve school climate, ensure safety for students and support student achievement in schools nationwide.

To the extent a local decision is made to use SROs in community schools, these resources will help state and local education and law enforcement agencies responsibly incorporate SROs in the learning environment. Additionally, the Departments have highlighted tools available for law enforcement agencies that also apply to higher education campus law enforcement agencies.

To assist states, schools and their law enforcement partners in assessing the proper role of SROs and campus law enforcement professionals, both the Education Department's and the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released letters to states and districts emphasizing the importance of well-designed SRO programs and calling on leaders of institutions of higher education to commit to implementing recommendations from the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the campus policing context.

To assist in the K-12 context, the Departments also jointly released the Safe, School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics. These new resources can help education and law enforcement agencies that use SROs to review and, if necessary, revise SRO-related policies in alignment with common-sense action steps that can lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights.

Afterschool advocates at the state and local level have been working with community organizations, school district leadership and law enforcement on using the afterschool setting as a venue to build better relationships between law enforcement and young people. The new tools released by the Departments of Education and Justice are a welcome addition to the resources available for this work. 

SEP
1
2016

POLICY
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Evidence-based practices in education

By Jillian Luchner

Photo by Andrei Firtich

The reauthorized national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) puts an increased emphasis on states and school districts using evidence-based practices in many areas. Under ESSA's Title I, schools designated by their state as “in need of improvement” must create a school improvement plan with at least one activity or program that has a related study showing it meets one of the identified tiers of evidence: strong, moderate or promising (described below).

In addition to this requirement, seven different competitive grants in ESSA will give priority to applicants who meet the top three evidence-based tiers. Although 21st Century Community Learning Centers are formula funded and do not require stringent adherence to evidence based practices, eligible entities are still expected to use best practices to improve student outcomes. Fortunately, there is a substantial and growing evidence base on the positive effects afterschool has on youth development outcomes.

This March, president Obama also signed the Evidence-Based Policy Making Commission Act of 2016. The commission established by the act has designated appointees and is beginning its work. The government’s focus on evidence seems here to stay.

Below is an overview of the evidence tiers specific to ESSA, concluding with resources to find evidence-based programs and develop new studies to add to the field of research.

Here are the four tiers of evidence-based practices in ESSA

  • STRONG. Strong studies show positive and meaningful (“statically significant”) results with randomized control trials (RCT). RCTs are viewed as the gold standard of evaluation because they are the best way to determine the effectiveness of a program or policy. RCTs take a large group of people and randomly assign them to the intervention being evaluated (the “treatment” group, in this case, is an afterschool program) or assign them to have no intervention (also known as the “control group”). However, the level of resources (time, money, expertise, etc.) necessary for RCT studies makes them incredibly difficult to implement and limits their availability. This is why it’s important that the law also includes the following tiers of evidence.
  • MODERATE. A moderate study will demonstrate a meaningful positive result on student outcomes based on a quasi-experimental study—a study that, like RCTs, has a “control” group and a “treatment” group, but unlike RCTs, it does not include the random assignment to a group.
  • PROMISING. A promising study—or correlational study—is one that shows a relationship between an activity or program and student improvements, but it does not prove that the specific activity or program under study was the cause of the change. For example, a correlational study may find that there is a relationship between gains in students’ communication skills and their participation in an afterschool program, but it would not be able to say for certain that participating in the afterschool program caused students to improve their communication skills.
  • UNDER EVALUATION. In this final, fourth tier of evidence, the law recognizes that the evidence base is itself a work in progress. The “under evaluation” designation exists for activities and programs that, while yet untested, are rationally derived from research and will be tracked to see what effects they have.