News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

July 09, 2003 9 min read
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Dept. Moves Ahead With Plan for ERIC

Despite opposition from many policymakers, educators, and librarians, the Department of Education is forging ahead with plans to place its far-flung Educational Resources Information Center, or eric, under the auspices of a single contractor.

Comprising 16 separate, subject-specific clearinghouses, the ERIC database is the largest, best-known, and longest-running online education library in the country. Most of the clearinghouse contracts are set to expire in December, though, and federal officials this spring floated a plan that they argue will make the 1960s-era system more efficient.

Parts of the plan, which call for eliminating the individual clearinghouses as well as some of their most popular, customer-friendly services and products, drew protests from dozens of national education groups and members of Congress. (“Plans to Alter ERIC Set Off Alarms,” May 28, 2003.)

Department officials signaled their intention to carry on, however, when on June 27 they posted a formal request for proposals from organizations willing to spearhead the transformation.

—Debra Viadero

Most Remain Unaware Of 2001 Federal Law

Most Americans still haven’t caught wind of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, according to a recent poll.

“Quality, Affordability, and Access: Americans Speak on Higher Education,” is available from ETS.

The survey, commissioned by the Educational Testing Service and released last month, found that only 37 percent of adults knew a major new K-12 education measure had become law. Twelve percent of respondents said they believed that the law had led to changes in schools.

The survey asked about a wide range of issues related to K-12 and higher education.

It found, for instance, that 72 percent of adults believe higher education in the United States “works pretty well or needs only minor changes,” compared with 50 percent who say the same about K-12 education.

The survey of 1,003 adults, conducted May 8-15, has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

—Erik W. Robelen

Senate Bill Said to Boost History, Civics Education

A bill aimed at bolstering student learning about American history and civics has been referred to the House Education and the Workforce Committee following passage by the Senate last month.

The American History and Civics Education Act of 2003, which cleared the Senate on June 20, would authorize the creation of 12, two-week workshops free to K-12 teachers who wanted to increase their knowledge of American history and learn innovative teaching methods.

The legislation would also establish “Congressional Academies” that would enable high school students to attend four-week sessions to learn about American history. In addition, the bill would form a National Alliance of Teachers of American History to encourage teachers to swap ideas. Grants would be awarded to nonprofit educational institutions to develop the workshops and the academies.

Said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., a co-sponsor of the bill: “Learning about our nation’s history helps our children understand the people, places, and events that have helped shape the world they live in.”

—Michelle R. Davis

Head Start Bill Moves Toward Vote in House

With the House expected to vote any day on a bill to reauthorize Head Start, advocates for the program say they will keep trying to strip the bill of proposed pilot projects that would allow eight states more control over funding for the federal preschool initiative.

“We’re going to stay united against the demonstration projects,” said Joel Ryan, the government affairs director for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Head Start Association.

The House bill, which the Education and the Workforce Committee approved June 19 on a 27-20 vote along party lines, is a scaled-down version of President Bush’s plan to retool the 38-year-old program for poor children.

Permitting states to combine Head Start funding with what they spend on their own early-childhood- education programs, according to the president’s plan, would allow state officials to better coordinate services. Opponents argue that local Head Start grantees are already working together with other preschool and child-care providers to serve children. (“Head Start Imbroglio a Struggle for Hearts, Minds, Votes,” June 18, 2003.)

—Linda Jacobson

Senate IDEA Legislation Clears Education Panel

A bill that would revamp the nation’s special education law—with differences from its House companion—is headed for the Senate floor.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on June 25 unanimously passed its bipartisan version of a bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (“Senate’s IDEA Bill Absent House’s Discipline, IEP Changes,” June 18, 2003.)

After months of bipartisan negotiations behind the scenes, the committee passed the bill in a session of less than 10 minutes, with no substantial changes.

Such divisive issues as federal funding levels and proposed tuition vouchers for students in special education are expected to come up on the Senate floor.

Both the Senate bill and the version passed in the House on April 30 aim to reduce paperwork for special education teachers, improve conflict resolution in special education, and lower the number of students wrongly placed in special education.

But unlike the House bill, the Senate bill would not revise student-discipline provisions to put the burden on parents to prove that their children’s disabilities caused them to break school rules. Also, the Senate bill would not allow extensions of the interval between formal rewrites of student’s individualized education plans.

The IDEA guarantees the nation’s 6.5 million students with disabilities the right to a free, appropriate public education.

—Lisa Goldstein

New Center to Promote Defibrillators in Schools

President Bush signed legislation last week that will create a national resource center for schools seeking training, funding, and other tips for jumpstarting local defibrillator programs that could save children’s lives.

Automatic external defibrillators, or AEDS, are portable devices that can deliver an electrical shock to the heart to help restore it to a normal rhythm after a person goes into cardiac arrest.

A growing number of states and districts are either requiring or encouraging schools to have AEDs on campus, and to train people how to use them properly. (“Groups Urging Schools to Install Defibrillators to Curb Cardiac Deaths,” April 17, 2002.)

The Adam Act, named for a 17-year-old Whitefish Bay, Wis., student who collapsed and died during a basketball game, was passed by Congress last month to “ensure that schools have access to the appropriate training, fund-raising techniques, and other logistics required for successful programs,” according to a press release from Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. President Bush signed the bill into law July 1.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

‘What Works’ Site Poised for Launch

The Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse this month plans to publish the final standards it will use to rate the effectiveness of educational programs, practices, and products.

When it’s up and running later this year, the clearinghouse is supposed to provide an online “one-stop shop’’ where policymakers and educators can go for scientific evidence of what really works in education.

Draft versions of the guidelines circulated late last year drew dozens of comments from researchers and educators. Harris M. Cooper, the University of Missouri-Columbia researcher who co-wrote the standards, said the final versions, which were approved by the clearinghouse’s technical- advisory board in June, are not markedly different in overall concept from earlier drafts. But they contain some “under the hood” technical changes made in response to the comments from the field, he said.

In assessing the quality of studies, for example, the final versions put more emphasis than did previous drafts on making sure that the methods used to measure whether an educational intervention works are aligned with the intervention itself. They also make clearer that a variety of research designs—not just randomized, experimental studies—can qualify as sound evidence of effectiveness.

The guidelines are set to be posted online at

—Debra Viadero

GAO Report Sheds Light On Spec. Ed. Suspensions

When students with disabilities are suspended for more than 10 days, they receive alternative educational services. But where do they go for the services, what services do they get, and is the federal government providing enough guidance on such issues?

With discipline looming large in the ongoing debate over revamping special education, a recent federal report attempts to answer those questions.

The May report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said students with disabilities who were removed from their regular educational settings for disciplinary purposes in the 2001- 02 school year were mostly placed in one of two short-term settings: in-school suspension rooms, or their own homes. The study looked at students in Maryland, Illinois, and North Carolina.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, had requested the report. The committee recently passed its version of the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The secretary of education should issue more guidance on the IDEA’s discipline provisions to state and local education agencies, the GAO report says. For example, educators need more guidance on whether a day of in-school suspension should be counted as a day of removal under the 10-day rule, according to the report.

—Lisa Goldstein

Democrats Decry Change In Student-Loan Rules

A relatively obscure change to federal regulations that alters the amounts that students are eligible for in financial aid for college has drawn objections from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who say they will ask the Department of Education to suspend the new policy.

Published as a notice in May 30 edition of The Federal Register, the new rule adjusts the “federal need-analysis methodology” to determine a student’s eligibility for a broad set of federal Title IV financial-aid programs. The analysis is a formula that determines how much students and families can be expected to contribute to the costs of college.

The change reduced the amount that families could deduct from their incomes on financial-aid applications to account for what they are paying in state and local taxes. Though the department did not provide an official estimate of the number of students potentially affected, millions of students receive federal student aid through various federal programs, such as Pell Grants.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., called the rule change a “serious setback,” and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., was also critical.

But Jeff Andrade, the deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Education’s office of postsecondary education, said the agency made the change because it was legally obligated to do so after requesting, and receiving, new statistical information from the Treasury Department. He predicted the change would have a “minimal” impact on most families, because many were not at income levels, or receiving aid amounts, that would allow the change to affect their financial- aid eligibility.

“It’s kind of disheartening that the Democrats would demagogue this issue, and try to scare students and their families,” he said.

—Sean Cavanagh


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