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Arne Duncan’s Summer To-Do List: What’s Done? What’s Next?

By Alyson Klein — September 29, 2014 3 min read
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Kids are back in the classrooms, the leaves are starting to change, and the autumn equinox has happened ... so how did U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Company do in terms of tackling their lengthy summer to-do list? And what’s up next?

Still lingering:

Teacher preparation regulations. Since way back in April 2012, the department has been promising that it will issue new rules for gauging the performance of colleges of teacher education. After all, improving teacher preparation has been perennial priority of policymakers for years, at least rhetorically. The new proposed regs could prevent teacher prep organizations whose graduates don’t do well in the classroom from getting federal TEACH grants, which would set a pretty important precedent. The White House (yes, the actual White House, not just the department) said back in May that the administration would release proposed regs over the summer. October starts next month, there’s candy corn available at CVS ... and we haven’t seen them yet.

Some sort of peer-review process or other criteria for taking a look at state assessments. The department has a review process in place to figure out whether state tests are of high-quality, but that system has been “paused” as the administration rethinks its process, in light of the transition to more rigorous standards. This is an issue because states are in the process of selecting new tests to align with the Common Core and other new, college and career ready standards. New draft criteria for reviewing those assessments was supposed to be released in August, according to this smart story by my colleague Catherine Gewertz, but we haven’t seen it yet.

Completed, or at least getting there:

Still, the department was able to knock a lot off of its to-do list.

Proposed new rules for the School Improvement Grant program. These came out earlier this month—and include some well-received new models, including one on early childhood education. It’s unclear if these were completed in time, some folks say that there will be still be a limited window left for states to figure out how to implement new turnaround models, The final rules may not be out until the end of the year and states will have to allocate the dollars this spring, leaving less time for planning than some folks would like.

Fifty-state teacher-equity strategy. This came out in early July, after numerous delays, to rave reviews from teachers’ unions and organizations representing state policymakers. But some analysts are still perplexed by the fact that the new strategy doesn’t expect states to distribute teachers based on who has strong “outcomes” (whether teachers are actually moving the needle on student achievement) so much as “inputs” (factors like attendance and qualifications.) And it’s unclear whether the department will consider teacher equity in waiver renewal, so who knows whether the 50-state strategy has any real teeth behind it? More on all that here.

Rules for the new preschool development grant competition. Those came out in August. Most advocates liked them and the vast majority of states say they are going to apply. Applications are actually due in mid-October.

Next up:

Teacher-equity profiles. These are supposed to help bolster the teacher-equity strategy, described above, by essentially showing folks where states are now on teacher distribution. They’re supposed to come out in the fall.

Waiver-renewal guidance. What do states have to do to hang onto their flexibility for another year or more? We’ll find out this fall, some advocates say.

And speaking of which...the department said last year that it was working on an analysis of state accountability systems under the waivers—including whether states are identifying the right schools for interventions. It’s unclear if these are finished, and whether or not they are going to be made public.