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A group of moderate Democratic senators released a set of principles this morning for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that closely mirrors the Obama administration's own vision as outlined in a blueprint released almost a year ago.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, of Colorado, the administration's Senate soulmate on K-12 issues, and Sen. Kay Hagan, of North Carolina, led the effort to craft the moderates' ESEA wish list.

The statement, which was signed by 11 senators in all, represents a moderate marker on ESEA. It remains to be seen whether it will appeal to at least some moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats, whose support will be needed to get an ESEA reauthorization bill through the Senate (not to mention the more conservative U.S. House of Representatives).

The lawmakers used much of the same rhetoric that the administration has in describing their ideas for K-12 policy. For instance, the statement of principles criticizes the current version of the law, the nine-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, for encouraging states to lower their standards while being really rigid about how they meet those standards—that line is also one of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's greatest hits.

"We should reverse that paradigm through reauthorization: supporting state efforts to set clear, high, common standards for students to be college-and career-ready, but allowing much greater flexibility at the state and local level to determine the best way to meet those standards," the statement of principles says.

It also links improving education with ensuring the nation's long-term economic progress, an Obama-ism.

Specifically, the group wants to:

1) Change the accountability system at the heart of the law—Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP—so it focuses on student growth over time, as opposed to the current system, which basically compares different cohorts of students to one another. This proposal is no surprise. Almost everyone, from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats, likes the idea of measuring growth, and many states are already doing it through a pilot project at the Education Department that was started by Duncan's predecessor, Margaret Spellings.

They also want to offer rewards or incentives to schools that are making major jumps in student achievement. That reminds me of the Title I rewards proposal in Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget request, which would, in essence, give money and flexibility to schools that help students make progress.

And the senators want to give states more flexibility in figuring out how to intervene in most schools that miss AYP (for instance, those that are successful with most students but aren't working well with a particular subgroup, such as English-language learners) while being really stringent with the lowest-performing schools. Schools that really can't improve should be shut down. That's straight out of the Obama blueprint, too.

2) Stick with the Obama administration's four options for turning around the lowest-performing schools, which include steps such as turning a school over to a charter operator, closing the school, removing half the teachers, and/or putting in a new instructional program, and extending learning time while beefing up professional development. The senators say schools that are struggling the most really need these dramatic models, which have faced some major bipartisan criticism.

The senators say they want to ensure that the models, most of which call for staff shakeups, are workable for rural schools, which may have a tougher time attracting new teachers and principals. And they say community buy-in is key.

3) On teachers, see that colleges of education are held accountable for the performance of their graduates. (This closely tracks with an Obama budget proposal, which was spurred by a Bennet idea.) And the moderates want to provide competitive money to create and scale-up promising teacher prep programs.

They also want to see new systems for measuring teacher effectiveness that incorporate a bunch of measures, including student outcome data, to be developed with teacher cooperation. And they want more on-the-job support for teachers, including extra money for those that take on extra responsibilities.

4) Continue Race to the Top, the administration's signature K-12 initiative, which rewarded states for embracing certain education reform principles, such as charter schools and performance pay. The administration has suggested making it a district competition.

The lawmakers also want to continue the Investing in Innovation, or i3, program, which scaled up promising practices at the district level.

5) Fix the so-called "comparability loophole" in Title I, so that schools would have to report salary data for teachers in addition to other expenses. Districts also should make sure that high-poverty schools get their fair share of state and local resources, the lawmakers say. The administration tried something similar in the reporting requirements for the federal economic-stimulus program, and the lawmakers see that as a good model.

When I think of comparability, I automatically think of The Education Trust, an advocacy organization in Washington that has been championing this idea for eons. But it's not a slam-dunk and could get politically dicey, as this story shows.

So does this moderate set of principles mean that the Obama blueprint has momentum? Maybe. But these lawmakers are probably among the administration's closest allies in Congress on K-12 policy, so if they hadn't liked the blueprint, it's pretty safe to say no one was going to.

In addition to Bennet and Hagan, the set of principles was signed by Democratic Sens. Mark Begich, of Alaska; Thomas Carper, of Delaware; Chris Coons, of Delaware; Dianne Feinstein, of California; Herb Kohl, of Wisconsin; Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana; Joe Manchin, of West Virginia; Mark Warner, of Virginia; and Connecticut's Joseph Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

UPDATE: Some of these lawmakers may be introducing bills on parts of the list of principles in coming weeks. For instance, Hagan is working on a bill on turning around the lowest performing schools.

LOUISA, Ky -- At approximately 10:07 AM  Tuesday, March 8, Emergency Management officials and  the National Weather Service, partnering with  Kentucky Weather Preparedness Committee will issue a TORNADO WARNING test message.

Warning sirens will sound, weather alert radios will activate and television and radio stations will broadcast the alert message at this time across Kentucky communities including Louisa and Lawrence County according to Harold Slone, Director of Emergency Management.

The broadcast test message will emphasize this is only a test of the alert system, as schools across the commonwealth use this time to conduct their annual statewide tornado drill.  During the test message alert, Slone urges all Lawrence County Citizens, businesses, hospitals, nursing homes and government agencies to practice their tornado safety drill and update their emergency plan.

The NWS has confirmed two tornadoes have touched down in Kentucky in the recent episode of storms.

“We are not exempt from tornadoes in Kentucky and need to prepared when and if it happens” says Director Slone.

If you do not have a plan in place, we ask you consider these guidelines:

  • KYEM and NWS recommend designating a tornado shelter in an interior room on the lowest level of a building, away from windows.  Basements are best, but if there is no basement, choose an interior bathroom, closet or other enclosed space on the lowest level of a building.
  • Tell everyone where the designated shelter is and post the location.

To conduct a drill at home or work:

* Announce the start of the drill.

* Participants should act as though a tornado warning has been issued for the immediate area or a tornado has been sighted nearby. They should move as quickly as possible to the designated tornado shelter.

* Once people reach pre-designated safe areas, they should crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down, covering their heads with their hands.

* Once everyone has reached safe shelter, announce the mock tornado has passed and the drill is over.

* After the drill, perform an assessment.  Determine whether the shelter you chose was large enough for everyone, easy to get to and uncluttered.  Remember that tornadoes strike at all hours, and you might not have the benefit of being fully awake when a tornado warning comes.

KYEM is offering an ONLINE SURVEY form that each participate is encouraged to fill out and submit.  This information will be used to help determine the effectiveness of the drill, ways to improve readiness and alert notifications.

Governor Steve Beshear signed a proclamation designating March as Severe Weather Awareness Month in Kentucky.  The tornado safety drill is one of several local readiness activities in conjunction with the proclamation.

The survey, additional information, weather safety tips, helpful links and resources can be found on the KYEM website, at:www.kyem.ky.gov/weather.

Online education, which can be an effective tool for leveling the playing field for rural schools, is catching on accross the country. "A combination of higher proficiency standards and tighter budgets are prompting school officials to look more closely than ever at online education," David Harrison of Stateline.org reports. Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, told him, "Budgets are being cut. We can’t do more with less by continuing to do the same thing we’ve always done."

Just two states do not offer online courses. In most schools online courses are blended with in-school classes, "but 27 states allow students to attend virtual schools full-time," Harrison writes. "Online courses allow students to work at their own pace, with advanced students moving through the curriculum quickly while others might get more of the attention they need from teachers."

Online education allows poor rural districts to still offer advanced classes without having to recruit specialized teachers. "The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, has embraced online learning, provided it’s taught by licensed and trained teachers and as long as it doesn’t completely replace in-school teaching," Harrison writes.

State-run virtual education programs enrolled roughly 450,000 students last year up from 40 percent the year before, the online learning group reports. Florida and North Carolina lead the way; Florida enrolled 220,000 online students, while North Carolina has the fastest growing program, now reaching 80,000, Harrison reports. (Read more)

Posted by Jon Hale

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