Tag Archives: public schools

FACT SHEET: The Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure

The Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure aims to upgrade our public schools with modern, clean, energy efficient facilities and transportation—delivering health and learning benefits to children and school communities, saving school districts money, and creating good union jobs. The action plan activates the entire federal government in leveraging investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and American Rescue Plan to advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses, and resilient design. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

 
Administration Launches $500 million Grant Program from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Program to Save Schools Money with Energy Upgrades

 
Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure to upgrade our public schools with modern, clean, energy efficient facilities and transportation—delivering health and learning benefits to children and school communities, saving school districts money, and creating good union jobs. The action plan activates the entire federal government in leveraging investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and American Rescue Plan to advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses, and resilient design.
 
The science of learning and development has shown that students need school environments filled with safety, belonging, and health to learn and thrive. Yet many schools rely on outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that make classrooms less comfortable and may pose health risks to students and teachers exposed to contaminants or particles in the air that can trigger allergies or asthma attacks and potentially spread infectious diseases – including COVID-19. Dirty diesel buses pose additional health risks for students on board and the neighborhoods they travel through — and exhaust from idling buses can pollute the air around schools. Studies show that poor air quality inside classrooms takes a toll on student concentration and performance, and diesel exhaust exposure is linked to increased school absences. Reducing this pollution will provide better health and educational outcomes — particularly in low-income communities and communities of color that have long faced underinvestment and the burden of high pollution.
 
The action plan will save schools and taxpayers money. Public K-12 districts spend roughly $8 billion a year on energy bills — the second largest expense after teacher salaries. Energy efficiency improvements to HVAC systems, lighting, insulation, and other energy upgrades can not only protect the health of our children, but also unlock significant savings to go toward students and learning. Off-the-shelf improvements can provide energy savings of 10 to 30 percent and broader upgrades can unlock even more savings for years to come – all while creating opportunities for good paying union jobs for electricians, carpenters, painters, sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipefitters, and more.
 
The Administration is seizing the opportunity to align classrooms with the science of learning and development to improve educational equity and environmental justice. The new actions build on President Biden signing the American Rescue Plan into law one year ago, which helped reopen more than 99% of schools with resources to put in place critical health and safety measures like ventilation improvements to make in-person learning safe and accessible for students and educators.
 
The Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure will:

  • Invest in More Efficient, Energy-Saving School Buildings: The Department of Energy (DOE) is launching a $500 million grant program through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to make public schools more energy efficient. This new program will lower energy costs, improve air quality, and prioritize schools most in need, enabling schools to focus more resources on student learning.
     
  • Improve Classroom Air Quality through the American Rescue Plan: The Administration is supporting states, school districts, and local communities in leveraging American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief resources to address school infrastructure needs—like repairing, upgrading, or replacing of ventilation systems; purchasing air filters and portable air cleaning devices; and fixing doors and windows so that schools can stay open for in-person learning. Additionally, the Department of Treasury will soon release additional information to help school districts understand how they can use State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds for a range of air quality and other school facility improvements, including energy efficiency.
     
  • Help Schools Access Resources and Best Practices: The White House is releasing a toolkit to help schools and school districts access available funding, as well as technical assistance opportunities and planning tools to help schools improve air quality, energy efficiency, and more. This new toolkit will further support school participation in the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which the Administration recently launched to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and improve indoor air quality in buildings of all kinds, including schools. The Department of Energy is also announcing the inaugural honorees of the Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, which provides technical assistance to school districts seeking to implement high-impact indoor air quality and efficiency improvements that will reduce energy bills and improve student and teacher health.  
     
  • Expand Clean and Safe School Transportation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with support from the Department of Energy (DOE), is releasing new online resources to help school districts and other eligible recipients prepare for the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—with the first opportunity to fund clean and electric buses opening later this spring. The DOE is working closely with the EPA to develop targeted technical assistance programs that assist school districts in implementing clean and electric buses effectively into their fleets–starting with a technical assistance video series on electric buses. To support projects that help students safely walk and bike to school, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has provided state and local governments with new guidance to access $90 billion in available federal funding, including Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs.  
     
  • Support for Rural, Tribal, and Puerto Rican Schools: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is announcing its full commitment to use its array of rural development loan and grant programs to support electric school bus acquisition, charging station infrastructure, energy efficiency investments at schools, and broadband and distance learning in rural school districts – to accelerate the shift from dirty fuel sources toward school facilities and vehicles powered by clean electricity. DOE is partnering with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to improve the state of our federally-operated schools. And the Administration’s Working Group on Puerto Rico has prioritized supporting school reconstruction.

Today’s announcements build on ongoing efforts to support students, including the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan to reduce lead exposure in 400,000 schools and child care facilities and the Justice40 Initiative, which agencies are implementing to deliver 40 percent of the benefits of federal climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities.

Investments to Improve School Energy Efficiency and Indoor Air Quality

The Administration is advancing a suite of investments to upgrade our K-12 public school facilities, many of which face maintenance backlogs and are long overdue for new equipment. While teachers and education leaders have long raised concerns about the level of comfort and air quality in our classrooms, the pandemic has laid bare disparities in access to healthy facilities, including modern, efficient, and clean HVAC systems. Outdated, inefficient buildings also saddle underserved school districts with higher energy bills and generate significant greenhouse gas emissions, keeping them in a cycle of underfunding operations and overpaying maintenance costs. This Action Plan will help schools make facility improvements that simultaneously deliver health protections, savings, and climate benefits.
 
Today, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a Request for Information to launch its new $500 million grant program for energy improvements at public school facilities, funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The projects funded by these grants will improve the quality of the air our students and educators breathe while reducing energy costs and freeing up local funds to invest more in education. These grants can support comprehensive energy efficiency audits and building retrofits, HVAC and lighting upgrades, clean energy installation, and more—along with training to help staff maintain these improvements over the long-term. DOE will prioritize projects in rural and high-poverty schools, and support leveraging of additional private, philanthropic, and public funding to maximize the benefits of these grants. In step with the Administration’s priority to create good union jobs accessible to all workers, the DOE will work to promote high quality labor and equity standards into school improvement grants. The RFI solicits input from schools and other stakeholders on important design considerations to ensure the grant program achieves the greatest reach and impact.
 
The Administration is also leveraging the American Rescue Plan, which President Biden signed into law one year ago, to address a range of health and safety issues in schools. The American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program has provided $122 billion to states and districts to help schools stay open and address the significant academic and mental health needs of students resulting from the pandemic. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan also includes $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to support a wide range of pandemic response and recovery efforts, including school improvements to ventilation and building energy systems that reduce energy costs and support healthy environments. And, according to independent analysis, school districts are already planning to spend $15 billion of these funds to address facilities issues impacting student and staff health and safety, such as improving indoor air quality. The Department of Treasury will soon provide additional clarity to help recipients of State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds understand how they can partner with local education agencies to use more of these funds for building upgrades and construction, including pre-project development costs, such as building assessments, energy audits, and feasibility studies. The Department of Education continues to outline how states and districts can use its funds for repairs and renovations, including improving indoor air quality through HVAC upgrades and door and window replacement, and ensuring clean drinking water in schools.
 
New Resources and Recognition to Support Schools
To help schools access funding sources and technical assistance opportunities, the White House is releasing a toolkit mapping out available resources across the federal government for school infrastructure upgrades. By compiling resources and programs from across the federal government, this toolkit will help state and local officials find the support they need for building assessments, air quality improvements, energy efficiency upgrades, lead removal, resilience planning, and more. It builds on the Administration’s priority on improving indoor air quality through the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in buildings and to deliver better health outcomes and protection for all building occupants.
 
To support and uplift schools and districts undertaking this critical work, the Administration is announcing the first round of honorees as part of the Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, which provides technical assistance to school districts seeking to implement high-impact indoor air quality and efficiency improvements that will reduce energy bills and improve student and teacher health. This innovative campaign has a goal of reaching 5,000 schools by the end of 2022. To date, 26 school districts across 16 states have joined or are prepared to join the campaign—representing over 1,500,000 students in 2,600 individual schools—more than half way toward the campaign’s goal.
 
Today, the Campaign announced its first round of awards to eight school districts for their best-in-class efforts across four categories: Efficient HVAC Technologies, Inspection & maintenance, Ongoing Monitoring & Analytics, and Team Approach to Support Strategic Investments. The inaugural honorees include:

  • Adams 12 Five Star Schools, CO 
  • Boulder Valley School District, CO
  • Charleston County School District, SC
  • Columbia Public Schools, MO
  • Davis School District, UT
  • Greenville County Schools, SC
  • Mariposa County Unified School District, CA
  • Newark Board of Education, NJ

DOE is also accelerating a range of grants, technical assistance, and lending to support schools along each step of the school improvement process. These efforts include the Better Buildings Challenge and its K-12 Sector partnerships; DOE’s new tool—eProject eXpress—that can support state and local governments and K-12 schools in project management for energy saving performance contracts, and help leverage financing to maximize impact; and DOE’s Loan Programs Office Renewable Energy and Efficient Energy Solicitation that can be accessed by schools to provide up to $3 billion in loan guarantees for retrofit projects.

And to ensure that schools are supported in creating healthy, safe, sustainable, 21st century learning environments, the Department of Education is proposing a new Office of Infrastructure and Sustainability, as part of the President’s FY2023 Budget. This office would oversee a proposed National Clearinghouse on School Infrastructure and Sustainability and administer the ongoing U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award. The proposed National Clearinghouse on School Infrastructure and Sustainability would provide technical assistance and training to state and local education agencies on issues related to educational facility planning, design, financing, construction, improvement, operation, and maintenance, including green building design and operation practices consistent with the Administration’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis. The Clearinghouse would also develop resources and assemble best practices on issues related to ensuring equitable access to healthy, educationally adequate and environmentally and fiscally sustainable public-school facilities and grounds. To set the stage for this new office, the Department of Education recently named a Special Advisor for Infrastructure and Sustainability to spearhead agency-wide consideration of how existing programs might support school sustainability and infrastructure.

These actions build on the Biden-Harris Administration’s Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which calls on all building owners and operators, schools, colleges and universities, and organizations of all kinds to adopt key strategies to improve indoor air quality in their buildings and reduce the spread of COVID-19. It serves as a call to action to assess indoor air quality and make ventilation and air filtration improvements to help keep occupants safe. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a best practices guide for improving indoor air quality and reducing the risk of spreading dangerous airborne particles.

Clean and Safe School Transportation
School buses safely transport more than 25 million children every day across America. However, diesel exhaust from buses produces particulate matter and other pollutants that can cause lung damage and aggravate asthma and other health problems in children. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, with support and technical assistance from the Department of Energy, are making historic investments in cleaner school buses and safer school transportation routes.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is building public awareness for the new $5 billion Clean School Bus Program created by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Throughout the next month, EPA will regularly post new online resources and webinars for the Clean School Bus Program to help school districts and other eligible recipients prepare for the first round of applications. These resources build upon EPA’s public education and outreach effort, to gather ideas and increase awareness within communities and school districts, particularly for lower-resourced schools—in support of the President’s Justice40 commitment.

The Department of Transportation is helping communities take advantage of funding to support safer routes to schools made available by the Bipartisan Infrastructure LawThe Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program at DOT helps communities plan, design, and construct infrastructure projects that increase healthy transportation choices and substantially improve the ability of students to walk and bicycle safely to school—particularly in communities underserved by safe transportation options. Since 2015, the SRTS program has supported over $1 billion in safe school route projects benefiting nearly 7 million students across more than 17,000 schools—a third of which were in disadvantaged communities and Title I schools.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law expanded the eligibility of the SRTS program to schools through 12th grade and added eligibility for safe school route projects through the nearly $17 billion-per-year Highway Safety Improvement Program—including for use in training and education.

Support for Rural, Tribal, and Puerto Rican Schools
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today a new commitment to support school facility and vehicle electrification, including school buses. In support of this commitment, USDA released a new guidance that informs how Rural Development programs can support rural electric cooperatives to advance electrification projects for schools and other public facilities and vehicles.

These funding and assistance programs can support rural utilities like those in a newly formed Electric Cooperative School Bus Initiative , a collaboration of more than 350 local distribution cooperatives across 32 states, providing educational and administrative support to help rural communities access funding for electric school buses and school bus infrastructure.

Additionally, DOE is partnering with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to improve the state of our federally-operated schools. Aligning with the President’s Justice 40 Initiative, the DOE Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) is assisting BIE to initiate a set of pilot assessments in Tribal schools for energy efficiency and indoor air quality projects.

The Administration’s Working Group on Puerto Rico has prioritized supporting school reconstruction efforts on the island. Agencies collaborated on a toolkit in both English and Spanish outlining federal resources available to help Puerto Rico recover and rebuild safe, healthy and modernized school facilities. Agencies have also provided technical assistance to Puerto Rican officials on how they can leverage multiple funding streams to rebuild, repair, and modernize their schools.

Support for Training and Workforce Development
School improvements provide critical training opportunities for building an effective workforce. Large school projects often last multiple years and draw upon a large mix of trades. This continuity of training and employment makes them ideal opportunities for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs that lead directly to good-paying careers. And when done alongside the President’s Justice40 Initiative, these investments will prioritize under-resourced schools while also investing in communities that can benefit from long-term training and employment.

The Department of Labor’s Good Jobs Initiative is supporting federal agency partners as they embed job quality and equity policies into their infrastructure investments.  The Good Jobs Initiative is supporting federal agency partners as they work to leverage their infrastructure investments to provide meaningful opportunities for all communities to enter good paying union careers. 

The wide array of federal offerings can support initiatives such as the Carbon Free and Healthy Schools campaign–which is led by labor unions in collaboration with students, parents, and climate advocates across the country–to create safe, healthy, and cost-effective school environments through building retrofits and solarization, while supporting strong labor standards and robust worker training opportunities. The campaign is currently working with school districts representing more than five million students across Texas, California, IllinoisNew YorkConnecticutRhode Island, Michigan, Maine, and Wisconsin, with more state campaigns in formation.

Biden, in Stark Contrast to Trump’s Threats, Issues Roadmap to Reopen Public Schools Safely As COVID-19 Rates Surge

Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, in contrast to Trump, has issued a roadmap to reopen public schools safely as COVID-19 cases continue to surge (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Demonstrating yet again the stark contrast between the malevolent ineptitude of Trump and the competence, care and concern of Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president has issued his own plan to reopen schools safely in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. Trump’s only plan: damn the science, bully public schools to reopen or lose federal funding, impede testing and keep COVID-19 cases and fatalities secret from the public. This is from the Biden campaign: –Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Joe Biden’s Roadmap to Reopening Schools Safely

Educators, students, and families have done an incredible job in difficult circumstances over the last four months. Everyone wants schools to fully reopen for in-person instruction. Creating the conditions to make it happen should be a top national priority. Joe Biden believes that the decision about when to reopen safely should be made by state, tribal, and local officials, based on science and in consultation with communities and tribal governments. It should be made with the safety of students and educators in mind. And, it should be made recognizing that if we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back.

The challenge facing our schools is unprecedented. President Trump has made it much worse. We had a window to get this right. And, Trump blew it. His administration failed to heed the experts and take the steps required to reduce infections in our communities. As a result, cases have exploded. Now our window before the new school year is closing rapidly, and we are forced to grapple with reopening our schools in an environment of much greater risk to educators, students, and their families than there would have been if America had competent leadership. 
 
Over a month ago, Biden identified key steps that Donald Trump needed to take to reopen our schools safely. Trump has taken none of them. In fact, he’s done the opposite. He has threatened to force schools to reopen for in-person instruction without the basic resources they need to keep students, educators, and communities safe. If Trump had actually done his job as President, the decisions facing our schools would look fundamentally different.
 
Joe Biden has a simple five-step roadmap to support local decision-making on reopening schools safely and to help students whose learning was interrupted: 
 
Get the Virus Under Control: Months into this crisis, infection rates are spiking across the country, personal protective equipment (PPE) is still in short supply, and hospitalizations and deaths are unacceptably high. We have only weeks to go before the school year begins, and we have no plan, no leadership, and no additional resources to fight this crisis. We do not have sufficient testing, adequate contact tracing, or reliable supply chains. It is outrageous that Trump forced educators, parents, and caregivers into this situation. If we want to reopen schools safely, we need to get cases down in states and communities across America. Now. That means mask wearing and appropriate social distancing guidelines that match the virus trajectory in a community. In addition, Biden has laid out comprehensive plans on March 12April 27, and June 11, among others, to:

  • Implement nationwide testing-and-tracing, including doubling the number of drive-through testing sites;
  • Establish a sustainable supply chain for PPE, including fully utilizing the Defense Production Act to ensure enough masks for every school in America every day;
  • Protect older Americans and others at high risk;
  • Provide small businesses with the resources they need to reopen safely.

Set National Safety Guidelines, Empower Local Decision-Making: The Trump Administration’s chaotic and politicized response has left school districts to improvise a thousand hard decisions on their own. Schools need clear, consistent, effective national guidelines, not mixed messages and political ultimatums. Biden would task the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies with establishing basic, objective criteria to guide state, tribal, and local officials in deciding if and how reopening can be managed safely in their communities, including:

  • Decisions on reopening have been tied to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in the community. Biden agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and AASA, the School Superintendents Association, that “schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgement of local experts.”
  • Emergency funding needs have been met so that schools have the resources to reconfigure classrooms, kitchens, and other spaces, improve ventilation, and take other necessary steps to make it easier to physically distance and minimize risk of spread.
  • Schools have taken necessary precautions to foster a culture of health and safety and protect educators and students, including reducing class size, limiting large gatherings, and providing safe environments for eating.
  • Schools have ready access to enough masks and other PPE for every student and educator every day, if they need it. 
  • Reasonable accommodations have been made for at-risk educators and students, in collaboration with educators, their unions, parents, and caregivers.
  • State and local officials have shared a plan for regularly communicating about school decisions and resources with parents, caregivers, educators, and the community.
  • The federal government has issued reopening guidelines, free from political interference, in greater detail to answer basic questions that schools have, including: How low does the community infection rate need to be to reopen and at what point should schools shut down again if cases rise? What are safe maximum class sizes? If schools cannot accommodate everyone, who should return to the classroom first? The current lack of clarity is paralyzing for schools.

Provide Emergency Funding for Public Schools and Child Care Providers: Schools urgently need emergency financial support, but what they have gotten from Trump is bluster and bullying and, worse, threats to further slash their funding. As a result of Trump’s failure to lead, states could face drastic budget shortfalls totalling $555 billion over state fiscal years of 2020-2022. Left unaddressed, these shortfalls could result in significant layoffs. According to one analysis, just a conservative 5% decrease in state education funding would result in the loss of almost 28,000 school positions, including teachers, counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. 

As President, Biden will always put our children, educators, and families first. He believes public schools, especially Title I schools – should have all the resources they need to safely return to in-person instruction and support all students. Biden is: 

  • Calling on Trump and Senate Republicans to pass the education funding in the HEROES Act, which the House passed months ago. This bill includes roughly $58 billion for local school districts to stabilize public education and save jobs. Over four months ago, Biden called for a renewable fund for state, tribal, and local governments to help prevent budget shortfalls and protect that relief from exactly the kind of political brinkmanship we are seeing from Trump and Republicans leaders today. It is past time to get it done. 
  • Calling on the Congress to pass a separate emergency package to ensure schools have the additional resources they need to adapt effectively to COVID-19. School officials estimate that districts will need about $30 billion to put in place the changes needed to reopen safely. This package should include funding for child care providers and public schools — particularly Title I schools and Indian schools — for personal protective equipment; public health and sanitation products; custodial and health services; and alterations to building ventilation systems, classrooms, schedules, class size, and transportation. And, an additional roughly $4 billion is needed to upgrade technology and broadband. Biden has previously announced that, as President, he will ensure schools have the resources to double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools so our kids get the mental health care they need. That’s more important now than ever before, as kids grapple with the stress and trauma of our economic and public health crisis.

Ensuring High-Quality Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic: We are continuing to learn how to best support students, educators, and their families through this challenging time. Biden would mobilize a large-scale U.S. Department of Education effort to work with practitioners to develop, adopt, and share the latest tools and best practices to ensure high-equality learning during this pandemic. This effort would include:

  • Delivering high-quality remote and hybrid learning with a special emphasis on students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students who do not have access to specific technology, such as broadband and devices. This includes dedicated time and resources for our educators to pursue professional development opportunities tailored to the unique circumstances of this crisis.
  • Creating a Safer Schools Best Practices Clearinghouse to help schools and child care providers across the country and around the world share approaches, protocols, and tools for reopening safely.
  • Providing tools and resources for parents and other caregivers to help them make informed decisions on sending their children to school, help their children cope with the stress of this pandemic, and assist them with their children’s remote learning.
  • Ensuring tailored remote teaching assignments and educational plans for educators and students who are at greater risk to COVID-19 or live with a family member who is. 
  • Working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to share with educators and families evolving scientific insights into how COVID-19 affects children. Biden has called for scaling up COVID-19 pediatric research partnerships to address glaring gaps in our knowledge.

Closing the COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap: Despite the best efforts of educators, students, and familiesthis crisis, coupled with long-standing racial inequities, has led many students, especially low-income students and students of color, to struggle and fall behind. New research shows that some students could even lose an entire year of academic gains. As President, Biden would:

  • Direct a White House-led initiative to identify evidence-based policy solutions that address gaps in learning, mental health, social and emotional well-being, and systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities in education that the pandemic has exacerbated. Biden would invite participation from a dedicated group of health experts, including mental health professionals and neuroscientists; educators, including early educators, and their unions; school technology practitioners and experts; civil rights advocates; Indian education experts; foundations and the private sector; and families, students, and community advocates. Biden would request its recommendations on an accelerated time frame in order to provide guidance to states, tribal, and local governments as quickly as possible. 
  • Launch a COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant to encourage states and tribal governments – in partnership with the education and broader community – to develop bold plans that adopt evidence-based policy recommendations and give all of our students the support they need to succeed. 
  • Support community schools. Community schools work with families, students, teachers and community organizations to identify families’ unmet needs and then develop a plan to leverage community resources to address these needs in the school building, turning schools into community hubs. They provide holistic services like health and nutrition, mental health, and adult education– services that are especially critical during and after COVID-19 to address the social, emotional, academic, and health needs of students in a comprehensive way. Biden will provide resources to expand this model.

White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Common Core has become one of those boogeymen memes that elicits hysterical knee-jerk reaction against Big Government intrusion into parental authority and local control over schools. However, what is deliberately set aside is that Common Core was developed at the state level. The point of Common Core was to lift standards for public education. Instead, it has been overtaken by the Accountability Movement which uses testing as a weapon against teacher unions and by the Privatized Education Corporatists as a tool to overturn public education in favor of taxpayer funding of for-profit, privatized charter schools and unconstitutional public funding of parochial schools.  The result was over-testing, creating unnecessary stress among public school students (private school students don’t have to take the tests), but a windfall for private testing and tutoring companies. In these waning days of the Obama Administration, which has worked so hard to improve public education for all, the White House has announced new, rational steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” in schools. . – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

 FACT SHEET: White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

“When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself. To be curious about the world. To take charge of my own learning so that I could reach my full potential. …

I’ve heard from parents who worry that too much testing is keeping their kids from learning some of life’s most important lessons. I’ve heard from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.”

– President Barack Obama, October 2015

When done well, assessments give parents, teachers, and students critical information on whether all students in a community are progressing each year toward college and career readiness. When used appropriately, they also serve as an essential protection to promote equity.  In too many schools, however, redundant or low-quality assessments are being administered without a clear purpose.  These ineffective assessments can consume valuable class time and can take the joy out of learning.

That is why last October, President Obama announced his Testing Action Plan and asked the U.S. Department of Education to work aggressively with states and school districts to make sure that tests students take are worthwhile; high-quality; time-limited; fair and transparent to students and families; and one of multiple sources used to understand how students, educators and schools are progressing.  Since then, the Obama Administration has acted to assist states and school districts in ensuring that the tests they are giving are better, fairer and fewer.

The White House and the Department of Education, on December 7, brought state and district leaders together with educators, parents, technologists, developers and philanthropic leaders to discuss the impact of the Testing Action Plan and what more can be done to ensure that tests are better, fairer, and fewer. As part of the event, the Department of Education announced additional resources and guidance for states and school districts aligned with the Testing Action Plan, including nearly $8 million in grants to the Maryland State Department of Education and the Nebraska Department of Education to develop new and innovative ways to measure science achievement that can serve as models for other states.

New Federal Resources to Help States and School Districts Improve Testing

The White House and the Department of Education are announcing new efforts designed to help states and school districts improve their assessments and help them evaluate the totality of their assessments in order to eliminate unnecessary or low-quality tests.  Today’s announcements include:

o   The Innovations in Science Map, Assessment, and Report Technologies (I-SMART) Project, led by the Maryland State Department of Education and in partnership with Missouri, New York, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, will produce innovative science assessments aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards to support comprehensive alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.  It will contain multiple measures of student progress over time, develop a science learning map that includes multiple pathways for students to learn science content and reach challenging grade-level expectations, and also deliver score reports that improve the information about student performance that is shared with educators and families.

o   The Strengthening Claims-Based Interpretations and Uses of Local and Large-Scale Science Assessments (SCILLSS) project, led by the Nebraska Department of Education in partnership with Montana and Wyoming, aims to improve the quality of statewide science assessments.  The project will leverage existing tools and expertise to generate more resources to strengthen states’ ability to create and evaluate quality science assessments.  The project will also engage state and local educators to clarify the interpretations and uses of assessments scores and to create tools to improve the usefulness of student performance results.

  • Regulations to Create Better, Fairer, and Fewer Assessments under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):  The Department of Education is releasing two final regulations designed to give states and school districts clarity and flexibility as they implement the assessment provisions under Title I of the ESSA.  These regulations seek to clarify the statutory requirement that states administer high-quality, annual assessments to all students by ensuring that these assessments are worth taking and provide meaningful data about student success and equity for all students, while also encouraging states and districts to continue to push the field of assessment forward through innovation.

o   Creating Better, Fairer, and Fewer Tests:  The final regulation for state assessment systems under Title I, Part A — which are the result of consensus reached when the Department of Education conducted negotiated rulemaking with a diverse group of stakeholders earlier this year — willensure states continue to administer tests that are valid, reliable, and fair measures of student achievement for all students, including by setting clear parameters for meaningfully including students with disabilities and English language learners in state tests and supporting them with appropriate test accommodations.  The final regulation also allows states to take advantage of a range of innovative approaches to improve assessment and reduce overall burden, such as implementing computer-adaptive assessments and allowing a district to offer a locally selected, nationally recognized high school tests in place of the annual statewide high school assessment.  Taken together, this regulation will help states and districts implement ESSA to create better, fairer and fewer tests.

o   Producing a New Generation of Innovative Assessments:  The final regulation under Title I, Part B establishes the parameters under which states may take advantage of a new innovative assessment demonstration authority under the ESSA to create, try out, and scale up alternatives to traditional end-of-year large-scale assessments.  This demonstration authority, initially available to up to seven states, allows states to rethink assessment systems and pilot new, innovative approaches to measuring student achievement for use in their accountability systems.  States with demonstration authority will be allowed to phase-in and use a new innovative assessment system in a subset of their districts, while maintaining their existing system in the rest of their districts, and use the results from both systems for accountability and reporting purposes under the law during the pilot phase.  States may also apply for flexibility as a consortium, providing a built-in community of practice to share and work through common challenges as they scale their new innovative assessments statewide.

  • Guidance to States on How to Use Federal Resources to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests:  The Department of Education is also releasing non-regulatory guidance for states and school districts, which highlights flexibility in ESSA for how states and districts can use federal funds to support the President’s Testing Action Plan. The guidance outlines how states and districts can use federal funding under the ESSA to ensure high-quality assessments for all students; reduce testing time; eliminate redundant, duplicative assessment; and provide clear, transparent and actionable information on assessments to students, families, and educators.  This ESSA guidance applies starting in fiscal year 2017 (i.e., the 2017-2018 school year) and updates previous guidance ED released earlier this year.
  • Profiles of Districts that are Taking Action to Improve Assessments:  The Department of Education is releasing profiles highlighting the steps taken by two districts, Eminence Independent Schools (KY) and Vancouver Public Schools (WA), to reduce and improve assessments. Eminence saw dramatic improvements in student achievement after implementing a learner-centric education model that focuses on differentiated instruction, personalized learning, continuous growth, and the use of formative assessments and alternative means to assess student progress.  Vancouver Public Schools conducted an audit of its district-required assessments in 2015 and eliminated 105 administrations of district-required assessments allowing the district to return an average of 900 minutes back into the classroom across grades 3 – 8. These profiles build on a report the Department released in April, highlighting the work of leading states and districts to improve assessment and ensure class time is preserved.
  • Information on Technology-Delivered Assessments Supported by the Institute of Education Sciences:  The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) is releasing ablog that highlights some of the technology-delivered assessments funded through IES.  Since its inception in 2002, three IES programs, including the Research Programs at the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and at the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), and the ED/IES SBIRprogram have made over 200 awards supporting the development of new technology-delivered assessments.  The awards were made to a mix of academic researchers, entrepreneurial firms, and larger education organizations. All of the projects included a rigorous research and development process with studies to validate that assessments are measuring what is intended and pilots to test the promise of the technologies for improving student learning outcomes.  Later this month IES will release a more detailed report highlighting the technology-delivered assessments and innovations in the assessment field funded through three research programs.