CHAIR'S REPORT
EDUCATION COMMITTEE
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The 63rd Annual Meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference

August 15-19, 2009

TO: Members of the Education Committee
FR: Senator Jimmy Jeffress, Arkansas
Chair, SLC Education Committee
RE: Report of Activities of the Education Committee at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, August 15-19, 2009

The SLC Education Committee convened on Sunday, August 16, for a program session and Monday, August 17, for a business session during the 63rd SLC Annual Meeting.  The following is a summary of the speaker presentations and Committee activities from each of these programs.  An attendance list is attached.

Program Session, August 16
I.          Autism Spectrum Disorders and Schools
Joanne Cashman, Ph.D., Director, IDEA Partnership Project, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Washington, D.C.
Gary Mesibov, Ph.D., Director of Division TEACCH, University of North Carolina
Jennifer Neitzel, Ph.D., Content Specialist, National Technical Assistance Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, University of North Carolina

Background

The number of children identified with an autism spectrum disorder has increased by nearly 400 percent during the past decade, making it the fastest growing categorical learning disability schools must address.  Serving these children well is a challenge for schools financially and logistically. 

Dr. Cashman’s Presentation

Dr. Cashman began by noting that about one in 150 children are affected by an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because it is a spectrum disorder, it does not present itself the same way in all children, with some cases being mild and others more severe.  This makes it difficult to accurately assess the actual situation in schools and, in turn, means local agencies are adjusting programs and services to meet the changing needs of the population.  The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) is working toward shared leadership on serving children with autism because of the varied causal theories on ASD, the varied approaches to autism, and the multiple strategies for addressing autism.  Because of the nature of the autism, the needs of children served by a school can change over time as the population changes as well. 

Dr. Cashman noted that because autism is so varied and requires such individualized approaches (there is an absence of an established base of practices), there often exist information gaps at the local level where services are delivered.  This, in turn, leads to parents choosing programs and experts that seem to meet their child’s needs, even if no one is available to provide that approach or there is no confidence that the approach will succeed. 

That there is a need for teacher education programs for ASD to be available, well-distributed and of an appropriate quality to ensure that teachers can deliver a range of services.  Instruction should not be exclusively for teachers training to serve special needs children, as it is important for teachers in general education programs to have some training in the differentiation and collaboration required of teachers of students with autism.  This is particularly important given the size of the autistic population, as well as the fact that these approaches are relevant and useful to teachers of students in the general population.

Successfully addressing ASD means changing the way everyone works around it.  This translates into taking a life-spanview of ASD—viewing this work in the context of an individual’s lifetime—and understanding what other public investments support ASD work.  To be successful, schools and their staff must view their work in the bigger picture of public investments, inviting and collaborating with others for best outcomes, and managing knowledge that resides in the array of systems and stakeholder groups. 

Within schools, Dr. Cashman explained, leadership requires bringing together the teams of professionals that are involved in serving children to coordinate and be intentional about discovering what resources are available to help children with autism.  Families are important partners in this using the knowledge that they have about a child and what the school knows about autism to build an appropriate response.  These kinds of relationships require a change in the relationships between families of children with autism and schools.  A step toward this would be to create a conflict-resolution strategy that creates resources to prevent conflicts before they become problematic.

Dr. Cashman observed that there are multiple stakeholders who need to be engaged.  To go forward in a way that makes sense, those working at the state, local and individual levels need to be invited to share their knowledge, experiences and connections.  Tying these stakeholders together establishes what NASDSE calls a “community of practice.” The organization is supporting state teams across the country to help these communities provide a structure for sharing information.  The website sharedwork.org hosts several of these, including national information of interest to all, as well as state pages that helps to create a shared community across state and local agencies, involved individuals and national groups. 

Dr. Mesibov’s Presentation

Dr. Mesibov began by explaining that Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication-handicapped Children, or TEACCH, a division of the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina (UNC), is a statewide program for treatment and education of individuals of all ages with autism and their families. TEACCH comprises an administration and research unit (based at UNC), as well as nine regional outpatient clinics located in various cities throughout the state, and a residential facility for adults with autism located in Pittsboro. In addition to outpatient clinics that provide services to families throughout North CarolinaTEACCH also has supported employment programs for adults with autism, and early intervention programs for young children with autism and their families.  Division TEACCH also provides training and consultation to students and professionals throughout North Carolina and the world, and is active in autism research.

Dr. Mesibov observed that building collaborations among partners is difficult in the field of autism for structural and professional reasons.  The University’s long history on developmental disabilities and early collaborative approach has helped to bring the best possible people and services for disabilities together in a manner that connects the University system, schools, and service providers with the broader community. 

The complexity of autism makes it difficult to promote a single vision, so Division TEACCH starts with a basic sense that children with autism have some differences in how they learn, interact and grow.  This basic framework is taught to parents, providers and schools and can be used to integrate with other approaches and strategies. 

Because Division TEACCH is based at a university, it still has a mission to conduct research and a responsibility to train a workforce and students to work with individuals with autism.  Division TEACCH clinics provide diagnostic and treatment planning services to over 3,500 individuals and their families throughout North Carolina each year, but do not duplicate services provided by the schools.  Statewide, TEACCH receives over 1,500 new referrals for services each year, hands-on early intervention classroom training to over 100 young children with autism, and in-home training and support to over 300 families of young children with autism each year. The TEACCH Supported Employment Program helps over 100 adults with autism obtain and retain gainful employment each year. Over 150 students (undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctorial) train with TEACCH annually, including many of the leaders in the field of autism in North Carolina and throughout the world, including more than 7,500 teachers and other professionals, the largest group that comes to Division TEACCH’s training. 

Through TEACCH training efforts, more than 45 states and 25 countries throughout the world have programs for autism that were implemented with TEACCH assistance. TEACCH staff throughout the state counsel teachers and administrators in over 100 school systems and 500 individual schools each year.

In addition, Division TEACCH conducts research which in turn informs programs. Dr. Mesibov noted that public agencies and universities need to collaborate to help serve the autistic population, but the ground rules established by federal law do not promote this work.  Indeed, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act structure can lead to litigation very quickly, which can work against collaboration. 

Dr. Neitzel’s Presentation

Dr. Neitzel explained that the National Professional Development Center (NDPC) on Autism Spectrum Disorders is a federal grant-funded, multi-university project to provide evidence-based practice for children and adolescents with ASD.  The Center provides professional development, consultation and coaching for changing autism programs.  The goals of the project are organized around four interrelated areas: content development; professional development; technical assistance; and evaluation. 

In the area of content development, by translating information about evidence-based practices into resources for service providers, the project has developed an online introductory course on ASD consisting of eight lessons, with the goal of providing all teachers in a state with a foundation of knowledge on the disorder.  Following this, the project was able to identify, define and provide training to state professional development providers, as well as training activities to practitioners in participating states and establish training sites that model evidence-based practices.  On the technical assistance side, the Center was able to develop an outreach program, provide ongoing site-based training, and establish a network of professional development sites, trainers, and national consultants.  Finally, she added, project evaluation will be ongoing. 

In order to measure program quality, the Center developed the Autism Program Environment Rating Scale (APERS) for preschool through elementary and middle and high school levels.  By evaluating program quality, the Center is helping to gauge the readiness of the service delivery infrastructure in a state to provide services.  The APERS gauge measures programs on nine categories: learning environment; positive learning climate; assessment; social competence; personal independence/competence; promoting appropriate behavior; family involvement; teaming; and transition planning.  To measure how well practitioners implement the practices highlighted in the NDPC training modules and to provide on-site coaching and technical assistance to professionals in model sites, the Center developed checklists individualized for each evidence-based practice in their training, she said. 

The Center operates as a pilot project that will eventually serve 12 states—selected, in part, on the presence of strong infrastructure for ASD services to ensure the program can continue over time.  The first year, the Center provides all the professional development but, in the second and subsequent years, the state takes over the program and conducts the summer training session and monthly feedback activities.  In this way states should be able to continue their programs after the project ends.  States assemble teams, establish model demonstration sites, and prepare individualized programs and a strategic plan that includes a timeline and goals. Once a month during the first year, Center investigators visit the field sites and provide feedback. 

The next steps for the Center, she concluded, include revising the evidence-based practice briefs with input from the field to improve the program.  Impact will be examined through evaluation studies conducted in three to five years—including whether involvement in the Center leads to ongoing professional development activities in the state and whether Center activities led to changes in the age at which children are diagnosed as having ASD. 

Business Session, August 17
I.          Education and the Federal Stimulus
Jimmy R. Wynn, Senior Adviser, National Initiatives, The Education Trust, Washington, D.C.
Stacey Jordan, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

Background

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides nearly $100 billion for education, an unprecedented infusion of federal funds to schools.  Distributed, in part, upon existing formula and by grants, ARRA funds are intended to simultaneously help states avoid catastrophic cuts to education and to advance specific education reforms.

Mr. Wynn’s Presentation

Mr. Wynn indicated that while the Education Trust was focused on many aspects of the ARRA, one element particularly concerned them:  the Title I funding formula.  Title I is the section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that addresses compensatory education for low-income students and is the primary fund driver for $13.1 billion of Recovery Act education funding.  The problem, he observed, is that the 44-year-old Title I formula does not work especially well in distributing funds equitably, particularly for the South.

That Title I has enormous gaps in per pupil funding between states.  For example, because of how the formula works, the top five states for Title I aid receive an average of $2,013 per child served in the program, but North Carolina receives just $1,351 per child, a $662 difference in funding.  This discrepancy is not accounted for simply by differences in costs of education in these areas.  Title I is the only federal education funding formula with this kind of discrepancy.

Mr. Wynn noted that the change needed in Title I is accounting for costs of education and concentration of poverty.  Education Trust recommends establishing a rate without discrepancies, similar to the allocations for free and reduced-price lunch (which are equal nationally) at the average of the top five states ($2,103), establishing a common standard for Title I funding and “raising the floor” for the remaining jurisdictions, an endeavor that would cost approximately $3.7 billion.  If the Title I formula is going to be the driver for funding, as it is with the Recovery Act, it needs to be equitable.

Ms. Jordan’s Presentation

Ms. Jordan opened her remarks by noting that the objective of the ARRA was to get money out to states quickly in order to save jobs.  There is the hope, that it will help bring back teachers who have been laid off or forestall any layoffs, as well as create jobs through the infusion of new money.  Within education, the Recovery Act operates on four principles. States should: spend money quickly; work on education reform and student performance; invest funds thoughtfully; and provide transparency.

Among the core reforms being sought by the Department of Education with the money are common standards.  Funding is available to states to develop and implement internationally aligned standards to allow for comparisons across jurisdictions and internationally.  It also is intended to improve teacher quality, ensuring that teachers are supported by administration on-site and encouraged to take on rigorous tasks.  Furthermore, Recovery Act funds are available to improve data systems to allow teachers to make better decisions and link teaching to student performance.  Finally, funds are intended to support aggressive strategies to turn a school around, including school reorganization and charter schools. 

The largest portion of Recovery Act funds for schools is the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the first $34.2 billion of which already is out to states, with the remaining $12.6 billion due out in the fall.  There is an additional $9.7 billion available to states in the form of competitive grants, including $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants, the largest grant program in the Department’s history to support comprehensive and systemic reforms by states toward the goals of the ARRA.  An additional $3 billion is available as Title I School Improvement Grants to provide states and school districts the funds they need to leverage change and turn around schools, focusing on robust and comprehensive reforms to change school culture and improve student performance.

Other key provisions within the Recovery Act provide $650 million for technology, some of which has been distributed according to formula, with the goal of improving student achievement through the use of technology.  There is an equal amount available for teacher incentives, which rewards teacher innovation and teachers working in hard-to-staff schools and fields.  This program targets teacher practices that have been demonstrated to work, but does not define innovation so as not to limit what kinds of activities teachers work on. There also is $250 million for longitudinal data systems that will allow the tracking of student progress from pre-K through graduation and communicates across all levels, a key component of more effective accountability systems.

Ms. Jordan concluded by noting that the grants are designed to complement each other, requiring the coordination of state and local agencies. Because statutory and regulatory barriers cannot be changed by the executive branch, legislators play a key role in the implementation of many of the reforms at the heart of the ARRA.

II.        Common Core Standards Initiative
Ilene M. Berman, Ed.D., Program Director, K-12 Education, Literacy, Charters, International Benchmarking, Education Division, National Governors’ Association, Washington, D.C.
Chris Minnich, Director of Standards, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, D.C

Background

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have signed on to an effort spearheaded by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors' Association (NGA) to craft a unified model of what children need to learn from Kindergarten through high school in the areas of English language arts and mathematics. This ambitious, state-led program represents an effort to move beyond the current patchwork of expectations that exists toward a single standard of excellence for all students, regardless of where they live.

Ms. Berman’s and Mr. Minnich’s Presentation

Mr. Minnich observed that states currently set standards on their own, which has lead to wide variation in educational expectations across the states, making cross-comparisons meaningless and complicating matters for children who move.  To remedy this, the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are collaborating on a state-based initiative to have state standards be similar between participating states in the areas of English language arts and mathematics, two areas in which there already is a considerable amount of agreement, and on which considerable attention already has been paid.

According to Mr. Minnich, the process began in April of this year, with a meeting of governors and chief school officers to gauge state interest in such a proposal.  At that meeting, forty-six states signed on to participate, with two of the remaining four—Missouri and South Carolina—now likely to join in the effort, leaving only Alabama and Texas.  Texas cited an anticipated cost of $3 billion to the state in changed curriculum, assessments and textbooks as its reason for not joining the initiative.  The participating states amount to about 87 percent of students in the United States.  Mr. Minnich emphasized that this is a state-driven process, with each state having to adopt the standards through their state legislatures.

Ms. Berman observed that because standards and content vary from state to state, where a child lives determines how that child is prepared and what they expectations they must satisfy.  This situation is not acceptable, since they will have to compete with children from other states and countries.  The Common Core Standards initiative is further anticipated to improve parent involvement and make the standards clearer and easier to understand so parents know what is expected of their children.

A common set of standards should reduce the costs of professional development as providers are able to offer identical programs in each jurisdiction.  Furthermore, pre-service education would prepare teachers to teach anywhere in the country and not just in the state where they are prepared, providing for a more mobile teacher workforce that could respond to geographic shortages more rapidly and efficiently.  Moreover, the costs for state assessment should drop as states take advantage of the opportunity for shared assessments either through shared tests or assessment items.  To facilitate the transition, she added, there is $350 million set aside from the U.S. Department of Education to support states’ development of common assessments. 

She emphasized that this is a state-led process involving a number of organizations—including content expert groups—that is “owned” by the states.  Standards are being developed in two stages.  The first step is to determine college and career readiness standards—what do children need to know to be prepared to go either to college, workforce training, or a career that earns a living wage.  Once these standards are set, the process is to work backwards to develop what is required to accomplish these goals at each step between Kindergarten and grade 12. 

The NGA Center for Best Practices and CCSSO are leading the process in partnership with ACT, the College Board, and Achieve, Inc., to develop common core state standards in mathematics and English language arts.  These three groups come to the table with a host of state standards experience and research, which should build the confidence of key players in the standards that result.  In August 2009, the groups released draft college and career ready standards, which were open for comment for 30 days.  A panel will validate these standards and the process, following which content standards will be developed for grades K-12, with a targeted release of the draft standards set for December 2009. 

These standards, she reiterated, will be based on research and evidence from leading national organizations and high-performing states and countries and will reflect what a student needs to be successful in college and in the workplace.  States are to provide input and review throughout the process, with high levels of input, development, review, and validation in place. 

Mr. Minnich continued that the standards are intended to be fewer, clearer, and higher than existing standards for most students.  They will articulate to parents, teachers, and the general public expectations for what students will know and be able to do, grade by grade, and when they graduate from high school.  They also will be internationally benchmarked, based upon research and evidence, and ready for states to adopt. 

The work of standards development is just the beginning, however, and that adoption is essentially the bigger test.  Adoption of the common core state standards is voluntary for states, and each state will follow its individual process for coalition-building and adoption.  States will be asked to share their timelines for adoption of the common core standards.   States choosing to adopt the common core state standards have agreed the common core will represent at least 85 percent of the state’s standards in mathematics and English language arts.  In this, he observed, there is an obvious role for assessment as some states will voluntarily come together to develop new, innovative, common assessments. 

In closing, Mr. Minnich noted that the implementation of the standards is the hardest part.  In particular, states need to make sure that teachers have everything they need to teach with these standards, including pre-service training, professional development, and aligned assessments.  Furthermore, the teaching approaches and practices that will maximize the benefits of the new standards need to be in place for the standards to be most effective. This is a conversation that is just beginning with providers of assessments and professional development, but by beginning this conversation now, standards can be implemented and be successful later. 

III.       Election of Officers

Senator Alice Harden, Mississippi, gave the report of the Nominating Committee.  Representative Tommy Benton, Georgia, was nominated for chair of the Committee, and Senator Harry Blevins, Virginia, was nominated for vice chair of the Committee.  The nominations were moved and seconded, and Representative Benton and Senator Blevins were elected by acclamation.

IV.       Southern Education Notes

Staff at the Southern Office compiles education news from across the region and the country and distributes electronically every week.  To sign up for this free service, send an email to jhull@csg.org with the subject line Ednotes—Subscribe.

V.        Southern Legislative Conference 64th Annual Meeting, Charleston, South Carolina

The SLC will meet for the 64th Annual Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, July 31 - August 4, 2010.  In keeping with the wishes of the SLC presiding officers, please note that meeting notification does not authorize travel.

SLC Staff Contact

If you have any questions regarding this report or the 2009 SLC Annual Meeting, please contact Jonathan R. Watts Hull in the Atlanta office at (404) 633-1866 or jhull@csg.org.

 

Attendance List
Southern Legislative Conference 63rd Annual Meeting
Education Committee
August 15-19, 2009
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

(List reflects those attendees whose names appeared on the sign-in sheet)


Arkansas
Senator Gilbert Baker
Senator Gene Jeffress
Senator Jimmy Jeffress
Representative Bill Abernathy
Representative Stephanie Flowers-Kirk
Representative Clark Hall
Representative Johnny Hoyt
Representative Barbara Nix
Mike Anderson, Blue Cross/Blue Shield
Roger Norman, Legislative Audit
Jimmy Wallace, Arkansas Municipal League

Florida
Representative Charles Chestnut IV
Eric Sherman, U.S. Department of Defense

Georgia
Representative Tommy Benton
Randi Chapman, American Diabetes Association
Kenneth Fern, Jr., Southern Legislative Conference
Jonathan R. Watts Hull, Southern Legislative Conference

Kentucky
Representative Tom Burch
Representative Dwight Butler
Representative Jody Richards
Representative Wilson J. Stone
Pam Goins, The Council of State Governments
DeeAnn Mansfield, Legislative Research Commission
Mike Robinson, The Council of State Governments

Louisiana
Senator Gerald Long

Mississippi
Senator Alice V. Harden
Representative Billy Broomfield
Representative Margaret Ellis Rogers
Representative Sara Thomas

North Carolina
Representative Larry  Brown
Representative Pat Hurley
Representative Linda Johnson
Representative Shirley Randleman
Representative Fred Steen II
Representative Jane Whilden
David Schock, United States Marine Corps

Oklahoma
Representative John Auffett

Pennsylvania 
Jerry Spegman, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

South Carolina
Representative Rita Allison
Representative Joe Daning
Representative Phillip Owens
Representative J. Roland Smith
Representative Jim Stewart
Kevin Bruch, U.S. Department of Defense

Tennessee
Roark Brown, Legislative Budget Office
Dale Vande Hey, U.S. Department of Defense

Texas
Representative Bill Callegari

Virginia
Senate President Pro Tempore Charles Colgan
Senator Harry Blevins
Laura Fornash, Virginia Tech

West Virginia 
Senator Bob Plymale
Delegate Allen V. Evans
Delegate Mike Ferro
Delegate Danny Wells
Randall Elkins, Legislative Services

Washington, D.C. 
Mike Smith, The Council of State Governments
Chris Whatley, The Council of State Governments
Don Zowader, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

Canada
Senator Wilfred P. Moore, Nova Scotia
June Dewetering, Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, Ottawa