Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee today sent the following letter to President Joe Biden.
Dear President Biden,
You assume the presidency at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history with the COVID-19 pandemic; a rise in extremism; a political climate fraught with division; incidents of racist violence; and an economic downturn that is taking a toll on families from coast to coast. On the campaign trail and in the days since, you promised to bring our country together. The members of Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, pledge our partnership in this effort and the work to build a brighter future for our children.
We thank you for the steps you have already taken to support our nation’s students and are encouraged that your American Rescue Plan significantly expands access to COVID testing programs and vaccination efforts, and calls on Congress to give schools “everything they need to safely reopen.” Getting students back into classrooms is critical for their overall wellbeing and academic achievement. It is also essential for the nation’s economic recovery. We applaud your goal to enable the majority of K-8 schools to reopen within your first 100 days in office and appreciate your proposal that would provide an additional $130 billion for K-12 education. In addition, we commend you for directing officials to begin collecting data on school closures and reopenings; to provide federal disaster funds for personal protective equipment in schools; and to develop, identify, and share clear guidance and best practices for keeping schools safe—and open—during the pandemic.
Shortly after the election, I sent a letter explaining that education leaders are doing all they can to meet the needs of their school communities. Today, I am writing to share specific recommendations emerging from the Chiefs for Change annual membership meeting in early December, when our chiefs gathered to discuss the federal actions they believe would have the greatest impact on student success during COVID-19 and beyond. We look forward to working with your administration on all aspects of education policy. Here, we highlight the areas that we believe deserve special attention.
America must close the digital divide. An estimated 16.9 million students lack the high-speed home internet they need to do their schoolwork, whether classes take place in person or online. The problem disproportionately impacts historically underserved students and those who are already behind. We urge the federal government to dedicate funding that would ensure students have the devices and broadband service they need.
We must improve schools and level the playing field for historically underserved students. Prior federal school improvement investments have not been in vain. Armed with what we learned from past initiatives as well as compelling research, evidence from the field, and input from communities, our chiefs are prepared to dramatically improve America’s public schools with your help. We ask the federal government to:
- Triple funding for Title I, including by incorporating within Title I incentives to recruit and retain highly effective teachers in Title I schools.
- Incorporate additional criteria for Title I funds to incentivize equity in school funding systems and promote the adoption of evidence-based school improvement strategies that have been shown to have a positive impact for historically underserved students.
Bold new investments must be paired with redesigned accountability measures focused on improving conditions for students. The disruptions to schooling associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have made it all the more important for educators and students’ families to know what children are learning and how well their schools are preparing them to succeed in life. Although the U.S. Department of Education understandably issued testing waivers when school buildings closed in spring 2020, going forward, the federal government must maintain its commitment to assessment and accountability systems as critical elements of delivering a high-quality education.
As we explained in this statement, the current environment presents a number of challenges, but it also provides an opportunity to redesign accountability systems and assessments in ways that incentivize educators to ensure students build deep knowledge and the critical-thinking skills they need to become productive and engaged members of society. Measures of math and reading proficiency and growth are essential. They do not, however, give us a full picture of whether a child is on track to thrive as an adult. The federal government must invest in efforts to develop innovative accountability systems encompassing assessments aligned to high-quality curricula that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of the actual texts and concepts they have studied; new measures of early childhood learning; the results of school climate surveys; and data on graduates’ postsecondary outcomes—including college enrollment, persistence, completion, enlistment in the military, employment, and earnings. We are prepared to work in partnership with your administration to build the accountability systems of the future, but it is an enormous and complex endeavor that will require significant investment.
Specifically, we ask that you work with Congress to:
- Provide an additional $100 million for the Competitive Grants for State Assessments Program under Section 1203(b)(1) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to support states in developing innovative assessments that reflect changes in educational delivery systems and advances in psychometrics, alongside input from educators, parents, and students. We also urge your administration to conduct a review of the ESEA Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority to determine if adjustments are needed in order to make it easier for states to conduct pilots.
- Provide $200 million in funding for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to study the effects of the pandemic on student learning by passing the Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act.
- Support IES research on:
- The use of curriculum-aligned assessments in state accountability systems.
- The use of state-level audits—including curriculum audits—to help drive school improvement.
- Efforts to improve state procurement lists in ways that incentivize the adoption of high-quality instructional materials and aligned assessments.
- The use of comprehensive postsecondary outcomes data, including information about employment, to inform school improvement and more effective student supports.
In order to create a truly equitable education system, we must also support all students along their postsecondary pathways. To that end, we urge the federal government to:
- Double the maximum award for Pell Grants. We support your administration’s proposal to provide additional financial aid to students from low- and middle-income families. Doubling the amount would increase the value for those who are already eligible, and, given the program’s formula for determining eligibility, would provide the benefits of Pell Grants to more Americans.
- Expand the use of Pell Grants for dual/concurrent enrollment.
- Repeal the ban on the student unit record system in the Higher Education Act. We strongly support proposals for collecting and reporting more and better data on postsecondary student outcomes, including the bipartisan College Transparency Act. The bill would provide actionable and customizable information for students and families as they consider higher education opportunities by accurately reporting student outcomes such as enrollment, completion, and post-college success across colleges and majors, while ensuring the privacy of individual students is protected.
We know that you share our commitment to preparing all of America’s students for today’s world and tomorrow’s. With humility and resoluteness in this most difficult time, we ask for your help and offer our partnership.