By Martin Kidston
Educational leaders from across Montana joined Sen. Jon Tester and a representative from the U.S. Department of Education in Missoula on Tuesday to gather feedback on new federal reforms to the nation’s education policies.
Last year, Congress adopted the Every Student Succeeds Act – billing it as a replacement to No Student Left Behind. Tester said the new policy requires the DOE to collect feedback from local administrators and educators.
“One size doesn’t always fit all, and when you have a rural state like Montana, where 80 percent of the school districts are rural, that brings some different issues into play, whether it’s teacher recruitment or testing,” Tester said. “We need to empower these people on the ground to do the right thing, and we need to hold them accountable in the process.”
Tuesday’s roundtable meeting included Ruthanne Buck, a senior adviser to Secretary of Education John King, and Denise Juneau, superintendent of the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
Juneau said the new policy allows for more local control and gives state educators the flexibility to craft a policy that establishes high academic standards, raises graduation rates, and supports students in and out of the classroom.
“As this federal education law moves forward, we’ll be able to use some of the great things we’ve done in public education here in our state and build upon how the future looks,” Juneau said. “It’s up to us at OPI to assist and support schools in implementing the new law. Right now, we’re in a process of charting what that future looks like.”
After President Barack Obama signed the act into law, Juneau appointed 33 educators, parents and district trustees from across the state to help guide implementation of the policy in Montana.
The state will submit its plan to the DOE this December and transition from No Child Left Behind during the next school year. Juneau plans to have the policy’s framework in place before she’s termed out of office this year.
“We have great lessons to give the federal government and talk about the work we’ve been doing here,” Juneau said, referencing Graduation Matters Montana and Schools of Promise. “When things don’t fit, we can push back on ideas they might have and tell them they won’t work for our rural state. This is a prime opportunity to allow that voice to rise up.”
Buck, who advises the DOE’s top officer in Washington, D.C., praised Juneau and other state educators for achieving one of the highest graduation rates in the country. While the national average has risen to 83 percent, Buck said, Montana’s rate stands out at 86 percent.
While the figure serves as a feather in the state’s educational cap, Juneau said the Montana plan under Every Student Succeeds looks to raise graduation rates even higher, support schools with the greatest needs, and improve non-academic outcomes for students.
“While there’s still guidelines the federal government insists on, I do think it’s a step in the right direction,” Juneau said. “We still have to do a test annually, we still get measured on our graduation rates, but we get to fold some of the lessons we’ve learned in crafting what that plan looks like.”
Tuesday’s roundtable included Mandy Smoker Broadus, the director of Indian Education at OPI, and Marco Ferro, public policy director at MEA-MFT. It also included Kirk Miller, executive director of School Administrators of Montana.
Representatives of Missoula County Public Schools also sat in on the discussion.
“We’ve certainly been researching elements of the act since it was passed last school year, and identifying ways it will impact our district and allow us – through different funding mechanisms or assessment requirements – to better implement our programs,” said MCPS spokesperson Hatton Littman.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org