Cliff Notes: The Education Policy Cliff of 2014

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It is hard to see beyond the nonstop coverage of the fiscal cliff. The outcome is, after all, crucial for our school budgets and the nation's economy. Sequestration would require the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to cut 8 to 10 percent of its budget, passing the cuts down to districts.The automatic tax hikes would compound the problem for those working in cash-strapped schools. This is serious stuff.

It should not, however, prevent us from recognizing another cliff on the horizon — the education policy cliff of 2014. The edu-cliff is the result of a convergence of factors that could derail the policy initiatives of the last four years, including Common Core state standards and assessments, teacher evaluation policies, and more. The 2014 factors include:

  • The first scheduled administration of the Common Core assessments by the PARCC  and SBAC consortia. The increased difficulty of the exams will result in fewer students scoring "proficient." This could result in backlash from assessment critics, especially in suburbia where success is expected.
  • The expiration of the ESEA waiver period. ED will have to assess whether the waivers are contributing to the improvement of student learning and the quality of state accountability models. It will also have to work with Congress to determine what an extension of the waivers would mean for ESEA reauthorization.
  • The implementation of state teacher evaluation programs. Over 18 states have recently passed teacher evaluation laws and will soon embark on the difficult work of state-wide implementation. These programs are technical, labor intensive and fraught with political landmines.
  • And, finally, 2014 is a mega-gubernatorial election. There are 36 gubernatorial seats up for grabs. You can be sure that state education policies will become political fodder.

Mix all of these factors together and you get a potentially combustible concoction that could throw education policy into considerable disarray. This has many policy makers worried. It also has some excited. And it gives everyone a deadline to which they can orchestrate their advocacy campaigns. Mark your calendars.

A version of this was published on the Thompsons Education Compliance Expert blog.

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