This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: The US Ed Dept Approves CT Waiver Request; and the Anniversary of the 504 Sit-Ins.
The US Ed Dept Approves CT Accountability Waiver Request
Yesterday, Education Secretary Cardona approved Connecticut’s request to waive some federal accountability, school identification, and related reporting requirements for the 2020-21 school year. Specifically, the state’s request sought adjustments to some of the indicators it ordinarily uses under its Next Generation Accountability System, which cannot all be measured this year after last year’s assessment waiver and periods of school closures. Connecticut also asked to adjust timelines and processes for identifying schools for comprehensive, targeted, and additional support and improvement. Notably, the state did not request a waiver from the renewal of standardized testing (SBAC) requirements for this year.
This news follows a slew of denials by the Biden administration of state requests to cancel their standardized assessments altogether this year. The US Department of Education (USDE) had informed states last month that—even though they were granted waivers from standardized tests last year—2021 would not see blanket waivers. States can apply for waivers to allow shortened versions of the test, to adjust testing windows, or to administer tests remotely, however. (Consistent with that position, the USDE approved a Colorado plan to administer math tests in grades 4, 6, 8 and reading tests in grades 3, 5, 7.)
Kudos to President Biden and Secretary Cardona for remaining steadfast on assessments and accountability for the benefit of the nation’s students, which will ensure equity in remediation and resource allocation. (See our 2020 op-ed on the topic in the Stamford Advocate and the letter that Education Reform Now co-signed with other civil rights, social justice, disability rights, and education advocacy organizations at the beginning of this year.)
The Legacy of 504 and IDEA
This week marks the anniversary of the start of the 504 sit-ins. Even though Section 504 had prohibited discrimination or exclusion on the basis of disability from any federally funded program or service since 1973—by 1977, the country still lacked regulations to interpret the new law with consistency. Led by activists Kitty Cone and Judy Heumann, the disability community and its allies began a sit-in at federal office buildings across the country—until regulations were finally signed later that month. The longest nonviolent occupation of a federal building in America’s history, according to The New York Times, the effort showed the nation that people with disabilities were a force who could bring about meaningful political change. These efforts were featured in a new Oscar nominated Netflix documentary, Crip Camp, produced by President Obama and the former First Lady.
The movement is the origin story that led to today's important federal protections for students with physical or mental disabilities, entitling them to free appropriate public education. However, during this anniversary week, we also reflect on the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on many students with disabilities, who haven’t received the services to which they are entitled by law. A couple of weeks ago, a broad coalition of education advocates asked the US Department of Education to provide guidance on using relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to help students with disabilities to recover from these disruptions. There is no federal funding stream yet attached to Section 504, and the IDEA has never been funded at the levels that the federal government has promised to states.