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Aurora Institute

Center for Policy and Advocacy February 2021 Updates

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Alexis Chambers, Fred Jones

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Create Space to Pilot Systems of Assessments, State Policy, Base Learning on Mastery Not Seat Time, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education

Federal Updates

U.S. Department of Education Releases Guidance to States on Assessing Student Learning During the Pandemic – On February 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) notified states that they would not approve of “blanket waivers of assessments” required by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Instead, ED would provide flexibility on how data from the tests are used and reported. For example, states would not have to report results from accountability systems or identify schools for comprehensive or targeted support. However, states will have to report all data on school report cards, except for data related to accountability and school ratings. Read More

Center for Disease Control (CDC) Releases Updated School Reopening Guidance – New evidence referenced by the CDC suggests that many K-12 schools that have strictly implemented mitigation strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open despite the global pandemic. School buildings that are able to implement universal and correct use of masks, physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, while maintaining healthy and clean facilities, conduct contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine for positive cases may be able to safely return to in-person instruction. Read More

19 National Education and Civil Rights Organizations Send Joint Letter to Dr. Miguel Cardona Urging Rejection of Waivers to Annual State-Wide Summative Assessments for the 2020-21 School Year Nineteen national education and civil rights organizations, including the Collaborative for Student Success, the National Urban League, and the Education Trust, issued a letter urging Dr. Cardona, if confirmed, to “refrain from issuing waivers to states that would allow them to bypass student assessment requirements for the 2020-21 school year” and instead “call on all states to administer summative statewide assessments.” The letter says that data is needed to understand the quality of education at this moment as well as to make decisions to equitably target resources. Read More

U.S. Senate HELP Committee Holds Hearing for U.S. Secretary of Education Nominee Dr. Miguel Cardona –  On February 3, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Miguel Cardona to serve as President Biden’s Secretary of Education. Dr. Cardona earned praise from members on both sides of the political aisle. He testified to the Senate saying, “Our nation’s education challenges didn’t begin with the pandemic, but it has exacerbated inequities in our educational system. These inequities will endure, and prevent the potential of this great country, unless tackled head-on.  And so, it is our responsibility, and it would be my greatest privilege, if confirmed, to forge opportunity out of this crisis.” The Senate HELP committee approved to advance his nomination by a vote of 17-5. 

Also, the Biden Administration recently announced its first and second round of political appointments to fill senior roles in the U.S. Department of Education. Read More

White House Details $130 Billion Request for Education – The White House is circulating a document detailing the $130 billion request for education and why it is needed to reopen schools. It includes $50 billion for social distancing, $60 billion to avoid lay-offs and close budget gaps, $3 billion for health staff, $9.5 billion for Personal Protective Equipment and other materials, $29 billion for Extended Learning Time & Support for students (tutors, summer school), $10 billion for school counselors, $7 billion to close the digital divide, and $2 billion for the COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant. On February 9, the House Education and Labor Committee held a Committee markup of a coronavirus relief bill allowing up to $357 billion in deficit spending, including $130 billion in relief funding for elementary and secondary schools, $40 billion for higher education, and $30 billion for early childhood education. Read More

FCC Explores Opening Up the E-Rate Program to Expand Connectivity – On February 1, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a request for public comment to explore allowing the use of E-Rate funds to support remote learning during the pandemic. The FCC previously ruled that the E-Rate program could not be used to support remote learning by directly providing devices and internet access to students. The notice indicates that the Commission is exploring reversing this ruling and seeking to know how the E-Rate program could support increased access to devices and high-speed internet. Read More

U.S. Department of Education Announces National Survey to Gather Data on School Reopening – The Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education announced the largest representative effort yet to collect data on the impact of COVID-19 on students and the status of in-person learning. Currently, there is not enough data to understand the status of school re-opening and how students are learning nationwide. This project, known as the “NAEP 2021 School Survey,” will collect high-quality data from a nationally and state-representative sample. Read More

U.S. Department of Education COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools – To reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic and maximize the amount of in-person instruction, schools need sufficient resources as well as adhered-to, strong state and local public health measures. Extraordinary efforts by states, districts, and schools have been underway to support students throughout the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education are providing recommendations and considerations based on the most recent scientific evidence to support school and district leaders and educators in meeting these ever-evolving, significant challenges. Read More

Impact of COVID-19 on Accountability Systems – In a new FAQ document provided to states, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education said any school with the status of comprehensive support and improvement (CSI), targeted support and improvement, or additional targeted support and improvement in the 2019-20 school year will keep that identification status in the 2020–21 school year. However, schools identified as CSI based on their graduation rates may exit based on improved 2019–20 rates. Regardless of the data, states can choose to have those schools maintain their CSI status for the 2020–21 school year. Read More

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Removed from House Education Committee – In a vote in the early part of February, the House of Representatives decided to bar Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA., from taking a position on two committees, Education and Labor and Budget, that House Republican leaders assigned her. She has come under criticism for supporting claims that school shootings were false flag operations or somehow staged among other actions. The final vote was 230199, with 11 Republicans joining 219 Democrats to remove her from her committee assignments. Read More

State Updates


  • State Lawmakers Consider Accountability Overhaul as Other States Consider Pauses – Continuing the national conversation around the role of state school accountability systems during the pandemic, Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would revamp the state’s approach to accountability by reconsidering state “takeovers” of the lowest-performing schools, re-weighting A-F school grades, and developing a new school performance dashboard for parents and community members. The discussion in Indiana comes as other states consider adapting or pausing their state accountability systems as they work out the details of administering spring state assessments this school year, the results on which most accountability measures at least partially rely. Under the new bill, changes to Indiana’s accountability structure would still hinge on results from annual student assessments. Read More


  • Kentucky State Board Approves Changes to School Accountability System – Earlier this month, the Kentucky Board of Education voted approved changes to the state’s accountability system recommended that now annually differentiates all public schools in the state by using multiple measures that describe each district’s overall performance, along with the performances of individual schools and student demographic groups. Read More
  • Kentucky Is Set to Be the First State to Finish Vaccinating Teachers – Kentucky is expected to finish administering the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to all K-12 teachers and school staff who want it this week—potentially making it the first to complete the initial round of teacher vaccinations. At least 28 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have made some or all teachers eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. But according to Education Week’s research and Gov. Andy Beshear’s estimates, Kentucky is the furthest along with vaccinating that group. Read More


  • Louisiana Launches a Tutoring Initiative to Address Unfinished Learning, Improve Academic Achievement – To help those parents and students who are struggling with the back and forth between in-person and online learning, the Louisiana Department of Education plans to provide $1 million to jumpstart the “Accelerate Initiative.” This program will provide additional tutoring sessions to students all across the state. Read More


  • Springfield Looks to Identify and Provide Skills Students Need to Thrive – Springfield Public Schools are focused on creating a portrait of a high-school graduate, through an initiative designed to gain feedback from a host of constituencies regarding the skills that young people will need to not only earn a high-school diploma but also thrive in an ever-changing, technology-driven economy. The portrait of a graduate will be a blueprint for school leaders to develop a strategic plan. Read More


  • State Superintendent Encourages State Lawmakers to Extend School Year – Michael Rice, Michigan state superintendent, said that the pandemic has exacerbated students’ learning needs. He wants state lawmakers to increase the minimum number of days children are required to attend school to make up for the loss of learning time. Read More
  • New Council to Focus on COVID Recovery for Learners – Governor Whitmer created the Student Recovery Advisory Council tasked with developing recommendations to improve systems for academic support for students who experienced learning loss due to COVID-19. Mental and physical health for students impacted by COVID-19 Support high school students transitioning into postsecondary education. Out-of-school time supports, including, but not limited to, summer school, before and after school programs, and extended school years. Read More


  • Gov. Tim Walz Proposes Automatic College Acceptance for Qualifying Minnesota High School Seniors – Gov. Walz is proposing a new program in his budget that would automatically accept qualifying seniors to local Minnesota Universities. If approved, K-12 schools and higher education institutions would receive $1 million over the next two years to create a proactive college admissions process for high school seniors. All seniors who meet agreed-upon academic benchmarks would receive letters showing they have been accepted into a set of institutions in the Minnesota state system. Read More

Bills We are Watching

  • Arkansas (HB 1151) – This bill suspends the public school rating system for the 2020–2021 school year.
  • Florida (SB 1184) – This bill would establish Schools of Innovation that would be exempt from state rules or district policies; it would also authorize an alternative letter grade system and ensure funding for Schools of Innovation.  
  • Missouri (HB 624) – This bill establishes the Show Me Success Diploma Program as an alternative graduation pathway for high school students.
  • Nevada (SB 83) – This bill waives or pauses requirements related to certain examinations or assessments in the U.S. Department of Education waives or pauses similar requirements of federal law. 
  • New Mexico (HB 83) – This bill establishes new graduation requirements to become effective in the 20222023 school year for incoming ninth-grade students. It also reduces the required number of successfully completed credit hours from 24 to 23 for a student to graduate and receive a New Mexico diploma of excellence.
  • North Dakota (HB 1111) – This bill would manage a study of competency-based learning initiatives implemented in school districts under innovative education programs. 
  • North Dakota (HB 1478) – This bill allows certain alternative education opportunities outside the classroom to count toward course credit.
  • North Dakota (HB 2304) – This bill requires all elementary and secondary public and non-public schools in the state to provide a curriculum on Native American history.
  • Oklahoma (SB 619) – This bill allows certain students to participate in apprenticeships, internships, and mentorship programs.
  • South Carolina (S 208/H 3589) – These bills allow school districts to designate more than one school in a local district as a School of Innovation.
  • South Carolina (S H883) – This bill provides requirements for implementing competency-based schools from certain applicable laws and regulations and requirements for implementing competency-based education in schools. 
  • Utah (HB 181) – This bill amends provisions related to personalized, competency-based learning.

For questions, comments, or technical assistance, contact:

Fred Jones
Policy Director, Aurora Institute
[email protected]

Alexis Chambers
Policy Associate, Aurora Institute
[email protected]