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School Improvement, Career Tech Education a Priority, King Tells Mayors

Washington

Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King said that he plans to spend at least part of his time in office helping to revamp career and technical education and shining a spotlight on smart improvement strategies for low-performing schools and struggling populations.

Why is this important? The brand-new Every Student Succeeds Act calls for states and districts to use so-called "evidence based" interventions in schools that are seriously underperforming or where certain groups of students are struggling—and it expressly prohibits the education secretary from dictating interventions for states and districts.

But the Education Department can still use the bully pulpit and the department's communication tools—and it's clear that's what King would like do.

"ESSA provides an opportunity for states to rethink and create more-tailored intervention programs for schools," King said Monday at a roundtable for mayors and other local officials at the National League of Cities education task force here.

For instance, he said, a school that's just had a big influx of English-language learners and is struggling to help them improve could do focused professional development or bring on teachers experienced with that population.

"That wasn't in the one-size-fits-all menu" of school improvement strategies under the No Child Left Behind Act, he said.

To help, the department will highlight or "build an evidence" base around strategies that work. In fact, the feds have already gotten started, through a recent initiative to help combat chronic absenteeism, and by talking about how schools can make better use of existing health programs, King said.

And, on another issue, he says the Obama administration wants to see a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act this year. The law, which is lower key and less politically charged than the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or the Higher Education Act, last got a facelift in 2006.

King said he'd like to see a new version of the law focus on helping high schools and post-secondary programs better coordinate on what kinds of skills students need to have for success after high school.

This isn't the Obama administration's first Perkins push. One key part of its initial, 2012 proposal—making a portion of Perkins funding competitive—went over like a lead balloon on Capitol Hill.

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