The number of states that can try out new ways to test students under the Every Student Succeeds Act just doubled.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she had approved Georgia and North Carolina to try out new assessment methods for the 2019-20 school year, joining Louisiana and New Hampshire as states to successfully apply to participate in this pilot.
Georgia’s approach to the pilot is particularly notable, since it will be trying out not one but two assessment systems for the upcoming academic year. One will rely on adaptive assessments, which present students with questions based on their answers to previous ones, instead of relying on a fixed progression of test questions. The other will rely on “real-time” information on student performance. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s pilot system will rely on customized “routes” based on students’ prior answers on formative assessments. (More on formative assessments here.)
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The experts, both from the federal and district level, provided education officials and state lawmakers with independent information on how each state could improve their plans and implementation. However, what they discovered in Florida’s ESSA plan was not encouraging.
In September 2018, Florida received final approval from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for its ESSA State Plan. Florida was the last state in the nation to receive such approval, as state and federal education officials squabbled for months over the state’s proposed plan.
The Florida plan was originally submitted to the DOEin September 2017, but officials failed to include the waiver requests for the specific portions of the law to which it objected.
Federal officials sent the plan back to Florida Department of Education, saying they couldn’t pick and choose which aspects of the law to follow, and that they needed to submit waivers for the areas where they would like to be granted exceptions.
Florida submitted a revised ESSA plan to the DOE in April 2018 in an effort to comply with their requests and included a separate federal school rating system—one that factors in English-language learner proficiency and subgroup performance—which would work alongside the state’s existing A-F grading methodology to target struggling schools.
The primary areas of difference between Florida’s education officials and those within the DOE had to do with the Florida’s proposed approach to provisions regarding English-language learners and demographic-based subgroups — and federal officials weren’t the only ones saying that Florida’s plan left a lot to be desired. Civil rights groups repeatedly raised the alarmas well, asking Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rejectFlorida’s ESSA plan.
In a November 2017 letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, more than a dozen civil rights groups said they had “significant concerns” regarding the plan, which they believed failed “to serve the interests of marginalized students in the state” and “to comply with the requirements of the law.”
According to Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg, who serves on the committee for LULAC Florida, an advocacy group serving all Hispanic nationality groups, Florida’s “current plan includes features that contradict common sense, expert opinion, popular will, and the intent of the ESSA. Contrary to the purposes of the ESSA, the Florida plan denies attention to struggling subgroups of students. Without attention, there can be no correction.”
A year later, with Florida now implementing a revised state accountability plan, the peer reviewers convened by the Collaborative had similar (and additional) concerns.
While noting that “empowering local leaders is a core component of successful school turnaround,” the peer reviewers worried that “too much autonomy, without sufficient state supports, may not help the students and schools in most need.”
This, the peer reviewers believe, reflects a “lack of commitment to closing achievement gaps by not addressing subgroup performance or English learner proficiency in the state’s accountability system,” meaning “districts and schools are less likely to focus on these populations as they plan and implement school improvement strategies.” The same concern and fear raised by civil rights groups a year earlier.
The peer reviewers did applaud Florida for its “overall clear, student-focused vision around high standards, college and career readiness, and rigorous accountability and improvement,” and “clearly defined and easy-to-understand A-F grading system, which places a strong emphasis on academic growth and accelerated coursework.”
However, the peer reviewers recommended that the state rework its accountability system to incorporate student subgroups and English-language learner proficiency. They also noted that Florida’s use of dual accountability systems “raises issues with school improvement implementation as it can cause confusion about which schools are being identified and how to prioritize efforts.”
Elizabeth Primas is an educator who spent more than 40 years working to improve education for children. She is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethprimas.
During a wide-ranging hearing held by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified on a wide range of Education Department priorities.
Federal Flash covers the controversial exchanges during the hearing, including one question that DeVos struggled to answer.
The House Education and Labor Committee hearing this week examined the policies and priorities of the U.S. Department of Education. It was the first oversight hearing for Secretary DeVos to testify before the Committee since Democrats regained control of the House. While members asked questions on a variety of topics ranging from student loan debt to affirmative action to the rights of transgender students, many focused on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
In one heated exchange, Representative Jahana Hayes from Connecticut pressed Secretary DeVos about an Education Department memo she obtained citing that the Secretary does have sufficient authority to block states from using ESSA Title IV funds to buy guns for schools. Our viewers may recall that funding for Title IV, or the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, was hotly debated last year when Secretary DeVos said she did not have the power to block states from using Title IV funds to purchase firearms. The memo Representative Hayes presented, however, stated exactly the opposite.
While the exchange between Representative Gregorio Sablan from the Northern Mariana Islands and Secretary DeVos may not have received as much attention, Representative Sablan raised a very important issue regarding the Department’s approval of state ESSA plans that do not consider the performance of historically underserved students…
Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding because the state hasn’t followed the Every Students Succeeds Act’s rules for testing its students, Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the state in a recent letter.
This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level. ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.
For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test.
Arizona “hasn’t provided evidence that it has completed any of this work,” Brogan wrote.
The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote…
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A dispute over pay and class size in Chicago boiled over into the nation’s first charter school strike this month, raising questions about how teachers’ unions, going forward, will reconcile their longheld opposition to charters with their need to pick up more dues-paying members.
The historic walkout—and the concessions won by the Chicago Teachers Union on behalf of the striking charter school teachers—was welcome news for unions, which are predicted to potentially shed substantial members and revenue after the fateful U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision earlier this year.
Soon after the strike started, people began asking whether cracks were starting to show in the charter movement, the first viable public alternative—and challenge—to traditional public schools. For so long the charter movement has steadily expanded in many American cities, propelled by some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists.
The Chicago teachers’ strike has been largely cast in the media as a major symbolic win for teachers’ unions and a warning sign for charter schools and their supporters.
But there are equally fraught—if less examined—questions facing unions as they simultaneously decry charters as the tools of billionaires trying to privatize public education and encourage charter teachers to join their ranks. A growing unionized workforce in the charter sector may very well require changes from teachers’ unions as well as charter schools.
Anti-Charter Policy Pushes
Unions have longed positioned themselves as the defenders of traditional public schools, and have used their considerable political and financial clout to stymie charters. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all new charter schools. Elsewhere, unions have lobbied to block additional state funding for charter schools, backed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of charter schools, campaigned to keep caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open, and called for bans on charter management groups and companies…
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On December 18, the Trump Administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety released its recommendation to remove 2014 guidance issued by the Education Department and the Department of Justice to eliminate disparities in school discipline. This guidance came about after a comprehensive review and study and talking extensively to all stakeholders seeking to interrupt the disgraceful and disproportionate suspension of students of color and disabled students from school.
For more information on Breaking the School To Prison Pipeline, read the report DREDF authored for the National Council on Disability.
The guidance the Administration seeks to withdraw created minimum standards and basic protections for children with disabilities and other at-risk students from discriminatory practices that feed the school-to-prison pipeline. Withdrawl not only harms students, but also families, communities, and our nation. Data shows, and DREDF sees firsthand, that often students of color, foster kids and children with disabilities—many students fit into all of these categories—are subjected to the most punitive and exclusionary discipline. The administration’s regressive recommendations would reverse hard fought improvements to correct these established, irrefutable disparities.
A federal panel led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that’s charged with making policy recommendations on school shootings in the wake of the massacre at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School last Valentine’s Day promised to have its report out by the end of the year. That means we will see the commission’s report any day now.
So what do we already know about what may be in it? And what should we be watching for? Here’s your quick preview.
The report will almost certainly call for scrapping the Obama administration’s 2014 guidance dealing with discipline disparities. So what happens next?
Almost every advocate watching the commission believes it will recommend ditching Obama guidance, jointly issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. (The Washington Post reported that this is a for-sure thing last week.) The directive put schools on notice that they may be found in violation of federal civil rights laws if they enforce intentionally discriminatory rules or if their policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students in one racial group, even if those policies were written without discriminatory intent. You can read about the arguments for and against the guidance here.
The big question will be, how do school districts react to the change? How many will decide to keep using the practices they set up to respond to the guidance, which supporters say has helped school districts revise their discipline policies to benefit of all kids? And how many will decide to make changes, in part because some educators say the guidance has hamstrung local decision-making on discipline? And will Democrats in Congress, who will control the House as of January, move to somehow formalize the guidance in law? It’s unlikely that would pass a Republican-controlled Senate, but it would send a message and keep the debate going in Washington.
What does the report say about arming teachers and about guns in general?
President Donald Trump said that the massacre at Stoneman Douglas might not have been as bad if educators had been armed. “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” Trump said, referring to Nikolas Cruz, the former student who is accused of the slayings.
Since this is Trump’s commission, after all, it’s hard to imagine the report would come out against arming teachers. But it’s an open question how strong the language will be on this topic. Will the report encourage districts to arm educators, and point out that, under the department’s interpretation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, federal funds can be used to arm educators? (Democrats who helped write the law have a different take.)…
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By Arne Duncan
Originally published September 4, 2018
I am deeply troubled by the waves of distressing and insensitive policies emanating from the office I once occupied. Some recent ones even have Republicans shaking their heads.
While the U.S. Department of Education has sent mixed signals, it appears the department would tacitly approve the use of federal education funds by districts to buy guns. That’s a long way from the 1965 law that brought the federal government into the world of education.
The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act was part of a package of civil rights laws aimed at advancing equity and justice in the classroom. It followed a decade after the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision to end legal segregation. It was America at its best, raising our sights and uniting us behind common goals.
Secretary Betsy DeVos’ position on the use of guns is part of a pattern that takes us backwards. In recent days, she has announced plans to roll back guidance we issued on campus sexual assaults. More than 1 in 5 young women and more than 5 percent of men, report being assaulted; yet, she acts more concerned with the rights of the accused than the rights of victims…
The Trump administration also weakened protections for student borrowers and reversed the rules we developed for holding for-profit schools accountable. Our young people are drowning in debt, delaying home purchases, and filing for bankruptcy, but DeVos seems more concerned with protecting for-profit colleges that are ripping them off.
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that the country’s higher education system is in “crisis” thanks in part to a “government takeover of the student lending system” put in place by the Obama administration. But her contention was quickly fact-checked by a former GOP Senate staffer and other higher education experts.
“Our higher ed system is the envy of the world, but if we, as a country, do not make important policy changes in the way we distribute, administer, and manage federal student loans, the program on which so many students rely will be in serious jeopardy,” DeVos told the Federal Student Aid Training Conference in Atlanta in prepared remarks on Tuesday “Students are taking out tens of thousands of dollars in debt but many are misinformed or uninformed as to the implications of taking on that debt and their responsibilities to pay it back.”
Student debt, she said, is now 10 percent of national debt. “The student loan program is not only burying students in debt, it is also burying taxpayers and it’s stealing from future generations,” she said.
DeVos offered solutions for ballooning student debt, including giving students the opportunity to pursue the postsecondary path that’s right for them, even if that’s not a four-year college degree. She also called for boosting “innovation.” And she appeared to take a swipe at the free-college movement, whose champions include Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
“Nothing is free,” DeVos said. “Someone, somewhere ultimately pays the bills.”
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In February 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued Navient Corporation and two of its subsidiaries for allegedly using shortcuts and deception to illegally cheat 12 million borrowers out of their rights to lower loan repayments. These practices, according to CFPB, led to an additional $4 billion in borrower costs.
Forbearance is only one option available to borrowers repaying their student loans. While other options less costly to borrowers like income-based repayment were available, Navient’s widespread use of forbearance boosted corporate profits by minimizing time spent advising distressed borrowers.
Navient’s profit-enhancing measures came at a great expense to borrowers. For example, three-years of deferment on $30,000 in student loans would cost a borrower an additional $6,742.
A few weeks later and in response to CFPB’s lawsuit, the Education’ Department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) division audited Navient from March 20-24, 2017, and later produced a report of its findings on May 18, 2017.
But the audit remained secret until late November this year when the investigative expertise of Associated Press, aided by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), finally led to public disclosure of its devastating findings. Rather than incur the wrath of consumers nationwide, and/or appear to support the CFPB or any of the multiple state attorneys general who also sued Navient, the Education Department never made the critical audit public.
As journalists would say, this story has legs: A Cabinet secretary allowed a federal contractor to act as if a key public agency worked for a private company. Additionally, audit findings hidden for a year from the public today impact 44 million student loan borrowers.
The one encouraging development in this still-unfolding scenario is that a U.S. Senator is still waging an effort to protect consumers. In a November 13th letter this year from Sen. Warren to Navient’s President and CEO, the Massachusetts Senator was justifiably direct.
“This report bolsters allegations that Navient illegally cheated struggling student borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments…This finding is both tragic and infuriating, and the findings appear to validate the allegations that Navient boosted its profits by unfairly steering student borrowers into forbearance when that was often the worst financial option for them.”
My own review of the report’s hidden findings by the audit’s six-member on-site review team uncovered how Navient not only failed to advise student loan borrowers of all available options to repay their loans but believed that its servicing contract with the Department of Education did not require the firm to do so.
A section of the report entitled, ‘Servicer Response’ states in part: “We disagree with 168 of the 228 servicing opportunity determinations (call review and servicing history review)….Nor are we aware of any requirement that borrowers receive all of their repayment options – IDR, deferment and forbearance – on each and every call…If FSA chooses to require all servicers to discuss IDR to all borrowers on all calls or to require all service representatives follow a common call flow, specific requirements should be provided in an approved Change Request.”
That’s a lot of corporate nerve.
Navient is supposed to work for the Department of Education, and by extension, the American people. Further, if Secretary DeVos allows this major contractor to shape what will or will not happen on her watch, what kind of public steward of taxpayer dollars is she?
The FSA findings give even more credence to the earlier CFPB investigation undertaken before filing its Navient lawsuit. CFPB learned that many of the borrowers that incurred excessive charges included military veterans who became disabled during their service to the country. Federal law provides that military veterans whose disabilities were incurred during service to the country are entitled to loan forgiveness.
Navient also holds title to a related and dubious distinction: More consumers filed complaints about Navient than any other student loan servicer. Complainants identified dealing with the servicer or lender as the key issue, compared to nearly half at 34 percent whose problems were based on an inability to pay their loans.
“At every stage of repayment, Navient chose to shortcut and deceive consumers to save on operating costs,” said then-CFPB Director Richard Cordray at the time the lawsuit was filed. “Too many borrowers paid more for their loans because Navient illegally cheated them.”
“Too many Americans are struggling to make their student loan payments every month,” said Whitney Barkley-Denney, a policy counsel specializing in student lending with the Center for Responsible Lending. “While the Department of Education has created programs to help make monthly payments more affordable, those programs only work if servicers are actually helping eligible borrowers access them. Servicers aren’t merely debt collectors – they can be a borrower’s lifeline to financial stability.”
Navient still has a chance to set its record straight. Sen. Warren’s letter requests a written reply to the litany of concerns by December 4.