Do state plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act do enough to shine a spotlight on historically disadvantaged groups of students—and do they give schools the tools they need to improve outcomes for those children?
“What we are seeing so far is not encouraging,” concludes a report from The Education Trust, a Washington-based organization that advocates for low-income and minority students. “For all the talk about equity surrounding ESSA, too many state leaders have taken a pass on clearly naming and acting on schools’ underperformance for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English learners.”
Education Trust, whose executive director, John B. King Jr., served as President Barack Obama’s last secretary of education, reviewed the 17 ESSA plans submitted to the department so far, as well as the 34 that have been submitted. It found that:
In general, states picked indicators that get at whether students are learning, including chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, and on-track graduation. But some states picked so many indicators that it will be that there’s a “real risk” schools won’t have the incentive to improve on any of them, the advocacy group said. Example: Connecticut and Arkansas each have more than 10 indicators. Plus, some states, including Louisiana, have proposed indicators that aren’t ready for rollout yet…
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…on to our next question, which deals with ESSA funding. It comes from Sarah Boder, the director of policy & affiliate relations at the North American Association of Environmental Education.
Boder wants to know: “What’s the latest timeline for distribution of Title IVA funds to states? Are they able to receive funds as soon as their plans are approved? Do you have any sense of how many states will opt to administer those grants competitively, given the smaller appropriation?”
First off, what exactly is Title IV? And what does Boder mean by a “smaller appropriation”?
ESSA cut dozens of programs in the U.S. Department of Education and combined them into one giant block grant districts can use for everything from safety and health programs to arts education to Advanced Placement course fees. The program was supposed to get about $1.6 million annually, but Congress only provided $400 million for fiscal 2017. To help districts get more bang for their buck, lawmakers gave states the option to compete out the funds. They could also choose to dole them out by formula, with the goal of giving each district at least $10,000…
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, students in Delaware will be held accountable for social studies and science. Massachusetts and Vermont are also incorporating science into their systems, and Illinois is hoping to add it down the line.
Both Connecticut and Vermont also want to add physical education into their accountability systems. Educators and advocates in Vermont “felt that including the physical fitness assessment would support schools in attending to the whole child and supporting school nutrition programs and instruction that will promote a life time of healthy living,” according to the state’s ESSA plan, which hasn’t yet been approved by the feds.
Schools in the Green Mountain State won’t immediately be held accountable for how many jumping jacks their students…
Nine states and the District of Columbia had turned in their state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act as of Monday evening, according to an Education Week survey of states. One tricky issue states have to address in those plans is how to deal with schools where less than 95 percent of all students take required state exams.
Under ESSA, states are allowed to have laws on the books affirming parents’ right to opt their children out of these tests. But ESSA also requires that states administer these tests to all students with sanctions kicking in if the participation rate falls below 95 percent and meaningfully differentiate schools based on participation rate in some fashion. Just how states address this issue if the participation rate of all students (or a subgroup of students) at a particular school falls below 95 percent is up to them.
The opt-out movement sprang up in the last several years as part of a broader resistance to testing, and has been particularly strong in states like Colorado, New Jersey, and New York…
The plans will now be read by different teams of peer reviewers at the department. Political appointees, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, are forbidden from monkeying with that process. But the secretary gets to give the plans the final thumbs or down. More on how all that will work here…
President Donald Trump has proposed getting rid of the Title II program, which has been around for more than a decade and aims to help districts and states pay for teacher and principal development, reduce class-size, craft new evaluation systems, and more.
The program, which is officially called the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant prorgram, or Title II, Part A, is the third largest in the U.S. Department of Education’s budget that goes to K-12 education. Eliminating it would be a really big deal, state, district, and school officials say. Zeroing out Title II could hamper implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, lead to teacher layoffs, and make it tougher for educators to reach special populations of students, or use technology in their classrooms.
According to a recent report by Education Week, states have largely ignored a critical mandate of the Every Student Succeeds Act that calls for schools to measure the social and emotional competencies of their students.
“Not a single state’s plan to comply with the federal education law—and its broader vision for judging school performance—calls for inclusion of such measures in its school accountability system,” according to Education Week.
However, advocates for measuring social-emotional learning have said that the current tools need more refinement, before the U.S. Department of Education weighs in.
“Existing measures of social and emotional development, which largely rely on students’ responses to surveys about their own character traits, are not sophisticated and consistent enough to be used for such purposes, they have long argued,” the Education Week article said.
Even as school districts in Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Nashville, Tenn.; Oakland, Calif.; and Sacramento, Calif., are actively engaged in incorporating social and emotional learning into their curriculums, civil rights leaders continue to encourage Black parents to get involved with the implementation of ESSA.
“We have noticed that, under the Trump administration, there has been a shift in priorities concerning the implementation of some practices of ESSA, since its inception in 2015,” said Elizabeth Olsson, a senior policy associate for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “However, state and district officials still have to comply with the law.”
Olsson continued: “The U.S. Department of Education needs to make sure that it continues to scrutinize state programs to ensure that states are recruiting effective educational strategies, reducing practices that push students of color out of school systems, and identifying support programs, including professional teacher development and funding for alternative classes, like restorative justice.”
Olsson said that restorative justice programs really help get to the root of student behavior.
Liz King, the senior policy analyst and director of Education Policy for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that there are still a lot of open questions about how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is going to implement ESSA.
Earlier this year, after a hearing with a House Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos was roundly criticized by the civil rights community, when she seemed to endorse a state’s right to discriminate against children.
During the hearing, when Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked DeVos, if her Education Department would require states, like Indiana, to end the practice of funding schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students and families, “DeVos didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Slate.com reported. “She just smiled and stuck to the generations-old cover for violent oppression in America. ‘The states set up the rules,’ she said. ‘I believe states continue to have flexibility in putting together programs.’”
King called those comments “deeply concerning.”
King continued: “What we need to hear from the president and the secretary of education is a commitment to the law, the Constitution, and the rights of all children in the United States, focusing particularly on historically marginalized students.”
King said that the biggest difference between the way that ESSA was handled during President Obama’s administration versus the way the law is being handled now is the commitment to protect the civil rights, dignity, safety and respect for all children in this country. King added that children feel less safe and feel like their rights are being taken away, under the Trump Administration.
In a letter to Senator Patty Murray (D-Was.), DeVos claimed that the way that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) handled “individual complaints as evidence of systematic institutional violations,” under the Obama Administration, “harmed students.” DeVos also promised to return OCR to a “neutral, impartial investigative agency.”
The Education Department has approved ESSA state plans from Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.
As minorities continue to enroll in schools across the country at higher rates than their White peers, King said that parents and community members need to act now to make sure that the myriad needs of students of color are fully addressed in ESSA state plans, that includes access to advanced English and math courses and addressing the disparities that exist between how Black students are disciplined compared to White students.
“We have to address the issue of ESSA now, because decisions that are being made will have consequences for years to come,” King said. “One thing that is important to remember is that the implementation of ESSA does not happen in a vacuum.”
King continued: “ESSA is the opportunity for parents to work together with various coalitions, the press and grassroots organizations to shape the way the educational system will look for their children and for their futures in their own states.”
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have now submitted their plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act, and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team are ready to examine the dozens of plans submitted by the second deadline last month.
Thirty-four states and Puerto Rico turned in their ESSA plans in September and October. (The official deadline for submitting plans was September 18, but hurricane-ravaged Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas got extensions). And all of those plans have now been deemed “complete” by the feds. That means the plans aren’t missing key details, at least according to the department’s initial review…
President Donald Trump has finally, finally started to nominate people to fill the top political ranks at the U.S. Department of Education. Recently, for example, the White House announced its pick for deputy secretary (former South Carolina state chief Mick Zais) and for assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education (Michigan state Rep. Tim Kelly.)
But the Trump team is still really behind the eight-ball when it comes to staffing 400 Maryland Ave.
How far behind? We went back and looked to see when the Obama administration named its picks for some of the agency’s top players. In just about every instance, it was months ahead of the Trump crew…