Federal Flash: The Education Question Betsy DeVos Can’t Answer

Federal Flash: The Education Question Betsy DeVos Can’t Answer

By Rachel Bird Niebling

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…

Read the full article  in Alliance for Excellent Education
DeVos’ Team: Arizona Could Lose $340 Million For Skirting ESSA’s Testing Requirements

DeVos’ Team: Arizona Could Lose $340 Million For Skirting ESSA’s Testing Requirements

By Alyson Klein

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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…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription. 

The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

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. 

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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…

Read full article click here, may require ED Week Subscription

DREDF Rejects Attempt by Trump Administration to Reverse Progress on School Safety

DREDF Rejects Attempt by Trump Administration to Reverse Progress on School Safety

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.

 Read full article click here

Are standardized tests helping or hurting students?

Are standardized tests helping or hurting students?

For decades, standardized tests have played a key role in the U.S. education system. With the implementation of No Child Left Behind, a George W. Bush-era bill that penalized schools for not meeting certain testing standards, the importance of such tests only increased. While the bill has since been replaced, standardized tests still play a critical role in determining school success. Advocates say it is an invaluable way to judge school effectiveness. Opponents say the tests are biased and harmful to critical thinking. What do you think?

PERSPECTIVES

Proponents of standardized tests like Dr. Gail Gross, a Huffington Post contributor, argue standardized tests provide the most straightforward and comprehensive measure of whether students in any particular school are learning.

We must not fear that which can offer us the best possible opportunity to transfer information in the most effective way. One important measure for that transfer is the standardized test. Such testing gives the teacher important diagnostic information about what each child is learning in relation to what he has been taught. Only in this way can the teacher know if the student needs intervention and remediation; if the curriculum matches the course requirements; or if the teaching methods needed are in some way lacking and require adjustment.

Furthermore, the standardized test gives valuable insight into broader issues, such as the standard curriculum important to grade level requirements, and an education reference point for fair and equitable education for all children in all schools — district by district and state by state. This can also lead to better teaching skills, as teachers will be held accountable to help their students meet these standards.

Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at a nonprofit education research and consulting firm, not only agrees that tests are the best way to determine student success, but that testing is needed every year to provide an adequate portrait of students’ learning.

[A]nnual testing has tremendous value. It lets schools follow students’ progress closely, and it allows for measurement of how much students learn and grow over time, not just where they are in a single moment.

It also allows for a much more nuanced look at student performance. For example, rather than simply looking at average overall school performance, where high performers frequently mask what’s happening to low achievers, No Child Left Behind focuses attention on the progress that groups of students are making within schools — a level of analysis that is possible only with annual data. To be confident that the test results aren’t pulled up or down by a few students and to minimize year-to-year variability, states usually consider only groups of at least 30 or 40 students. States are also able to average results over multiple years or across grades.

Read full article click here

Four Things to Watch For in the Trump School Safety Report

Four Things to Watch For in the Trump School Safety Report

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. Education Week logo

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.)…

Read full article click here, may require ED Week Subscription

SBOE ESSA Task Force to Explore New School Report Card

SBOE ESSA Task Force to Explore New School Report Card

Washington, DC – On Tuesday, December 11, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) will hold its next Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Task Force meeting at 6 pm in Room 1117 at 441 Fourth St. NW. Task Force members will convene to explore the new DC school report cards released today. Representatives from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) will join the meeting to assist in navigating the site and respond to any questions that arise. 

Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the launch of the first annual DC School Report Card and School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework. The new interactive data-driven website provides students, families, and educators clear and detailed information to better understand how every DC public and public charter school is performing. DC families now have access to easy, clear, and meaningful information about schools in order to make the best decisions for their children. The State Board of Education and its ESSA Task Force worked with OSSE over the last year to bring parents and families together to help create the report cards.

Members of the public may attend and observe all task force meetings, but are not permitted to speak or participate during these sessions. Individuals and representatives of organizations may submit written testimony or information for consideration by the task force by emailing sboe@dc.gov. The task force meeting will be streamed live via Periscope for those community members who are unable to attend in person. For the latest updates on the task force’s work, please visit sboe.dc.gov/essa.

About the SBOE

The DC State Board of Education is an independent agency within the Government of the District of Columbia that advises the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the District’s state education agency. The State Board is comprised of nine elected representatives, each representing their respective wards, with one member representing DC at large, and two appointed student representatives. The State Board approves statewide education policies and sets academic standards, while OSSE oversees education within the District and manages federal education funding. More information about the SBOE can be found at sboe.dc.gov.

DeVos hid student loan repayment abuses for 18 months

DeVos hid student loan repayment abuses for 18 months

By Charlene Crowell

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.

Stay tuned.

Charlene Crowell is the Communications Deputy Director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Names New Members to National Assessment Governing Board

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Names New Members to National Assessment Governing Board

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Five leaders from around the country have been appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board to serve four-year terms, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced today.

This year’s Governing Board appointees include four new members and one re-appointed member—the Board’s current Vice Chair Tonya Matthews. The appointees’ terms begin on Oct. 1, 2018, and end on Sept. 30, 2022.

The appointees will help set policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. NAEP offers to the public and to education policymakers at the national, state and local levels, objective data on student performance in nearly a dozen subjects. The information NAEP provides helps education stakeholders evaluate the progress of American education. The 26-member nonpartisan, independent Governing Board determines the subjects and content of NAEP tests, sets the achievement levels for reporting and publicly releases the results.

“I’m pleased to welcome this diverse group of leaders from across the country to the National Assessment Governing Board,” Secretary DeVos said. “The board plays an important role in assessing student achievement, and I am confident that their collective experience will be a valuable asset as we work to ensure that all students have equal access to a great education that gives them the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.”

The appointees and the roles they represent on the Board are listed below:

  • Paul Gasparini, Secondary School Principal: Gasparini is the principal of Jamesville-DeWitt High School in Dewitt, New York, a position he has held for 17 years. Gasparini chairs the Central New York High School Principals Consortium, and his accolades include being named state high school principal of the year by the School Administrators Association of New York state.
  • Julia Keleher, Chief State School Officer: Keleher was appointed as Puerto Rico’s secretary of education in December 2016. She has more than 20 years of experience in education at the federal, state, district and school levels. Keleher is also an adjunct professor at The George Washington University, where she teaches graduate-level courses in the Business School and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
  • Tonya Matthews, General Public Representative: Matthews joined the Governing Board in 2014. She is the founder of The STEMinista Project—an initiative to engage girls’ interest in science and technology careers. Mostly recently, Matthews served as president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Science Center, a science museum for children and young adults in Detroit.
  • Mark Miller, Eighth-Grade Teacher: Miller is a mathematics teacher and chair of the mathematics department at Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Miller has more than 20 years of experience teaching mathematics at the junior-high level. Miller is a National Board Certified Teacher and serves on a standard-setting panel for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. His accolades include being nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science.
  • Nardi Routten, Fourth-Grade Teacher: Routten is a fourth-grade teacher at Chester A. Moore Elementary in Fort Pierce, Florida. She has taught third- and fourth-graders in St. Lucie County for more than 20 years. Routten, a National Board Certified Teacher, has received local and national recognition for her excellence in teaching, including the Milken Educator Award in 2014.

“We are excited to have such a breadth of talent and expertise join the Board and contribute to a group of leaders who are dedicated to maintaining NAEP’s rigor and quality, while making the assessment useful and relevant for the public,” said Lisa Stooksberry, deputy executive director for the Governing Board.

Every year, the Governing Board conducts a nationwide search for Board nominees. After the nominations period ends, the Governing Board narrows the pool of nominees to a list of finalists from which the U.S. Secretary of Education selects Board members.

The Governing Board is now accepting nominations for Board members whose terms will begin Oct. 1, 2019. To learn more about the open Board positions and the nomination process, visit http://bit.ly/JoinTheBoard11. Nominations are due by 5 p.m. EST on Oct. 31, 2018.


The National Assessment Governing Board is an independent, nonpartisan board whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives and members of the general public. Congress created the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to set policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For more information about the Governing Board, visit www.nagb.org.

Federal Flash: Are States Shirking ESSA Responsibilities?

Federal Flash: Are States Shirking ESSA Responsibilities?

Are states shirking their responsibilities around two of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) most important provisions for historically underserved groups of students? A new analysis says yes. Federal Flash delves into the findings, plus a Senate education committee hearing on ESSA implementation and the latest on the bill funding the U.S. Department of Education. 

A new Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) analysis finds that many states are not fully implementing the letter–or the spirit–of the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA. All4Ed released the analysis ahead of a Senate education committee hearing on ESSA implementation, which we’ll cover later in this post.

All4Ed previously created “ESSA Equity Dashboards” for most state ESSA plans. These dashboards assess states on fourteen equity-focused policies in the law. In terms of actual outcomes for kids, however, not all of our indicators are created equal. That’s why our new analysis summarizes the two most important equity policies from the dashboards: (1) inclusion of subgroups in school ratings and (2) definitions of “consistently underperforming” subgroup used to identify schools for targeted support.

Unfortunately, the results are mixed, with many states at risk of masking the performance of historically underserved students.  In other words, a school could receive an A rating, but have a graduation rate for African American or Latino students of only 60 percent – which is hardly an A. And in many states, low-performing students may not receive the assistance they need to excel because their schools are not identified for support.

Specifically:

12 states are red because they don’t include subgroups of students in all school ratings. Another 23 states get a yellow because they don’t include all of ESSA’s subgroups in ratings or are at risk of obscuring subgroup performance on school report cards. Just 17 states get a green rating for including all ESSA subgroups in all school ratings.

On the second indicator, 16 states are red because they are at risk for under-identifying schools for targeted support. 30 states earn a yellow because students will likely need to fail across multiple indicators before the school is identified for support. In other words, it won’t be enough for a subgroup to simply be below grade level in reading. Students would need to struggle in reading, math, and other areas before being identified.  Only 6 states get a green for using a definition of consistently underperforming where subgroups receive support if students are struggling on a few key measures – like achievement and/or growth.

Read the full chart and analysis.

These two issues – school ratings and school identification – were major concerns raised by senate democrats in this week’s committee hearing.

But ESSA accountability wasn’t the only issue raised. Democratic senators called on Secretary Betsy DeVos to use her authority to prevent states from using federal funds for guns. Republican chairman Lamar Alexander, while he dislikes the idea of arming teachers, said states have the flexibility to use funds under Title IV of ESSA as they see fit.

Finally, the fiscal year 2019 funding bill for the U.S. Department of Education and several other agencies passed both chambers of Congress this week and President Trump has said he will sign it.

This is the first time since 1996 that the bill funding for the Department of Education has been signed into law before the start of the new fiscal year. This is notable because it allows states, districts, and schools to know what funding they will have for certain education programs prior to the beginning of the fiscal year.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the September 28 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute (or less!) video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at alliance@all4ed.org.