Monday, August 7, 2017
States' New Plans for Complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act Confirms Just How Little the Law Expects of States
Last fall, in Abandoning the Federal Role in Education, I wrote that the Every Student Succeeds Act "moves education in a direction that was unthinkable just a few short years ago: no definite equity provisions, no demands for specific student achievement, and no enforcement mechanism to prompt states to consistently pursue equity or achievement. The ESSA reverses the federal role in education and returns nearly full discretion to the states." As a result, I predicted the Act would lead to vague state plans, obfuscation, widening inequality, and downright confusion.
Thus far, most of these predictions have come true. Earlier this year, Secretary DeVos, expecting that Congress would repeal the Obama's administrations ESSA regulations, changed the deadline for states to submit their plans and suggested they would have flexibility in their plans. The problem is that states actually need federal leadership. As of today, less than a third of states have their ESSA compliance plans in. And those that have their plans in have done little to dispel my concerns. As a new report by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success reveals, the sixteen state plans submitted thus far do not ensure that all students' performance is counted in state accountability plans.
While there were promising elements, our peer reviewers found that most state plans failed to provide significant details about how their systems would work in practice. For example:
• How will schools be held accountable for the performance of all subgroups of students?
• How will schools be identified for improvement?
• What steps will schools identified for improvement need to take, and how will they demonstrate they’ve made sufficient progress to exit improvement status?
A new NPR story points out that this "should raise some red flags concerning kids with disabilities, English language learners and those from low-income families." States have thrown so many measures of school quality into their metrics that the public is unlikely to know what school quality actually means or what schools are required to do to address it.
In the end, these plans reveal the central flaw in the ESSA: its success rests on the extent to which states are willing to engage in good faith efforts to provide equal and adequate opportunities. As NPR writes, parents must simply trust their states. Unfortunately, recent history reveals there is almost no reason to place this faith in states. They have slashed public education budgets, manipulated test scores, and watched school segregation increase.
This is not to say that federal reform has been well-crafted. It has not. But the solution is better federal policy, not giving up.
Read a summary of the ESSA, its flaws, and proposed solutions here.