ESSA Feedback Process Changed After Criticism

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Alyson Klein at Education Week reports that after criticism over how the U.S. Department of Education provided feedback to states that have submitted an accountability plan change was made to the process.

Klein writes:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team have gotten big blowback for their responses to states on their plans for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. State officials and even some DeVos’ GOP allies in Congress have said the department is being nit-picky, inconsistent, and going beyond the bounds of ESSA, which sought to rein in the federal policy footprint.

So now the agency is changing the process, Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the department confirmed. Instead of just sending letters to states on their plans, the department will first have two-hour phone conversations with states and go over any the issues that peer reviewers had with their plans.

If states are able to explain a potential hiccup to the department’s satisfaction, the department may not mention it in the state’s official feedback letter, which would come out after the phone call.

The new process seems designed to give states a chance to answer the feds’ questions about their plans before official feedback is made public.

Read the rest here.

Klein notes that the nine states that have already gone through the process may call foul. I think it’s too little, too late. Providing nitpicky feedback over the phone just changes the mode of how that feedback is delivered. It still represents federal overreach. The change still does nothing to “reduce the footprint” of the federal government meddling in K-12 education without a constitutional mandate to do so.

I understand that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos can’t ignore the law. States are still required to submit their state accountability plans. There is nothing in the law that says she has to reject any of the plans. She does have the freedom to approve them all. Scuttle the feedback teams, and bypass the Obama-era bureaucrats still working in the department. She should just approve them all regardless of what they say.

That action will prove she is serious about rolling back federal influence in K-12 education.

State Accountability Plans’ Relative Silence on Common Core

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Alyson Klein writes at Education Week that Common Core is barely mentioned in the state accountability plans that states are submitting to the U.S. Department of Education.

There’s barely a whisper about the standards in the seventeen ESSA plans that have been turned in so far, an Education Week review found. That’s true even though all but two of the states who have turned in their plans are using the standards.

Of the states still using the common core, eight—Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, and North Dakota—only mention the standards once in their applications, or not at all. And Michigan’s application has the words “common core” three times, but only to talk about all the negative comments it has received about the standards. So that doesn’t really count.

And even the states that do talk about the common core don’t do it at great length. Common core comes up most often in the District of Columbia’s application, which mentions the standards just six times.

That’s a big contrast from the last round of state accountability plans—applications for the Obama administration’s waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act—which were chock full of common core references.

To be sure, states weren’t asked to go into detail about their standards in their ESSA applications. The new law requires states to set standards that get kids ready for college and/or the workforce, but the feds don’t have any say in what those standards are.

After the Obama administration boosted the common core in a couple of ways, the lawmakers who wrote ESSA tried to prevent that from happening again. The law prohibits the secretary from linking the adoption of a particular set of standards to money or flexibility.

Regarding the silence we see….

Ok, first off, this is a review of only 17 plans. Second, as Alyson mentions, states are still very much use Common Core – most states don’t use the name, however. Third, I think you see states omitting Common Core in their state plans for a couple of reasons – they don’t want to draw attention to the fact they are still using them (or a rebranded version of them). Then, as Alyson mentioned, they don’t have to go into great detail about their standards, so they don’t.

Regarding her comments about the Every Student Succeeds Act, she promotes some misconceptions. They codified Common Core advocate language in the law and then patted themselves on the back for “getting rid of Common Core.” No, they just helped Common Core stay further entrenched.

The law does prohibit the Secretary of Education from linking the adoption of a “particular set of standards to money or flexibility.” At the same time, it also gives the Secretary of Education the power to approve or reject state plans. It also requires alignment of a state’s standards with their assessments. Something that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says is an appropriate role for the federal government.

So excuse me if I don’t sing ESSA’s praises.

Alabama Is an Example that Local Control Under ESSA Is a Sham

Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

Tricia Powell Crain with reported last week that the Alabama State Board of Education learned at their last meeting that the U.S. Department of Education denied the state’s request to dump ACT Aspire and use interim tests next spring.

She wrote:

The U.S. Department of Education rejected Alabama superintendent Michael Sentance’s request to use different tests next spring.

Sentance and board members have expressed their dislike for the ACT Aspire in recent months and need the waiver in order to keep from having to renew the ACT Aspire contract for another year. The board must either renew or cancel the contract with ACT Aspire by July 1.

Sentance told board members he and other state education staffers held a phone conference last week with Acting Assistant Secretary of Education, Jason Botel, and other federal education officials to ask for permission to stop using the ACT Aspire.

Instead, Sentance wanted to use a series of interim tests, given throughout the 2017-2018 school year, to measure student progress and growth while Alabama decided on a new annual test to use for federal accountability.

Telling board members the phone call was “pretty unsatisfactory,” Sentance said, “It was pretty clear right from the start that the answer was going to be no.”

Alyson Klein at Education Week reports that the U.S. Department of Education has not made their final decision:

The U.S. Department of Education however, has a different take: They haven’t given their final answer yet.

“We have received Alabama’s formal waiver request and it is being assessed,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman.

So we are to believe Superintendant Sentance just misunderstood? It had to be pretty clear what the decision was going to be if he told the board members they said no.

Also, this is what the Trump administration considers local control? This is EXACTLY the type of authority that the Every Student Succeeds Act gave the Secretary of Education, and this power is something Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said was appropriate for the federal government.

Klein also pointed out:

It’s not a total surprise though, that the conversation may not have gone as Alabama hoped. The Every Student Succeeds Act does indeed allow states to use a series of interim—assessment-speak for short-term—tests instead of one big overall exam for accountability purposes.

But these interim tests must meet certain quality requirements, ESSA says. For instance, the onus is on the state to show that the interim tests do indeed provide the same information as a single summative score. And the tests are supposed to go through the department’s rigorous peer review process. It would be a big deal for DeVos to waive those requirements.

And it’s not clear that the interim tests Alabama was asking to use met the law’s standards. (We’ve put out a call to the Alabama Department of Education and will update if we hear back.)

We do know, however, that ACT Aspire didn’t quite meet the federal department’s requirements for tests that are rigorous and reflect state academic standards. The department said so in a recent peer-review letter.

The Trump administration has a big decision here. They can give lip service to local control, or they actually can respect it and allow Alabama to proceed.

Trump’s Secretary of Education Short List


Who will run the U.S. Department of Education in Trump’s administration?

During the Presidential transition the President-Elect starts to put together his administration, and many wonder who President-Elect Donald Trump will appoint to become the Secretary of Education. Who he appoints will send a signal of whether it will be business as usual or if he means business when it comes to shrinking the federal role in education.

Outside of hoping he appoints no one (I’m not sure that’s a great idea while the U.S. Department of Education still exists). Here are some names that are floating out there.

The New York Times reports (Politico echoes this):

WFYI in Indianapolis said that at a Education Writers Forum held in DC on Monday these names were being thrown around by Vic Klatt, a principal of Penn Hill Group and former GOP staff director for the U.S. House Committee on Education.

  • Tony Bennett – ousted Indiana Superintendent of Public Education who later resigned as Florida Commissioner of Education after being investigated for fraud.
  • Congressman Luke Messer (R-Indiana) – serves on the House Education & Workforce Committee

Alyson Klein at Education Week speculated:

  • the list above and then adds Gerard Robinson who served as a Florida Education Commissioner and former Virginia Secretary of Education. Robinson currently serves on Trump’s transition team. He has also been a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Brett Baier of Fox News floated these two names other than Carson:

  • Eva Moskowitz – the CEO and Founder of Success Academy Charter Schools
  • Michelle Rhee – Founder of Students First, former Chancellor of Washington, DC Public Schools

I wouldn’t know what to expect from a Secretary Carson. While he is a nice man, I think he would be out of his depth at the U.S. Department of Education. A Tony Bennett appointment would send all of the wrong signals that status quo will be maintained. I couldn’t take Trump seriously when he says he is against Common Core if he appoints a pro-Common Core advocate who lost his election in Indiana largely because of that support.

I don’t know much about Congressman Messer other than he is part of the committee that helped usher in the Every Student Succeeds Act and was a vocal advocate for it. No thank you.

Gerard Robinson’s time in Florida was marred with controversy when FCAT scores collapsed. He is also part of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. He isn’t the person I would be looking for.

Eva Moskovitz’s involvement with charter schools and the fact she’s liberal would sink her potential nomination as she would take flak from both sides of the aisle. Michelle Rhee pushes corporate school reform and is against parental assessment opt-outs, not to mention, is pro-Common Core. Yeah… no thanks.

I think the best candidate for the job would be Williamson Evers, who has been a staunch critic of the Common Core State Standards and its aligned assessments. I hope that he gets the appointment, and he has prior experience with the U.S. Department of Education which would be an asset I would think.

Perhaps under a Trump administration Evers will be the Secretary of Education who padlocks the front doors of a closed U.S. Department of Education, but I’m not going to hold my breath on that.

Update: Additional names added to the rumor mill. I want to emphasize these are just rumored to be on the list.

  • Tony Zeiss, a former president of Central Piedmont Community College
  • Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now the president of the Purdue University System.
  • Governor Scott Walker (R-WI)
  • Hanna Skandera, the New Mexico Secretary of Education
  • Education activist Betsy DeVos
  • Education activist Kevin Chavous
  • Larry Arn, President of Hillsdale College

Out of these names, Dr. Arn is the only one I could get excited about. I don’t know anything about Zeiss, Daniels supported Common Core so no thanks.

Walker is a mixed bag. On one hand he was weak when it came to repealing Common Core on the other hand he could work to scale the department back. Too many question marks. Ms. Skandera is a supporter of Common Core.

I don’t know anything about Kevin Chavous, but I don’t think appointing an activist is the right way to go. Betsy DeVos… hell no.

Duncan: Common Core Criticism is “Political Silliness”

arne-duncanAlyson Klein reported on U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s recent remarks at the National Press Club.

First thing to note, apparently tea party activists are dumb and evil-hearted:

Duncan also challenged moderate Republicans to stand up to tea party conservatives on the budget and other issues. "There are plenty of smart, good-hearted Republicans," he said.

So if you’re not a moderate Republican you’re not smart and good hearted.  Yeah, Duncan isn’t being political at all (eye roll)  That comment wasn’t directed toward Common Core opposition (which by the way includes Democrats and progressives).  That came later when asked about why the Common Core State Standards have become so toxic.

During a question-and-answer period, reporters pressed Duncan on why the Common Core standards have become so toxic, particularly with GOP activists. He gave his standard (no pun intended) answer: Common ore has become a lightening rod because of "political silliness", nothing more. (No mention however, of the way the Obama administration has tried to use common core to its political advantage, by including it in the Democratic Party platform in 2012, for instance.) Out in states and schools, educators have moved past the politics and are rolling up their sleeves and working on implementation, Duncan said.

Thank you Klein for pointing out what he left out.  Educators may have moved on (and that is debatable) in part because they have had to.  Of course all of this “political silliness” could have been avoided had the U.S. Department of Education not gotten involved and each state’s process of adoption included the legislature so “we the people” had the ability to give feedback through our elected representatives.

Education Under a Second Obama Term

Alyson Klein asks what would a second Obama term look like for education?

Oh my… do we really have to go there?

She points out what the Obama campaign said a campaign brochure that was released on Tuesday:

  • Cutting tuition growth in half over the next ten years; recruiting and preparing at least 100,000 new math and science teachers;
  • A plan to “strengthen public schools in every community,” in part by expanding Race to the Top to school districts
  • Offering states waivers from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act;
  • Using community colleges as economic development engines.

Well he’s been pretty upfront.  In the debates, Mary Grabar pointed out at P.J. Media that “ObamaCore” has been one of the few accomplishments he’s been able to point to.

Race to the Top may have been the one domestic policy initiative that did not garner the universal ire of Republicans — indeed, it has many GOP supporters. They likely do not realize what a monster they have birthed by promising to follow federal Common Core curriculum guidelines (in math and English/language arts, so far) as part of the Race to the Top contest for $4.35 billion in stimulus funds.

A second Obama term will further erode state and local control over education.  Folks, he’s saying he’s going to double down on Race to the Top at the district level – just by pass the states all together – who needs them?   He wants to do this in every community.  When somebody reveals themselves for who they are – believe them.  He wants to continue with his process of NCLB waivers in return for additional mandates.

Oh goody!