Education Opinion

How ESSA Gives Me (Some) Peace of Mind About Betsy DeVos

By Megan M. Allen — February 07, 2017 2 min read
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We had a big blow in education today. There is a lot of grieving going on. And a lot of healing that needs to happen.

We all handle disappointment and grief differently. I try to find the silver lining and develop new plans and work-arounds. I think this is due to experiencing profound grief early in life. You develop survival mechanisms that stick with you. You learn tactics to help you view depressing situations as levers for change and movement forward.

So this is how I’m dealing with the news today. I’m thinking about moving forward and digging into the real work that is in front of us.

I also have some peace of mind from researching ESSA in deep detail last week for a webinar. Yep. ESSA! The Every Student Succeeds Act is giving me hope, and I think it might be that glimmer of hope that your heart needs to.

There were a lot of ramifications for the series of federal regulations that rolled out over the past years from Washington, and one of them is that the pendulum is swinging even further over for state control. This is highlighted in ESSA, where there is a list of outlined secretarial prohibitions: a list of no-no’s for our new secretary of education.


So what is she prohibited to do? *This is my best interpretation of policy wonk speak*

  • She can’t mess with the statutory requirements around state plans for ESSA.
  • She can’t prescribe specific assessments or assessment items (Common Core is mentioned here, though they are standards and not assessments).
  • She can’t prescribe indicators, goals, methodology, improvement strategies, or exit criteria for the accountability systems (which are to be developed by the states, I believe).
  • She can’t issue guidance that provides a list to illustrate successful implementation (this one is foggier due to its wonk speak).
  • She can’t mess with or create any new regulations that are outside of the statutory requirements.
  • She can’t mess with the accountability system that is already in statutory regulation.

So I’m hopeful. It seems like her hands are a bit tied, and much of the federal strings have been cut and handed back to the states.

And I think that this further swing towards state power could speak to our president...time will tell.

Insert caveat and dark Charlie Brown-type cloud. Some of the regulations spurred from ESSA are on hold due to an executive order. This order halted all of the past administration’s regs that weren’t already in effect by the inauguration date. The assessment regulations were already in effect in 2016, so they are in place. But the accountability and state plan regulations are on hold. The unofficial word on the street is that states are still developing their plans to be submitted, despite the regime change.

My optimistic summary of ESSA: States rule, feds drool.

Come on, states. We are counting on you. Big time.

Thanks to the AFT, NEA, and PTA ESSA resources that help clarify the wonkspeak for us groundlings.

Photo credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.