School Climate & Safety

Guns, Disadvantaged Students Take Center Stage at ESSA Hearing

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 02, 2018 4 min read
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has followed the law in her approval of states’ ESSA plans.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Senators have held just two hearings on the main federal education law during the Trump administration, and in the latest, lawmakers primarily focused on how states were treating disadvantaged students, how they were handling newfound policy flexibility, and whether money from Washington should be used to arm educators.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was notable for her absence at the Sept. 25 hearing. But Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, defended her approval of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans, as well as her decision to leave it up to states whether to use federal aid to pay for guns in schools.

Although ESSA passed Congress with broad bipartisan support in 2015, there’s been a long-standing and often robust dispute over how DeVos and her Education Department are handling the law.

Civil rights groups and top Democrats for K-12 policy have argued DeVos is approving plans that flout the law when it comes to school ratings and how low-performing schools are identified. However, DeVos, with Alexander’s support, has said she’s only approved plans that comport with ESSA.

Stating that he had met with DeVos and U.S. Department of Education lawyers to go over the ESSA plans

she had approved, Alexander said at the committee hearing, “I believe that she is exactly following the law in those cases. ... I think [members of Congress]have a difference of opinion in reading the law.”

Summing up the view of her peers from Delaware and Nebraska at the hearing, South Carolina schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, a Republican, told senators that, “Without the flexibility of ESSA, these triumphs that we know are going to happen could not be.”

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the panel, said DeVos had ignored the will of Democrats who voted for the law because of its protections for vulnerable students. She said the secretary had signed off on some states’ ESSA plans that fail to properly differentiate results between some or all of different student subgroups, for example.

“A school may look like it is succeeding, even if all the African-American students or students with disabilities, for example, are falling behind,” Murray said. “Our federal education law should not be focused solely on making states’ lives easier.”

Common Theme

Democrats joined in attacking DeVos for her position on the possibility of federal education money going to guns.

Ever since news emerged that DeVos was considering allowing ESSA block-grant money under Title IV to arm school staff, Democrats and some education advocates have blasted the idea, calling it a waste of money that would not make schools safer and would violate the law. Ultimately, DeVos stated that she would take no position on whether schools could use ESSA aid for guns, leaving it up to states and districts to decide.

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., called the notion of arming educators “the dumbest idea that I think I’ve ever heard in the educational field.”

And Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., perhaps the Senate’s most vigorous advocate for gun control, argued that Title IV’s language regarding “weapons-free schools” made it clear that congressional intent was for the money not to go to guns.

But Alexander essentially took DeVos’ side. Although he said at the hearing that, “I am not a fan of arming teachers,” he noted that the law did let states and districts make their own decisions about how to spend the money.

Data and Accountability

None of the three state chiefs at the hearing voiced support for using federal money to arm teachers at the panel. They were more eager to talk about their accountability plans and other under-the-hood ESSA issues.

Superintendents stressed that while they like the room to run provided by ESSA, they had taken great pains to involve local communities and others with a stake in their school systems when they crafted new accountability systems and priorities for K-12 systems.

Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska’s nonpartisan education commissioner, highlighted his state’s new ESSA goal of cutting in half the share of students not scoring “proficient” on state exams over the next 10 years. He also talked up Nebraska’s efforts to ensure a stronger teacher pipeline to underserved communities.

“We now see the federal government as a strong partner” in state-level work, Blomstedt told lawmakers. “ESSA has allowed us to better align federal programs ... that would not have been allowed under No Child Left Behind without significant waivers from that law.”

And Spearman said ESSA had led the state to hire “transformation coaches” that would serve as boots on the ground in schools. The state had also recently shifted its focus to help more students get involved in career and technical education programs.

It wasn’t all happy talk. Susan Bunting, Delaware’s nonpartisan state chief, noted that Delaware’s initial plan to include science and social studies test results in academic-achievement indicators under ESSA was rejected by DeVos. (The state ultimately included those results in measures of school quality instead.)

But she did say that under the law, the state would seek to pilot evidence-based school improvement strategies in different schools and then share successful ones with different schools based on their demographics and other contextual information.

A version of this article appeared in the October 03, 2018 edition of Education Week as Guns, Disadvantaged Students Take Center Stage at ESSA Hearing

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Explainer School Resource Officers (SROs), Explained
Does the presence of armed officers prevent school violence? Do they contribute for Black children to the 'school to prison pipeline'?
13 min read
Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. on Oct. 21, 2016. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools
Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer, they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools.
Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School Climate & Safety Quiz
How Much Do You Know About School Crime and Safety?
How much do you know about school crime and safety?
Content provided by Masonite
School Climate & Safety Violence in Schools Seems to Be Increasing. Why?
Experts point to a confluence of reasons, including social isolation and access to guns. But there's no swift, obvious solution.
11 min read
Police respond to the scene of a shooting on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021 in Memphis, Tenn. Authorities say a boy was shot and wounded at a school. Memphis Police said in a statement that the shooting was reported Thursday morning at Cummings School, which includes grades kindergarten through eighth.
Police respond to a shooting at a K-8 public school on Sept. 30 in Memphis, Tenn. Authorities say a boy was shot and wounded at a school.
Adrian Sainz/AP
School Climate & Safety Schools Ban 'Squid Game' Costumes for Halloween
N.Y. school officials are telling parents the popular Netflix series has no place in schools, either as a costume or a game at recess.
Elizabeth Doran, syracuse.com
1 min read
Attendees dressed as characters from "Squid Game" pose during New York Comic Con at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in New York.
Attendees dressed as characters from "Squid Game" pose during New York Comic Con at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in New York.
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP