Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Every Student Succeeds Act

Advocates, Educators Offer Ed. Dept. Conflicting Advice on Regulating ESSA

By Alyson Klein — January 11, 2016 10 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King and his team are going to spend much of their final year regulating on the Every Student Succeeds Act, the newest edition of the Elementary and Secondary Education act.

To kick things off, the department is seeking input from a broad, broad range of advocates, educators, associations, and the general public. They’re asking for written comments by Jan. 21, and they’re seeking in person input, too, through two public meetings. One will be in Los Angeles next week, and the other was held today at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. (More on the ins- and-outs of ESSA here.)

So what do folks want from the regulatory process? Folks were largely on the same page when it came to the importance of having educators at the table for the purpose of crafting state, district, and school accountabilty plans. But there was a lot more disagreement over the question of how vigorous the department should be in enforcing the law’s requirement that 95 percent of students participate in state English/language arts and math exams. (Civil rights organizations want to see the department hold states feet to the fire on that. But one teacher said it’s unfair for the department to punsih schools for parents’ choices.)

Here’s the CliffsNotes version of selected asks, in order of the speakers’ appearance:

Bob Wise, the Alliance for Excellent Education: ESSA regulations should ensure schools don’t mask graduation-rate gaps. And graduation rates should play a big enough part in the accountability picture to trigger interventions in schools where lots of students are dropping out. More here.

Peter Zamora, the Council of Chief State School Officers: The Education Department should use the regulatory process to clarify the parts of ESSA that are confusing, such as how the transition from the previous version of the law, No Child Left Behind Act, and waivers will work. But generally, the department should take to heart the part of the law on regulation, which directs the department not to come up with regs that go outside the scope of the law. In other words, the department should use a light touch and let states be in the driver’s seat on K-12. (See more here.)

Liz King, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: Make sure communities of color, low-income communities, tribes, and others have a seat at the table in the development of state accountability plans. Enforce ESSA’s requirement that 95 percent of students participate in state tests. And don’t allow states to go back to using so-called “super” subgroups of students, which allow states to combine different groups of students for accountability purposes because these mask gaps. (More here.)

Tom Sheridan, National Head Start Association: Make sure Head Start programs and districts really collaborate and that districts understand how Title I funds can be used to support early learning.

Brenda Calderon, National Council of La Raza: Make sure that states with a lot of English-language learners give serious weight to English-language proficiency in their accountability systems. And makes sure that parents understand state accountability systems, and are given a chance to meaningfully participate in school improvement.

Christine Wolfe, National Alliance for Public Charter schools: Make sure states are primarily considering student achievement for school accountability, as opposed to “softer factors.” Charter school operators can help turn around low-performing schools, so states should be able to restart schools as new charters as a school improvement strategy, if they want.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, National Education Association: ESSA calls for collaboration at every level: state, district, and even school building level. Make sure the “people who actually know the names of the kids"—aka parents and teachers—are at the table.

Scott Sargrad, Center for American Progress: Help states move towards better and fewer tests. And go ahead and regulate on standards; spell out ways that states can ensure standards actually get students ready for college and career. Clarify key terms in the law on accountability. Make sure states actually follow through on that and require equitable distribution of teachers. (Lack of enforcement of that provision was a big problem with NCLB.)

Julie Borst, New Jersey parent and representative of Save Our Schools: ESSA doesn’t solve all our problems because special education students still have to take onerous tests. Please be careful with how you enforce the “Pay for Success” portion of the law.

Jeff Simering, Council of Great City Schools: Our biggest questions from members are on transition from NCLB to ESSA. Please make it clear right away that districts don’t have to set aside money for outdated interventions—choice and tutoring—under the law. Make sure peer reviewers are real practioners. And please “recognize restraint” in the regulation process.

Lynn Tuttle, National Association for Music Education: Let states hold schools accountable for ensuring access to music and arts education. Also, music education can be really helpful for school climate.

Dimple Patel, National Indian Education Association: Ensure that states have to meaningfully consult with Indian tribes. That means holding more in-person hearings. You can’t get input from tribes by asking for folks to submit comments online because many tribal areas don’t have to access to broadband.

Jamy Brice-Hyde (an actual, honest-to-goodness classroom teacher from New York state): Was concerned that she was the only teacher who had spoken so far. Teachers don’t trust the federal government and you obviously don’t trust us, she told the group. Her school had an 18 percent opt-out rate on tests and she is concerned that the department is going to withhold funds from schools with high opt-out rates. “Why would you punish me” for a parent’s choice, she asked.

Dan Weisberg, TNTP: ESSA regulations should continue waiver requirement that states use evaluations to meaningfully differentiate performance. Yes, he said, ESSA prohibits the department from putting parameters around evaluations, but the feds can still make sure evaluations happen. After all, if there are no evaluations, how will states make sure kids in low-income schools have equitable access to good teachers?

Sandra Davis, Baltimore Teachers’ Union: Encourage states and districts to use Title I funds for community service coordinators. They really work.

Zakiya Sankara-Janbar, Dignity in Schools Campaign: Make sure schools address equity in discipline practices. Hold schools accountable for any funds given to for-profits.

Alice Cain, Teach Plus: Strictly enforce the 95 percent test-participation requirement. Our teachers want their kids to actually count for accountability. Also, test data needs to be used to help equitably distribute resources to schools that are struggling.

Delia Pompa, Migration Policy Institute: Make sure that you include the “full spectrum” of English-language proficiency when drafting regulations on that issue. Make sure there’s broad and deep dissemination of resources and research that will help states and districts educate ELLs.

Heather Noonan, League of American Orchestras: Make sure low-income kids have access to arts education.

Susan Saavedra, National Urban League: Accountability systems need to be driven by student-outcome indicators. So the department needs to clarify words that deal with indicators, including what “substantial weight” means with respect to indicators and what the law means when it says academic factors need to weigh “much more” than other factors that get at school quality. (Again, a GOP aide who worked on the bill wasn’t so sure that would be allowable.)

Mary Kingston Roche, Coalition for Community Schools: We’re really glad that the legislation calls for at least one non-academic indicator. Community partners should be consulted in helping develop district accountability plans.

UPDATE: Here are some additional comments from speakers at Monday’s ESSA hearing:

Curtis Decker, National Disability Rights Network: Asked the department to help states figure out how to define and calculate “consistent underperformance” when it comes to subgroups. Wants the department to think through “n” sizes, which set the number of students a school has to have in a particular subgroup for that group to be considered for accountability purposes. Wants more guidance on seclusion and restraint.

Dan Domenech, AASA, the School Administrators Association: Expresses major support for ESSA, and suggests that the department not overstep its bounds in providing clarity on the new law.

Dane Linn, Business Roundtable: Ensure “opt out” doesn’t undermine the accountability systems. Including an asterisk next to a school’s letter grade for not meeting participation requirement isn’t enough. Failure to set a high bar will allow schools to mask low-performance. Don’t let states use statistical techniques (such as big “n” sizes) to mask gaps. Provide guidance on “much more.”

Stephen Parker, National Governors Association: Whenever possible, stick with guidance, not regulation. Make sure states are in the driver’s seat on school improvement.

Elizabeth Davis, Washington D.C. Teachers Union: Move quickly on helping states pare back tests, including those that right now are used for teacher evaluation. Set up the “innovative assessment” pilot quickly, and also move quickly when it comes to allowing high schools to use a nationally recognized test instead of the state assessments.

Janel George, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: Set a minimum “n” size. Encourage equitable discipline practices.

Vito Borello, National Association for Family School, and Community Engagement: Raise standards and update guidance for family engagement.

MaryLee Allen, Children’s Defense Fund: Help ensure equity in state accountability plans. And pay special attention to foster students, who are a priority under ESSA.

Marlyn Tillman, Gwinnett STOPP: Consider steps to combat the school-to-prison pipeline, including improving school climate and addressing inequities in suspensions. Suggests the guidance make it easier for low-income students to get access to advanced coursework.

Amanda Fenton, National Association of Charter School Authorizers: Make sure state don’t put failing charter schools in school improvement. They should just close them.

MenSa Ankh Maa, Teach for America, D.C. Region: Help protect LGBT students from bullying, use law’s levers to move towards equity for vulnerable kids.

Marla Kilfoyle, teacher: Worried that language on personalized learning could isolate students with disabilities. Wishes law would have done more to limit testing, particularly for students in special education and English-language learners.

Thomas Gentzel, National School Boards Association: This law represents “a new federalism.” Wants guidance on how districts can transfer funds between programs.

Yolanda Rondon, America-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee: Remember that not all ELLs are Spanish speakers, some speak other languages including Arabic. Please make sure that materials are provided to parents for multiple languages.

Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach: One of a number of speakers to ask the department to clarify what the law means when it says that academic factors have to weigh “much more” as a group than school quality factors.

Maura McInerney, the Education Law Center: Make sure that curriculum in juvenile justice centers is aligned to state standards.

Tim Boals, WIDA at Wisconsin for Education Research: Worried that there’s no requirements for English-language learners in the earliest grades and that accountability has shifted from districts to schools. That could be a problem if not many ELLs count for accountability.

Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers: Teachers are worried that “nothing will change” and that the “testing fixation will continue.” We need to move beyond “test and punish.” Guidance and regulations need to be workable and reflect the perspectives of educators and parents, and states should be allowed to lead. Any regulation around interventions should allow for “exciting interventions” such as community schools.

Joyce Parker, Citizens for a Better Greenville: The Education Department should give suggested models of accountability that states and districts could try out. Wants educator and parent voice to be a key piece in developing plans.

Darren Cambridge, National Council of Teachers of English: Tests are useful, but portfolios can be even better when it comes to assessing English/language arts. And technology makes portfolios easier these days than they have been in the past.

Kathy Lally, Communities in Schools: Make it clear that states and districts can use federal funds to offer integrated services.

Melissa Tomlinson, teacher from New Jersey: Reiterated that teachers need to be at the table in helping to inform policy.