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Black, Hispanic, Asian Democrats in House Slam DeVos on ESSA Plans

By Alyson Klein — March 07, 2018 3 min read
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U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos is approving plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act that don’t comply with the law’s protections for vulnerable groups of students, Democratic House members representing heavily Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American districts wrote in a letter to the secretary Wednesday.

“During congressional negotiations [on ESSA] we successfully fought to include provisions to ensure [subgroups] of students count in state accountability systems so that educators, school leaders, parents, and students receive the support and attention necessary to close achievement gaps,” the lawmakers wrote. “Members of the Congressional Tri-Caucus are concerned that you are not carrying out key protections in the bipartisan law that enabled us to support its passage, including accountability system requirements that ‘subgroups’ count in differentiation of schools and that schools where ‘subgroups’ are underserved be identified for both state and local support.”

The Tri-Caucus is just the latest bunch to criticize DeVos’ approach to ESSA plan approval. Two Democratic ESSA architects—Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.—have also said DeVos is rubber-stamping state plans and allowing them to flout the law.

The lawmakers want DeVos to go back and get states to amend their plans to correct this issue, even if those plans already have the federal green light.

The Tri-Caucus argues, as Murray has, that DeVos has approved plans for some states that don’t factor the performance of subgroups of students, including English-language learners, students in special education, and minority students, into school ratings.

Summative school ratings—such as A through F grades—aren’t required by ESSA. But Democrats argue that if states are going to include a school rating system to meet ESSA’s accountability requirements, subgroup performance on test scores, graduation rates, and things like school climate and chronic absenteeism must factor in the grades, numbers, or other designations schools receive. Democrats are also concerned that DeVos is allowing some states to identify as few schools as possible for extra support to meet the needs of subgroup students.

For her part, DeVos has said she hasn’t approved any plans that violate the law. The secretary has said she will meet with the chairmen and top Democrats on the Senate and House education committees soon to discuss the plan approval process.

We unpacked the arguments behind DeVos’ interpretation of ESSA and congressional Democrats’ view of the law here.

Earlier this week, DeVos criticized state ESSA plans for not taking full advantage of the new flexibilities offered in the law.

“Let me be clear: Just because a plan complies with the law doesn’t mean it does what’s best for students,” DeVos said. “Whatever the reasons, I see too many plans that only meet the bare minimum required by the law. Sure, they may pass muster around conference tables in Washington, but the bare minimum won’t pass muster around kitchen tables.”

She noted that governors—including two of her allies, GOP Govs. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Scott Walker of Wisconsin—have failed to sign off on their state’s plans. (In Walker’s case, the plan was written by his would-be gubernatorial rival, state chief Tony Evers, a Democrat.)

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks to the Council of Chief State School Officers conference in Washington on March 5.--Maria Danilova/AP

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here’s some useful information:

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