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Every Student Succeeds Act

How Will Betsy DeVos Monitor State ESSA Plans? Three Things to Know

By Alyson Klein — September 11, 2018 3 min read
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Every state has had its plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act approved by the U.S. Department of Education. So now there’s a big question: How will monitoring for those plans work?

Here are three key things to know:

The Education Department has plenty of its tools in its monitoring tool box.

Sure, the department will send auditors to states to look at how they are spending federal funds, or have them field questions remotely. (That’s known as “desk monitoring.”) But the department can issue guidance on implementation of the law. Many states have told the feds that additional clarification on report cards and supplement-not-supplant, which is supposed to ensure that federal dollars add to and don’t just replace local funds, would be helpful, said Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman.

The department can also commission reports from its research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, and other parts of the agency, on how states and districts are handling different parts of the law. So far, there are reports in the works on Title I, the $15.9 billion federal program for disadvantaged kids’ Title II, a $2.1 billion program for teacher quality; drop-outs; magnet schools; and other programs, Hill said.

The department also gets to decide how and when states can revise their ESSA plans. That could be a big issue after the 2018 midterm election, when new governors and state chiefs might seek changes to what DeVos has approved. The department is planning to provide more information to states about how plan revision will work shortly, Hill said. For now, any state that wants to tweak its plan can resubmit its approved plan to the department, highlighting any changes.

Monitoring is pretty technical work.

Monitoring doesn’t always focus on the (relatively) sexy parts of ESSA, like accountability plans and school improvement. Historically, it’s actually been more about fiscal provisions like supplement-not-supplant, maintenance of effort, and ensuring private schools get their fair share of federally-funded services.

The Trump team piloted monitoring of a few of ESSA’s new provisions, including for accountability systems, school improvement, and data quality and reporting. The Office of State Support is gearing up to look at more areas of the law in the 2018-19 school year.

So far, state officials in California, who were monitored in 2017-18, say the process has been more collegial than in the past. But the Golden State hasn’t gotten its final report yet.

Civil rights advocates worry that the feds won’t really scrutinize implementation.

Advocates for struggling students remain skeptical of the Trump administration, but they still hope federal officials will kick the tires on state accountability and support plans during the monitoring process.

For instance, Phillip Lovell of the Alliance for Excellent Education hopes that the department will consider a host of questions such as: Is reporting to parents public and transparent? Do state letter grades for schools make sense, or are there schools that have gotten an A or B on state accountability only to be flagged as in need of improvement? How are states ensuring their districts will implement evidence-based interventions in struggling schools?

Liz King, the director of education for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wants to know how ESSA is helping states better serve traditionally overlooked groups of students, including English-language learners and students in special education.

Want more? We’ve got a whole story on ESSA monitoring and how it might work here.

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

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