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.


Michigan Is Latest State to Accuse Trump Ed. Dept. of Overreach on ESSA

By Alyson Klein — July 14, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ home state education chief thinks her department is sending some conflicting signals when it comes to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Brian J. Whiston, the state superintendent, said the message he’s heard from DeVos has been all about state leadership and leeway.

But he got a very different sound bite from Jason Botel, the acting assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education. Botel called the state earlier this month to talk about what the department sees as missing from its ESSA plan, in advance of an official feedback letter.

“I didn’t like the tone of the phone call,” Whiston said. DeVos, he said, told chiefs in a closed meeting that, “even if you don’t know all your answers in terms of your plan, file it anyway. ... The call was the opposite. We did what the secretary told us to do, and now we seem to be getting beat up.”

Botel isn’t the only one who sees problems with Michigan’s plan. More on that below.

Whiston said he realizes that he does need to clear up aspects of the draft plan that Michigan filed, which gives a range of options for accountability systems. The state, he said, has since settled on a “dashboard” approach and will be updating its plan. But he said some other things that Botel was asking for, including more specificity on student-achievement goals, didn’t make sense.

Botel “talked about how we didn’t put in long-term goals and didn’t put in graduation goals,” Whiston said, both inaccurate criticisms, to his mind. “He’s reviewing 50 different plans, he might have been confused.”

A spokeswoman for the Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Whiston’s remarks.

Whiston doesn’t anticipate making major changes to Michigan’s proposal based on Botel’s criticisms.

“The plan in Michigan was built by Michigan people really focusing in on what’s best for Michigan and having maximum flexibility for solving the problems at the local level,” he said. “Our plan is to continue to move forward with the Michigan plan.”

And he thinks DeVos’ own comments to state chiefs give him reason to stick to his guns.

“We’re going to depend on what the secretary told us face to face, which is maximum flexibility, do what’s best for your state,” Whiston said. If “the bureaucracy within the department” won’t embrace that, “at some point we may have to engage with” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education panel, and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who heads up the House education committee.

Alexander expressed his own concerns about Botel earlier this week, saying that comments the official made to the New York Times about feedback to Delaware is evidence he doesn’t really understand the law. And Foxx is holding a hearing on ESSA oversight in her committee next week.

What’s more, other state officials have taken issue with the department’s ESSA feedback, which has generated wonky outrage inside and far beyond the Beltway. Laura Stefon, the chief of staff for Connecticut’s department of education told the Connecticut Mirror that the state’s feedback on its ESSA plan showed that, “USED appears to be resorting to very traditional and narrow ways of interpreting student and school performance. They are relying on approaches that failed under NCLB and go against the research consensus.”

Botel isn’t the only one who thinks the Wolverine State’s proposal could use some revision.

Back in April, Brian Calley, Michigan’s lieutenant governor, said the Education Department should send back the state’s plan because it doesn’t have high enough standards for students with disabilities. (Calley, a Republican, is a rumored gubernatorial candidate.)

And Kerry Moll, the vice president of policy at Stand for Children, a state and district advocacy organization—who also reviewed Michigan’s plan—thought it had big blanks.

“We felt the plan was incomplete,” Moll said of herself and others who examined the plan for the Collaborative for Student Success, a nonprofit that promotes high academic standards. “We really struggled to review the document. There was not enough information in each of the sections.”

Moll praised Michigan’s push to consider things like arts and physical education in school ratings, but said the state needed to provide much more detailed information on goals, accountability, and identification of subgroups of students (think English-language learners and students in special education). More here.

Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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

Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal How Biden Will Mandate Teacher Vaccines, Testing in Some States That Don't Require Them
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan will create new teacher vaccination and testing requirements in some states through worker safety rules.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela administers a COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site for at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa.
Matt Rourke/AP
Federal Biden Pushes Schools to Expand COVID-19 Testing, Get More Teachers Vaccinated
President Joe Biden set teacher vaccine requirements for federally operated schools as part of a new effort to drive down COVID's spread.
7 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Washington. Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.
President Joe Biden in a speech from the White House announces sweeping new federal vaccine requirements and other efforts in an renewed effort to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrew Harnik/AP