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Next Administration Will Decide on States’ New Accountability Systems, King Says

By Carolyn Phenicie | April 5, 2016

Photo: Getty Images
The Obama administration is working full bore on finalizing regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the country’s new K-12 education law. But even as it rushes to finish the rules states and schools must now follow, it won’t be the final judge of how well those regulations are followed.
U.S. Education Secretary John King told state education secretaries Monday that although the department is moving forward on the rulemaking process on accountability, testing and other subjects, it will have to rely on career Education Department workers and state education leaders to ensure the work of education equity continues for students of color, English language learners, low income children and the disabled.
The department is aiming to have regulations finalized by the fall, so states will submit their final plans for accountability and school intervention in the spring and summer of 2017 — under a new presidential administration.
“We have to acknowledge that what that means is we won’t be the folks who will be doing the plan approval, but we will have the regulations in place before that transition so there is continuity and certainty [for state education policymakers] around what is required,” King said at the Council of Chief State School Officers’ annual legislative conference in Washington.
Waivers granted to states under the old No Child Left Behind law will terminate at the end of the current school year. The 2016-17 year will be largely for transition, with new accountability systems and school improvement models designed by districts and states fully in place for the 2017-18 year.
State school leaders, meanwhile, were concerned both about general uncertainty in policymaking with the advent of a new administration and whether this marked an end to the federal focus on equity that has in many ways defined the Obama administration’s education policies.
The new law returns to states much of the decisionmaking about how to rate school progress and intervene in failing schools, though it does contain what advocates often call civil rights “guardrails” that require interventions in certain circumstances, such as in schools with the worst performance, the highest dropout rates and the widest achievement gaps. (The 74: Fault Lines Emerge on Putting New Federal Education Law into Practice)
Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said it’s imperative that even as the country broadens which measures are considered in accountability systems, it not retreat from the commitment on equity that has long underscored the federal education law.
“I would hate to see this administration or the next, whoever it may be, kind of back off and let anything go,” Chester said.
And two state leaders — those from Minnesota and Vermont — said during questions that they’d like the department to accept and approve plans from states ready to submit them as soon as the rulemaking progress is finished, even if that’s at the true tail end of the Obama administration in December or very early January.
King didn’t answer their pleas directly, but committed to continuing the work of “meaningful accountability” of previous eras. Schools that don’t teach children to read or write or add not only fail on the civil rights promise of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program, but they squander the entire promise of public education, King said.
He said a “focus on equity and excellence” is one of his top priorities for the remaining months of the Obama administration, and he’ll work on that through implementation of the new law.
“We have to start with the students who are often forgotten and often brought in at the end of the policymaking process,” King said.
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