This Week’s ESSA News: As 30 States Hit Federal Deadline to Submit Education Plans, Democrats Decry Process

This update on the Every Student Succeeds Act and the education plans now being refined by state legislatures is produced in partnership with ESSA Essentials, a new series from the Collaborative for Student Success. It’s an offshoot of their ESSA Advance newsletter, which you can sign up for here! (See our recent ESSA updates from previous weeks right here.)

The September 18 due date for all states to submit their school accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act to the U.S. Department of Education has come and gone. And with the exception of Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas, which all received hurricane-related extensions, 30 states made deadline in submitting their plans to the department for review.

Now that the plans are in, the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners have once again convened a group of expert peer reviewers to analyze these plans. This time, the organizations will work with additional reviewers to look at all 34 plans. Results of these efforts will be shared later this year, and in the meantime, you can check out first-round findings and best practices at www.checkstateplans.org.

This week, two of those expert reviewers urged state leaders to utilize the best practices identified in the first round of their peer review to help improve their ESSA plans. Former Indiana assistant superintendent for innovation and improvement Dale Chu discussed his role as a peer reviewer and guidance provider for Indiana education officials in the South Bend Tribune. And American Enterprise Institute Visiting Fellow John Bailey wrote about Iowa’s ESSA plan on Inside Sources, noting that finalizing the state’s plan is important but “only the beginning,” as the “real challenge lies ahead with implementing that plan and committing to do whatever it takes to serve all students well.”

And looking back, Education Week’s Daarel Burnette II wrote that the “grinding, two-year process of drafting accountability plans under ESSA has upended states’ K-12 political landscape and laid bare long-simmering factions among power brokers charged with putting the new federal education law into effect this school year.” The “details tucked into dozens of plans” were “hammered out by a hodgepodge of elected and appointed officials — from governors and legislators to state school board members and local superintendents — during sometimes sparsely attended meetings, caucuses, and task force sessions.”

But, as always, more happened this week in ESSA than just the submission deadline. Here are a few other notable highlights:

  • Top Capitol Hill Democrats Critical of DOE Review Process

Andrew Ujifusa reports in Education Week that top congressional Democrats have claimed that “U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s oversight of states’ new plans for education has ‘failed to adequately address several shortcomings’ in plans that have been turned in so far, and urged the secretary to do better in the next round of plans.”

Ujifusa notes that, in a recent letter, “Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, and Rep. Bobby Scott, of Virginia, told DeVos that while the U.S. Department of Education correctly identified several areas where state plans fell short of meeting the Every Student Succeeds Act requirements, DeVos and other federal officials missed other violations in those plans, and thus allowed states to skirt the law in certain areas.”

  • Summative Ratings Slip in Second-Round ESSA Plans

The 74’s Carolyn Phenicie discusses the fact that many states seemed to be moving away from summative ratings for school performance.

About half of the state plans submitted for the September deadline used “some sort of clear, summative rating for schools, like A–F grades or one-to-five stars.” But that’s “a significant drop from the proportion of states using summative ratings in the first round of plans submitted earlier this year.” However, Phenicie notes that “if the first round is any guide,” it “likely won’t matter if states don’t have an A–F, five-star, 100-point, or other summative rating,” because the federal Department of Education “has so far approved more than a dozen state plans — including at least two that don’t include summative ratings.”

  • ESSA Empowers States to Prioritize and Sharpen Science Education

Education Dive reports that ESSA gives states “more flexibility regarding educational goals, and states are now examining ways to strengthen science education as part of their new assessment strategies.”

A number of “states that have already submitted ESSA plans to the U.S. Department of Education are approaching science education under the new guidelines by setting clear achievement goals and assessment models to improve science education outcomes.” States are also “using this new opportunity to focus resources on STEM education and to try to close long-standing gaps in STEM access and knowledge in order to improve STEM equity.”

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