This Week’s ESSA News: DeVos Delivers ‘Tough Love’ to State Chiefs on Innovation; ESSA Plans Offer Pre-K Opportunities

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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 74’s Carolyn Phenicie writes that we should “consider Betsy DeVos unleashed.” The U.S. education secretary — who has “largely toed the party line” since taking office a little over a year ago, “keeping to Republican orthodoxy that there should be less regulatory interference from Washington” — recently delivered some “tough love” (her words) to state chiefs on ESSA.

At the recent Council of Chief State School Officers’ Legislative Conference, she admonished attendees for “their failure in her assessment to embrace the law’s flexibility and opportunities to address local challenges.” She said even “the best plan is short on the meaningful solutions that the law encourages” and “doesn’t take full advantage of the law’s built-in flexibility.”

Meanwhile, back in DeVos’s home state of Michigan, Education Trust–Midwest is sounding the alarm in its most recent update of the organization’s Michigan Achieves campaign. The report says that Michigan must choose whether to “take advantage of new opportunities to become a top ten education state — or face a continued and dramatic educational decline.” It also notes that as states get more authority over education policy under ESSA, “state-level leadership is more important than ever before in influencing thoughtful and sustained policy and practice.”

See below for more ESSA news.

1 ESSA and expanding early education

Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie M. Jones, who co-lead Harvard’s Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative, write that under ESSA, states and districts have an opportunity to “expand access to early education, coordinate those efforts and hold themselves accountable for boosting children’s early learning and development through high-quality early education.” However, while ESSA may be a “one of its kind” opportunity, a typical challenge of early education policy remains: how to offer both “rigorous academic instruction” and a “learning environment that fosters social-emotional skills.” Lesaux and Jones note that “in the field,” these goals are often considered at odds, “and frequently one is chosen over the other.” So, to get past this “false dichotomy” and set ESSA plans up for long-term success, “there is an opportunity and a necessity to refine — even redefine — what is meant by high-quality early education.”

Maryland parents getting a new kind of report card this fall…

WBAL Radio reports that Maryland parents will soon be able to find out how their children’s school ranks statewide, as well as what each school is doing to improve performance. This change, which is “connected” to ESSA, will “show parents how schools are ranked based on a five-star system.” The State Board of Education recently got its “first look” at the new report card. “There will be data online about how their schools are doing in terms of test scores and other measures — things that parents actually care about,” said Board President Andrew Smarick in response. The report card will also include real-time information on “academic achievement, graduation rates, college readiness and more.”

3 Ocean State making waves on ESSA provisions

There’s good and bad to report out of Rhode Island on the ESSA front. Education Week’s Daarel Burnette II takes a look at Rhode Island’s granular approach to collecting per-school spending data, and how the level of detail involved, as well as the public and policymaker attention it engenders, “is unusual nationwide, even as other states gird for new school-by-school reporting mandates under” ESSA. But while Rhode Island may be crushing it on data, it isn’t doing such a great job with ESSA’s foster care transportation requirement. Fostering Media Connections president and The Chronicle of Social Change publisher Daniel Heimpel discusses how Rhode Island is one of at least 10 states that have either “outright failed or are struggling in their implementation “of this ESSA provision. And even though many states claim to have taken appropriate steps to ensure they are in compliance, it is not clear how many states are fully compliant.

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