This Week’s ESSA News: Florida Finally Gets Federal Approval, Senate Holds Hearing on States’ Plans, Tracking Vulnerable Students & More

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.)

On Sept. 25, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing to garner state perspectives on ESSA implementation. The hearing featured education chiefs from Nebraska (Matthew Blomstedt), Delaware (Susan Bunting), and South Carolina (Molly Spearman), as well as the president of Democrats for Education Reform, Shavar Jeffries.

James Wellemeyer reports on the hearing for The Hill, noting that Democrats took the opportunity to push back “on any talk of using federal funds to purchase guns for school safety,” with the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray, calling such an idea “reckless and irresponsible.”

Senators also debated whether states were sufficiently tracking the performance of certain subgroups of students, including low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. In his testimony, Shavar Jeffries, also president of Education Reform Now, called some states out for not properly setting up accountability systems to count all groups of students, saying that “states simply cannot close achievement gaps if they don’t know they exist,” and singling out Arizona “for not breaking out all student subgroup performance as ESSA demanded,” as Andrew Ujifusa reports in Education Week.

Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan also criticized the Department of Education for approving state plans that do not require this kind of tracking and questioned whether such plans were in compliance with ESSA. Republican chairman Lamar Alexander, however, “rejected the notion that the Department of Education was violating the law when it approved such plans” and said he had met Secretary Betsy DeVos and believes “she is exactly following the law,” Ujifusa writes.

As The Chattanoogan reports, Alexander also stated that students would benefit from ESSA because “states are back in the driver’s seat for decisions on how to help their students” and noted that the three states represented at the hearing have “taken advantage of the flexibility we encouraged under the law to design innovative plans.”

See below for more ESSA news.

1 Florida’s plan finally approved

On Wednesday, the Department of Education at long last signed off on Florida’s ESSA plan, “meaning every single state has earned federal approval,” Caitlin Emma reports for Politico. The revised version of the plan Florida submitted Sept. 24 put to rest the most recent back-and-forth with the feds on how schools could “exit from turnaround status, and how the state identified schools needing improvement support,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s not clear yet what changes Florida made to its plan to finally satisfy the feds,” according to Education Week’s Alyson Klein. In the meantime, click here for more background on the lengthy back-and-forth between Florida and the DeVos team.

2 Are state plans minimizing the performance of vulnerable students?

Education Week’s Alyson Klein reports on an analysis released by the Alliance for Excellent Education, which found that many state ESSA plans “don’t do a great job of incorporating the performance of vulnerable subgroups of students, such as racial minorities, English learners, and those with disabilities.” Additionally, many states are “skirting” ESSA’s provisions to identify struggling schools, as well as schools where subgroups are performing poorly. “Nationally, the results of giving states more flexibility to hold schools accountable for the performance of historically underserved students are mixed,” says the alliance’s Anne Hyslop. “Some states place subgroups of students front and center, while others make it difficult to understand how those students are progressing. All states examine subgroups of students to identify schools for targeted support, but the performance of these students often plays little, if any, role in overall school ratings and can be portrayed in confusing and unhelpful ways to parents and the public.”

3 States, ESSA, and mental health

As part of Education Week’s ongoing “Answering Your ESSA Questions” series, Klein also answers the question “How does ESSA handle mental health in schools?” and notes that there “aren’t any explicit requirements that states include mental health in their ESSA plans.” But “this doesn’t mean states aren’t taking mental health seriously”: states “can include indicators in the portions of their plans that deal with supports for low-performing schools, educator professional development, and Title IV.” Generally speaking, state plans “are not very explicit when it comes to how states and districts will implement the components of a comprehensive mental health plan,” but that “doesn’t mean states aren’t taking steps on mental health.” They may just not have included such initiatives in their formal ESSA plans, which are “subject to intense scrutiny by the feds.”

4 Experts weigh in on ESSA and the 2018-19 school year

This video series here on The 74 website features interviews with a broad sampling of education experts about “the current state of America’s schools and the top challenges facing the nation’s education system as states rethink student goals and district accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act.” Interviewees include Jeb Bush, Arne Duncan, Margaret Spellings, Jim Hunt, Lewis Ferebee, Joel Klein, Hanna Skandera, and Marc Sternberg.

Want to stay up to date? Click here to sign up for the ESSA Advance newsletter to receive all the information in your inbox every Tuesday.

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