NewsEvery Student Succeeds Act

This Week’s ESSA News: Waiver Requests, Plan Revisions, and Too Much Flexibility?

By Blair Mann | November 2, 2017

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.)

Accountability plans for every state have now been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, but there’s still plenty of state-level ESSA activity to keep our eyes on.

ESSA was “designed to let states determine for themselves how to hold schools accountable,” writes Jessica Towhey in the NH Journal, but it “may leave more children behind if states are allowed to skirt federal requirements through waivers.” Reorienting responsibility for education from Washington, D.C., to states and districts was “a major win for conservatives,” but “civil rights groups and others have sounded alarms since the legislation was being drafted that too much flexibility could lead to states not devoting resources to historically underperforming students if it meant posting higher progress rates for schools.”

As Towhey reports, New Hampshire and New York have submitted plans that include waiver requests, and Florida “wrote its accountability plan in such a way that critics say it skirts the law.” In addition, policy experts “note that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved two plans — Connecticut and Tennessee — that are out of compliance with federal law but were submitted without waiver requests.”

Meanwhile, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, three state legislators in Minnesota wrote to DeVos and state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius arguing that the state’s ESSA plan “lacks transparency and clarity” and “will not do enough for underperforming teachers and schools.” They have asked the federal government to reject the plan and send it back to state officials for revisions.

And The Washington Times reports that in Arizona, the state may put the “promises of greater flexibility” under ESSA to the test, as a result of a 2016 state law “that allows traditional and charter school leaders to choose the standardized test they think best fits each school’s teaching methods.” In Oklahoma, KGOU reports that advocates for students with disabilities, students of color, and low-income students are concerned about the state’s ESSA plan, with some having had their “recommendations adopted in the final plan,” while others “say their concerns were brushed aside.”

More ESSA news below.

1 Idaho students make the grades

Starting next year, public school students in Idaho will be able to do a little grading of their own — of their teachers. As part of the state’s accountability plan, Idaho public school children will be able to grade their schools and teachers by using a student engagement survey. KREM reports that third- through 12th-graders “will be asked questions in three different categories: school climate, teacher-student relationships, and school safety,” while ninth- through 12th-graders “will receive an additional category of questions on grit, or the ability to achieve a long-term goal despite setbacks.”

2 Achieve tracks state plans

Achieve released a new online tracking tool that “summarizes states’ long-term goals for student achievement and graduation rates, along with the accountability indicators and weighting included in states’ plans submitted under ESSA.” Have questions about state plans? Check out the tracker to view accountability indicators and compare states to each other.

3 How one teacher views professional learning under ESSA

Matt McCullough, director of innovation in teaching and learning at Schoolcraft Community Schools in Michigan, writes that his favorite task is “providing innovative classroom strategies to my teachers and collaborating with them to lead to greater student success.” After reading Educators for High Standards’ recent report, McCullough is encouraged to see other educators around the country leading high-quality learning. He is also “passionate about improving the quality of professional learning for teachers” and hopes ESSA “will be the lever that will create a large-scale change.”

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