Archives for category: ESSA

Gene Glass has written one of the most brilliant, most perceptive commentaries on the billionaires’ reform movement that I have ever read.

He gives a witty, well-sourced analysis of the familiar corporate reform narrative and punches giant holes in it.

Here is the opening sentence:

“A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.”

Glass is one of our nation’s most celebrated and honored researchers. He called VAM “stupid” back in 1998. Unlike many ivory-tower academics, he is taking sides: he is on the side of public education, democracy, and truth.

If you don’t read this, shame on you.

Please tweet it, post it on Facebook, share it with your friends and your elected officials.

This is the ninth and final installment in a series of exchanges about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I wrote the questions, and David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, wrote the answers.

I may have overlooked important issues. David has agreed to write a follow-up post if there are any additional questions that need explaining. I thank David Cleary, other members of the staff, and especially Senator Alexander for taking the time to explain the ramifications of the new law.

How does ESSA affect Common Core? Some says ESSA “locks in” CCSS. True or false.

Short answer: No. This one is absolutely the biggest whopper we’ve heard.

Some advocates have tried to pretend that there were no mandates to adopt Common Core, but in the same breath point with glee to how many states adopted Common Core in order to secure a waiver from the broken NCLB or a grant under Race to the Top.

States are completely, totally, 100 percent free to set their standards on their own and relegate the Common Core State Standards to history, if they choose.

Long Answer:

States do have to have academic standards in order to receive federal education funds. That’s been a federal requirement for a very long time.

Here’s what the new law requires:

States have to have “challenging State academic standards.” This requirement has been in effect since at least the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act. But “challenging” means what the states want it to mean. The Secretary and peer reviewers are strictly prohibited from reviewing the content of state standards, as the State does not have to submit the standards for review or approval, prohibited in section 1111(b)(1)(A) under the new law.

It’s the equivalent of checking a box.

The Secretary cannot require a state to add to or delete from its standards, or interfere with state standards, as dictated by section 1111(e)(1)(B)(ii) in the new law. In section 8527(d), there is an explicit prohibition on any federal approval or certification of standards.

Under ESSA, state standards have to be aligned so that the end point of the state standards in k-12 is aligned with the entrance requirements for the public system of higher education and career and technical state standards. This seemed like a logical requirement: students and parents expect that when the student leaves high school, the student is then prepared to go on to higher education or career and technical education.

Common Core advocates saying that this “locks in” Common Core are the equivalent of the rooster taking credit for the rising of the sun. It’s pure poppycock.

There are all sorts of ways a state could set their standards under ESSA. Some will keep Common Core (whether admitting to it or trying to rebrand it), some will keep parts of Common Core and make changes in areas, some will completely abandon Common Core and adopt their own system or work together with a smaller group of states to develop something that works for them. It is purely a state decision.

What Congress eliminated were the mandates in the waivers, the incentives in the Race to the Top (and we didn’t authorize the Department to do something like Race to the Top again), and any other method of coercing or incentivizing the adoption of Common Core standards or any particular set of standards deemed “acceptable” by Washington bureaucrats. The law is clear – no officer or employee of the federal government can mandate, direct, or control a state’s standards, or condition or incentivize the receipt of any grant, contract, or cooperative agreement on the adopt of Common Core State Standards, as described in section 8526A of the new law. States can enter voluntary partnerships to develop and implement standards, but the new law states in section 1111(j) that that Secretary cannot attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce participation in partnerships or the adoption of the Common Core.

Now it is up to states to decide what to do, without any interference from Washington. For those concerned about Common Core, the responsibility falls to them to keep an eye on what their state decides to do.

From Chairman Alexander’s perspective this is exactly what he set out to do: restore responsibility to state and local leaders what to do about educational decisions. If a state decides to move away from Common Core, they don’t have to call Washington and ask permission—they can just do it.

This is the eighth in a series of exchanges about the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. I asked the questions, and David P. Cleary, chief if staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, answered them.

What is the role of the federal Department of Education and the Secretary in the new ESSA?

Short answer:

The role of the department under the new ESSA will be significantly scaled back from the role it has had under NCLB and the waivers. The Department still has a role in ensuring compliance with the law and monitoring state implementation of state plans, but the level of authority the Department has given itself over the past 14 years is significantly scaled back. But, it is important to remember that we are in a period of transition in moving to the new law, meaning the Department will have some authority from the old law and waivers that it can exercise until new state plans are in place.

Long Answer:

ESSA makes major changes in four areas: federal conditions on state accountability systems, peer review and secretarial approval of state plans, issuing regulations, and review of waivers.

First, ESSA significantly scaled back the federal footprint in the law by eliminating the original goal of all students being ‘proficient’ by 2013-2014, the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, and the cascading sanctions that would go into effect of a school failed to meet state goals.

Second, the new law made significant changes to the peer review process and secretarial approval of state plans. Over the past 14 years, there has been too much secrecy about the approval process of state plans, and too much interference by the Department in reviewing and approving state plans. It is the role of the Department to determine whether the state plan meets the letter of the law—not whether the plans are ambitious or aggressive or exciting enough, or if the Secretary likes the state plan.

To take a couple examples: a state must show that it has an accountability system that will measure student achievement in all schools using the same measures and includes test scores, high school graduation rates, English language proficiency, and another indicator of school quality or student success. Academic indicators have to be a majority of the factors deciding school performance—but, other than that, how much those measures weigh, or count, in judging schools is not subject to negotiation with the peer reviewers or the Secretary. For example, if the peer reviewers really think that the state should weigh state tests at 43 percent instead of the state’s plan to weigh them at 38 percent, the peer reviewers can make that observation to the state, but neither they nor the Secretary can reject a plan because they don’t like the specific weights the state picks, so long as the state complies with the rest of the law’s requirements.

States can use whatever type of accountability system they want to identify and differentiate schools. Some will create a system involving A through F ranked schools, while other states will categorize schools as Excelling, Succeeding, Watch List, and 5 Percent schools. Others may go with Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Tin. The peer reviewers and Secretary cannot make a state change its system, or enforce a certain type of system.

Most importantly, ESSA made the entire federal review system a lot more transparent. Peer review comments and communications between states and the Department need to be made public, including on the Department’s website. Peer reviewer teams must be comprised of varied individuals that include practitioners and researchers, and states are given an opportunity for a hearing and a chance to revise a plan if the Secretary rejects a state plan for not meeting the law’s requirements. Imagine the showdown between a governor or chief state school officer defending their state plan to the Secretary and his staff. We think that the increased transparency will help states regain the upper hand. The Department’s power over the past 14 years has been both the requirements (and vagueness) of NCLB and the secrecy of peer review process. We’ve changed both in this new law.

Third, as explained elsewhere, ESSA has significantly changed the ability of the Secretary to issue regulations. The new law prohibits the Secretary from dictating or defining terms in a way this is inconsistent with or outside the scope of law, as intended by Congress. The new law also prevents the Secretary from mandating new activities by regulation, and even requires the Secretary to submit certain regulations, including those regarding standards or assessments, to Congress and the public before they become final to give Congress the opportunity to comment and review those regulations.

The best example of what would be prohibited is a requirement that states adopt a teacher evaluation system. Congress explicitly did not include a requirement for states to develop a teacher evaluation system in the law, so the Secretary cannot issue regulations imposing one on the states to get approval of state plans or waivers.

Fourth, ESSA ensures that if a state wants a waiver from the new version of the law, the Secretary cannot add new conditions as part of that review. Again, the teacher evaluation requirement is the best example of something we’ve prohibited. The Secretary is also prohibited from requiring the adoption of certain school turnaround or improvement efforts for any state seeking a waiver. For new waivers, the states can ask for a waiver and the Secretary is required to approve or deny the waiver on the merits of the waiver, not create new requirements that the state has to follow to get the waiver.

Last, it’s important to remember the transition period to the new law. It will take time for states to come up with new accountability systems and state plans. The effective date for accountability systems doesn’t kick in until the 2017-2018 school year to give states time to come up with new plans and transition out of old ones. We created the timeline as such to help prevent disruption for states.

This is the seventh in a series of exchanges about the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. I asked the questions, and David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, answered them.

Does the law impose any requirements on charter schools regarding funding, selection of students, financial transparency, or accountability?

Short Answer:

Sen. Alexander has been a long-time advocate of charter schools. In his last act as Secretary of Education in 1993, he wrote a letter to all of the nation’s superintendents encouraging them to look at the idea of creating charter schools like those started in Minnesota.

The Every Student Succeeds Act makes several updates to the federal public charter school program to modernize the program and ensure public charter schools are held to the same standards as other public schools. The charter school program provides federal grants to support the creation of new charter schools, and the new law is updated to also allow such grants to support the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools. The bill also includes important changes to eliminate barriers to enrollment for some students, increase charter school financial transparency, and include charter schools in the state accountability system in the same way that traditional schools are included.

Long Answer:

Funding: The law continues support for the competitive grant program for grants to states and other state entities for the purposes of opening new, or replicating or expanding high-quality charter schools, and to provide technical assistance to improve the quality of authorized public chartering agencies (including developing capacity for and conducting fiscal oversight and auditing of charter schools). The new law also continues support for the facilities grants programs to enhance the availability of loans or bond financing for charter schools since so many charter schools are denied access to the capital budget of state or local school construction and financing. We also focus efforts at the federal level to make competitive grants to replicate and expand high-quality charter schools to try to build on their success.

Funding in the latest appropriations bill for all of these activities was $333 million.

Selection of students: The new law requires grantees to “work with charter schools on recruitment and enrollment practices to promote inclusion of all students, including by eliminating any barriers to enrollment for educationally disadvantaged students.” This language is found in section 4303(f)(1)(A)(viii)(I) of the new education law. Section 4303(f)(2)(C) requires the state’s public chartering agencies to adequately monitor charter schools in recruiting, enrolling, retaining, and meeting the needs of all students.

Financial transparency: The law made several changes to improve financial transparency of charter schools, both to ensure that public funds are being spent well, and to learn more about the disparities in funding for public charter schools compared to other public schools.

State grantees are encouraged to adopt strong authorizer practices, including increased financial transparency for charter schools. The law includes changes to increase financial transparency, oversight, and monitoring, including through financial audits. State grantees also need to focus on promoting quality charter authorizing, including through more efforts to audit charter finances and hold charter schools accountable for academic, financial, and operational efforts.

Accountability: In the new law, charter schools are treated the same as traditional public schools in the state’s accountability system. All public schools in the state are included in the accountability system that the state develops. The law explicitly requires that the law’s accountability provisions are overseen for charter schools in accordance with state charter school law.

This is the sixth in a series of exchanges about the new Every Student Succeeds Act. I asked the questions, and David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, responded with answers.

How will teacher education be affected by ESSA? Does the law enable non-traditional institutions to award degrees to teachers, i.e., “graduate” schools that have no faculty with advanced degrees, like Match and Relay? Does it encourage alternative routes like Teach for America? What happened to the idea that all students should have “highly qualified teachers”?

Highly Qualified Teachers.

The new law removes the requirement that all teachers of core academic subjects be “highly qualified” as defined under No Child Left Behind. Instead, states will be responsible for ensuring that teachers meet applicable state teacher licensure and certification requirements. The requirements to be a teacher in a state will be up to that state, with no additional federal requirements.

Teacher Education

The new federal law doesn’t make changes to state laws on teacher certification or requirements for institutions of higher education. Those are decisions left up to the states.

A state can reserve up to 5 percent of the money that comes to the state under the Title II formula program for state activities related to teachers and principals.

The law does allow states to use some of the funding they receive under Title II to be used to improve teacher preparation or education within the state, but with no federal requirements or restrictions on what a state decides to do.

States are allowed use these funds in many ways. For example, they could use funds to develop teacher residency programs, where teachers simultaneously take coursework in an institution of higher education and teach alongside another teacher for at least a year. States could also use these dollars to reform teacher, principal, or other school leader certification, recertification, licensing, or tenure systems or preparation program standards and approval processes.

Additionally, a state could choose some of the funds they reserved at the state level to establish or expand teacher, principal, or other school leader preparation academies, like Relay or Match, if allowable under state law. It is a state choice, and those decisions will be made at the state level.

The bill also allows states to use federal funds to establish, improve, or expand alternative routes to certification, so programs like Teach for America can continue if they are currently allowed in a state.

But the key here is that all of these decisions are left to the state to figure out. While the new law includes lots of examples of things the state or district could do, none of them are required at the state or local level.

In Section 2101(c)(4)(B) of the new law we have a list of 20 types of things that states can do with their reservation of funds, and then a catch-all in clause (xxi) that reads:

“(xxi) Supporting other activities identified by the State that are, to the extent the State determines such evidence is reasonably available, evidence-based and that meet the purpose of this title.”

This means that the state can do pretty much whatever it wants to do with the federal funds from this program.

There is similar language in Section 2103(b)(3)(P) of the new law that allows local school districts to do whatever they want to do with their federal funds from this program.

This is the fifth installment in a series of exchanges about the Every Student Succeeds Act. I asked the questions, and David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, answered them.


My question:

How does the law affect the testing of students with disabilities? I have heard that there is a limit of 1% of students who may be given alternative assessments due to their disabilities, but far more than 1% of students have IEPs. What does the law say?


The response:

The law allows students with the most significant cognitive disabilities to take alternate assessments aligned with alternate academic achievement standards.

The new law includes a cap on the total number of students that can take an alternate assessment aligned with alternate achievement standards. The cap is set at one percent of all students in the state, which equates to roughly 10 percent of students with disabilities. This is the same as the regulation under NCLB that has been in effect since January 8, 2004.

It’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) take regular assessments, and do not take an alternate assessment aligned to alternate academic achievement standards.

The new law reaffirms and makes clear that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act law requires that the IEP team determine when a child with a significant cognitive disability should take an alternate assessment aligned with alternate achievement standards.

The new law also prohibits the federal government or the state from imposing a cap on a school district regarding the percentage of students who may be administered an alternate assessment. Therefore, a school district or school could administer an alternate assessment to more than 1 percent of students.

This is the fourth in a series of exchanges about the Every Student Succeeds Act. I asked the questions, and David P. Cleary, Senator Lamar Alexander’s chief of staff, responded.

What does the law say about parent opt outs from testing? Are states allowed to withhold funding from schools where the participation rate is less than 95%?

Short Answer:

Under ESSA, in section 1111(b)(2)(K) of the new law, states are allowed, if they choose, to allow parents to opt students out of the federally required 17 tests.

In section 1111(c)(4)(E) of the new law, states are required to ensure that 95 percent of all students participate in the federally required 17 tests.

But, in that same section, the federal requirement is that, as part of the state accountability system, states determine how to take into account—or “factor”—the participation rate of students in determining how to judge the schools within the state. The Secretary, in section 1111(e)(1)(B)(iii)(XI) of the new law, is prohibited from telling a state how that requirement must be factored into the state accountability system. This means that the Secretary cannot say a school must drop a rating in the state accountability system, or be forced to enter into some kind of school improvement, or dictate any solution from Washington. How the 95 percent requirement factors into the state accountability system and the consequences for a school that fails to meet the 95 percent requirement are state decisions.

As under NCLB, the new law allows the Secretary to withhold Title I administrative funds if a state does not measure 95 percent of all students (or meet other requirements of the law).

However, it is up to the state, and not the Secretary, to enforce the 95 percent requirement for schools and determine the consequences for schools who do not meet the 95 percent requirement.

Long Answer:

This was a tough issue in the discussions in the Senate and House conference process. We were unable to get agreement to drop the 95 percent participation requirement from NCLB, which we recognize can interfere with opt-out efforts by parents.

We tried to balance the concerns of those who supported the NCLB testing mandates (the civil rights groups, the disability groups, the business community, among others) against the concerns of those who were frustrated with overtesting (parents, teachers, students, and others).

But our primary goal was to allow states, if they choose, to de-emphasize the importance of testing as the only indicator of school accountability. We hope that this will cause states to re-evaluate the number and types of tests that they require students to take, and make better decisions about how important any single test is for school accountability purposes. This, in turn, will help reduce the emphasis placed on testing, and restore to teachers the freedom to teach and students to learn.

It is our hope that as tests and the high stakes associated with an unthinking, punitive accountability system as in NCLB become less significant, the pressure and stresses associated with the tests will diminish, and the time spent on testing and test prep will drop. And states can develop new, more innovative testing systems under the new law, if they choose.

We’ve also clarified within the new law that states can choose to have opt-out policies for all of the tests they administer if they would like. Nothing prohibits them from creating these policies.

States have to take into account what happens to a school if the individual school fails to meet the 95 percent participation requirement within the state accountability system. But this can be very flexible. A state could choose a variety of outcomes—including that test participation has no impact on a school’s identification; or that the school can no longer receive the top rating in the state accountability system; or that the school’s rating must be downgraded a level. A state could also decide to strictly enforce the 95 percent participation requirement. It is up to the state.

As for the Secretary, enforcement of this provision is after the fact, not up front, and not at the school level. This means that a state that fails to meet the 95 percent participation requirement would typically be given a warning, then placed on corrective action where the state and the Secretary work together on a plan to work towards meeting the requirement.

A state can also seek a waiver from the 95 percent testing requirement.

This is the third in a series of exchanges with the staff of Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. David P. Cleary, chief of staff, responded to my questions.

What about the bottom 5% of schools by test scores? There is always a bottom 5%. Close them and another group will be the bottom 5%. What does the law say about the way these schools are treated?

States are required to identify the lowest performing 5 percent of schools every 3 years, based on the state’s individual accountability system. From there, a state will decide what to do about helping those schools improve. We ended the NCLB model of prescribing one-size-fits all solutions to apply to poorly performing schools, and we ended the requirement that states determine which schools are poorly performing based just on the federally required tests.

ESSA does not require states to close the schools in the 5 percent category, or convert them to charters, or fire the teachers or the principal, or any of the sanctions required under NCLB. States will now have the flexibility to determine what to do about these schools. In fact, the law explicitly prohibits the Secretary from specifying how states identify the bottom 5 percent of schools and any school improvement strategy or activity that a state or school district uses to improve those schools in section 1111(e)(1)(B)(iii)(V) and (VI) of the new law. Some states will choose to keep the existing types of sanctions, others will take entirely different approaches, but the key issue is that it is now for the state—and not Washington, D.C—to decide what to do about these schools that are struggling with improving student achievement.

Additionally, the law does not require that a new bottom 5 percent of schools be identified every 3 years. States determine what schools are identified as the bottom 5 percent, and some of these schools may still be in the bottom 5 percent 3 years later. All decisions about identification of schools are left up to the states.

David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, responded to my questions about the Every Student Succeeds Act.

This is part 2:

The stakes attached to testing: will teachers be evaluated by test scores, as Duncan demanded and as the American Statistical Association rejected? Will teachers be fired because of ratings based on test scores?

Short Answer:

The federal mandate on teacher evaluation linked to test scores, as created in the waivers, is eliminated in ESSA.

States are allowed to use federal funds to continue these programs, if they choose, or completely change their strategy, but they will no longer be required to include these policies as a condition of receiving federal funds. In fact, the Secretary is explicitly prohibited from mandating any aspect of a teacher evaluation system, or mandating a state conduct the evaluation altogether, in section 1111(e)(1)(B)(iii)(IX) and (X), section 2101(e), and section 8401(d)(3) of the new law.

Long Answer:

Chairman Alexander has been a long advocate of the concept, as he calls it, of “paying teachers more for teaching well.” As governor of Tennessee he created the first teacher evaluation system in the nation, and believes to this day that the “Holy Grail” of education reform is finding fair ways to pay teachers more for teaching well.

But he opposed the idea of creating or continuing a federal mandate and requiring states to follow a Washington-based model of how to establish these types of systems.

Teacher evaluation is complicated work and the last thing local school districts and states need is to send their evaluation system to Washington, D.C., to see if a bureaucrat in Washington thinks they got it right.

ESSA ends the waiver requirements on August 2016 so states or districts that choose to end their teacher evaluation system may. Otherwise, states can make changes to their teacher evaluation systems, or start over and start a new system. The decision is left to states and school districts to work out.

The law does continue a separate, competitive funding program, the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund, to allow states, school districts, or non-profits or for-profits in partnership with a state or school district to apply for competitive grants to implement teacher evaluation systems to see if the country can learn more about effective and fair ways of linking student performance to teacher performance.

The original version of the Every Student Succeeds Act was 1,061 pages. Mercedes Schneider here posts the final version of the act, which is a kinder, gentler 391 pages. Read it if you have time.


In time, I will have informed commentary on this site by some of those who drafted the legislation. Or so I have been promised.


Let me say one more time that I really wish this act were titled the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2015.” I hate the “every student succeeds” act. I also hated “no child left behind.” I don’t see why legislation has to have a title that is a bold and totally unrealistic promise.