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The Department of Education Passes Along Rigid ESSA Feedback to States

Tensions have become even more flared between the Department of Education and states regarding their plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Both House Democrats and Republicans last week had strong objections and concern for Betsy DeVos and her team, who pledged to pass more control into the hands of the states regarding education policy decisions under federal K-12 law.

The District of Columbia and sixteen states so far have submitted their plans for implementing ESSA and nine have heard back with letters of criticism that state leaders say goes beyond ESSA bounds.

Delaware, for example, was informed that its proposed use of AP courses for measuring college and career student-readiness wasn’t “ambitious” enough. Meanwhile, states such as Louisiana and Tennessee which had proposed similar plans were not shown the same concern by the Department of Education.

Paul Herdman, President and CEO of Delaware’s Rodel Foundation, argued that there were not even federal regulations in place to enforce such a standard. “From a legal perspective – because the federal government didn’t really put any parameters around what ambitious looks like, then it’s really up to the states to determine that," Herdman told Delaware Public Media.

The department later released a separate letter, clarifying the state feedback “is not an approval or denial of a state plan; however, a state is still required to submit a plan that complies with all statutory requirements.”

Tennessee had submitted a plan that combined various student groups into a single “super subgroup” for accountability purposes. The state was informed by the department that each subgroup must count separately.

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (R) told PBS the feedback letters seemed to ignore the law’s intention adding, that he wants to “nip in the bud the idea that somehow it’s business as usual in Washington,” regarding the federal government’s role in school accountability in the states.

Now instead of the government agency simply mailing out a letter with feedback, the department will first have two one-hour phone conversations with state leaders to go over any concerns or questions the department’s peer reviewers might have.

"The department is committed to working with states to help ensure their plans align with the statutory requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act," department spokesperson, Elizabeth Hill said in a statement.

With nine states of the 17 ESSA plans turned in already having received feedback, the new change regarding the review of the 33 state plans left to be submitted could cause even further complications for DeVos’ team and state leaders.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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