Ed Dept facing pressure to modify ESSA feedback
- State officials and even DeVos advocates have been pushing back on the Department of Education, claiming that the review process for ESSA plans has been inconsistent, wrought with too much federal oversight, and overly nit-picky, reports Education Week.
- Following criticism, the agency is now ready to modify the feedback system by offering two-hour consultation phones calls with state officials on their plans, rather than just sending letters, according to sources cited in Education Week's article.
- Despite the response to criticism, the move raises other concerns in terms of whether the Department is equally handling feedback across all states — as nine out of the 17 states have already submitted plans have gotten their feedback with few modifications to the original form template, and another 33 are submitting theirs in the fall.
ESSA plans have generally been seen as an opportunity for states to have more autonomy over the trajectories of their education systems. However, it's become clear that the Department of Education, while ultimately wanting to hand the oversight authority back to the states, is taking significant measures to ensure that the plans being approved are meeting certain standards –– a reality which appears to have snuck up state officials.
Already, the department has requested more information from ESSA decision makers in Delaware, Nevada and New Mexico before approving their plans. For example with Delaware, the agency pushed back on the plan because it didn't set high enough standards for student achievement, with science and social studies bench marks not counted. And for New Mexico, the department wanted a response as to how the state was making sure that it was adequately meeting the needs of disadvantaged students.
The Secretary has said from the beginning that she would be focusing on racial and socioeconomic inequalities in the education system, but many advocates have been unclear as to how her school choice policies would accomplish that aim. For instance, the NAACP this week has been vocal about how it doesn't approve of a broader investment of charters in the school choice environment, saying that these types of institutions create a system of unequal, low-quality education for the nation's neediest students. And recently, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that DeVos' school choice policies and voucher program are "only slightly more polite cousins of segregation."
However, it's also evident that the American education system generally is unequal and history has shown states have not always made the best decisions on how to administer educational programs to the population. For instance, Peter Cunningham, former assistant secretary for communication at the Department of Education under Obama, wrote that school choice proposals take a backseat when the entire education pipeline, both with faculty and students, is systemically unequal. Thus, amidst the inevitable school choice push, the Secretary's focus on ensuring that state plans actually help disadvantaged portions of the population is at the very least, an encouraging sign.
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