DeVos' early feedback on state ESSA plans suggests focus on equity
- The U.S. Department of Education has requested more information from education officials in Delaware, Nevada and New Mexico before approving their ESSA plans, Education Week reported this week.
- Delaware's plan was kicked back for not setting ambitious enough goals for student achievement, saying science and social studies scores don't count towards a school's academic rating. In Nevada, indicators around closing opportunity gaps were noted as not being detailed enough, and New Mexico is being asked to account for how the state will ensure that low-income students and students of color would not be disproportionately taught by ineffective or inexperienced teachers.
- The department is also rejecting AP scores, vocational programs and dual enrollment as a sufficient measure of college and career readiness, since not every school offers those programs. There was also some concern that states were lumping racial and ethnic groups together into larger subgroups, which would make it difficult to track data for each group to determine how well a state is serving all of its students.
When Congress repealed the key accountability provisions in ESSA, which clarified things like what was considered ambitious enough on student success, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who spearheaded the move, all but guaranteed state plans would be approved with little opposition. Instead, the department has been pushing back on the early plans, suggesting there will be more scrutiny than state leaders may have thought; and, that scrutiny seems to be around concerns of equity.
Despite U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' repeated insistence that the department, under her leadership, will fight for a quality education for every child in America, many across the country have been skeptical about whether "every" includes students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, LGBT students and students with disabilities. And a recently-discovered internal memo from Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson, which appears to roll back the intensity of civil rights investigations in the department, has put many on edge. The memo has evoked questions about just how seriously the department will investigate civil rights complaints, particularly around Title IX and sexual assault issues.
But a department spokesperson told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the changes were intended to ensure that every complaint gets an adequate amount of attention, rather than ranking complaints based on some internal system. Though skepticism is likely to remain, the latest feedback on the first of the ESSA plans shows signs that the department will in fact hold states accountable to poor students and students of color, who are often the most affected by inadequate course offerings and disparate resources at schools. And even in the administration's budget proposal, which cut the department's total budget by $9.2 billion, there was a proposed increase in Title I funding to help the nation's most vulnerable students. And a $13 billion program aimed at students with disabilities was also protected, suggesting that concerns about the secretary's commitment to underserved students may be premature.
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