CA, like others, waiting for more from feds on ESSA plans

CA, like others, waiting for more from feds on ESSA plans

(Calif.) The Brown administration appears to be taking a wait and see attitude with respect to a baffling guidance letter sent by the U.S. Department of Education to Delaware education officials rejecting parts of its proposed plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Among other issues, the letter suggested that states could not offer districts a range of options when it comes to measuring college and career readiness—something California, like Delaware and many other states are proposing to do.

Also apparently in play as a result of the Delaware letter, is the department’s willingness to test its power to influence state accountability systems even though Congressional leaders who designed ESSA say no such authority exists.

Still, state officials elsewhere preparing to submit their ESSA plans in September are watching the department carefully, including Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education.

Asked if he was concerned about the Delaware memo, Kirst said in an e-mail to Cabinet Report that he wanted to wait until more information or direction from the department is made available.

“I need more specific information about (Education Department) policies and directions,” he said, adding that the guidance to Delaware might be subject to change. “There may be internal disagreements, and specific policies are still emerging.”

It would seem that a second shoe would soon be dropping after Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. who helped write ESSA, signaled his concerns about how department officials seemed to be misinterpreting the law.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tried somewhat to tamp down the dustup by publishing late last week an updated Frequently Asked Questions list. That communication, however, appeared to raise more questions than it answered and really only emphasized one salient point—that the guidance issued last week was just that, guidance.

“This initial feedback is not an approval or a denial of a state plan,” the FAQ said. “However, a state is still required to submit a plan that complies with all statutory requirements. Each state then has the opportunity to revise, further describe, add information and/or make changes and resubmit its plan; however, no state is required to do so.”

The missteps from the department are perhaps not a surprise given that DeVos has never before been in charge any sort of government agency, and that President Donald Trump has been slow to replace Obama appointees.

The guidance issued last week technically came from a peer review panel, but their work is supposed to be overseen by the department.

ESSA was adopted in 2015, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act, which had been under attack for years, at least in part, because it prescribed an intrusive federal role in deciding how school performance should be measured and what to do when districts and states didn’t measure up.

A bipartisan majority in Congress specifically gave states the authority over building their own accountability system and all but eliminated the ability of the U.S. Education Secretary to interfere or influence that process.

The deadline for those states who have not yet submitted plans is September 18.