Education Week - January 13, 2016 - (Page 17)

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS Education Department Begins to Scope Out ESSA-Era Role New checks on authority balanced in other areas By Alyson Klein The lights are still on at the U.S. Department of Education-but they may start flickering in a few corridors. The new Every Student Succeeds Act does more than just give states and districts a big say over accountability-it contains a laundry list of prohibitions aimed at preventing the U.S. secretary of education from issuing marching orders on standards, teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and more. And, while the latest revision of the nation's main K-12 law doesn't scrap the Education Department, as some Republican presidential contenders would like, it encourages the agency to slim down its workforce. The language reining in the department has been described as everything from politically motivated window dressing to a straitjacket for the newly installed acting secretary, John King. It may be a while before the impact of the prohibitions is clear, but the truth seems to be somewhere in between. That's partly because in addition to the restrictions on secretarial authority, the law also contains some clear accountability protections. They include a continued requirement for annual testing by the states, and a focus on low-performing schools and historically overlooked groups of students in accountability, said Reg Leichty, a founding partner at Foresight Law+Policy, a law-firm. "You have to look at those two together as balancing on a teeter-totter," Leichty said. "They may prohibit a very pro-federal-role [administration] from layering on significant new accountability requirements." But at the same time, "there are significant prescriptions about what states and districts have to do," he added. Setting Priorities For his part, King, who replaced recently departed Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the start of the year, said he'll spend his roughly 13 months in office focused on three priorities: encouraging equity and excellence in all schools, lifting up the teaching profession, and bolstering college completion. And King doesn't think ESSA and its prohibitions will have a big impact on whether or not he's able to move forward with that agenda. "The president signed the Every Student Succeeds Act because he believes and we believe that it builds on the civil rights legacy of the law. We are confident we can work together with states and ensure that implementation of the new law advances equity and ex- cellence in our schools," King told reporters at a back-to-school visit to an elementary school in Silver Spring, Md., last week. "The key will be to make sure states use their new flexibility around accountability and intervention systems in ways that are [focused] on equity and opportunity for the highest-need students," King said. For his part, Sen. Lamar Alexander, RTenn., an architect of ESSA, said in a recent interview that under Duncan and his regime of waivers from the previous version of the law, "You had Washington running 80,000 schools in 42 states. We got rid of all that" in favor of a less-expansive federal role in K-12. But the department will still have some tools in its shed-even if the education secretary can no longer really be a "director of policy" the way that Duncan was, said David A. DeSchryver, a lawyer who now serves as the senior vice president and co-director of Whiteboard Advisors, a consulting organization in Washington. For instance, under ESSA, the department can't tell states how to fix their lowest-performing schools. But, thanks to investments in longitudinal data systems, the agency has more data than ever at its fingertips, which it can use to give states advice on what sorts of practices have actually worked. "The agency will be like this anxious teenager shouting, 'I know the answer, I know the an- swer, ask me!' " DeSchryver said. "They won't be able to tell states what to do, but they might be able to say, 'Here are three really good options.' " And states and districts may well take those suggestions to heart-even if they don't have to-if only because there is a scarcity of expertise on the finer points of developing accountability plans, improving schools, and measuring student progress, he added. "Maybe [the department] will be a kind of consultant to states as they provide support for that work," DeSchryver said. Powerful Lever What's more, ESSA doesn't seem to have had a serious impact on the department's office for civil rights, which can be a powerful lever for making sure districts and schools look out for historically low-performing groups of students and schools, DeSchryver said. And while the department may no longer be able to craft a Race to the Top-style competitive-grant program that rewards states for adopting a particular set of standards, the agency may be able to encourage other kinds of policies-if it can get its hands on competitive-grant funding again, Leichty said. There appears to be nothing in the law that would prohibit King or another secretary from PAGE 20 > Amid Its Own Changes, Research Office Gears Up for New ESSA Duties Washington Of all parts of the federal Education Department, the Institute of Education Sciences may be among the best positioned to adapt to the massive shift to state and local accountability for education under the Every Student Succeeds Act, thanks to years of quiet efforts to build bridges among education researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Yet the research agency will have to ramp up its support structures for states at a time when it is in considerable flux itself. While ESSA passed this winter, more than eight years late, researchers are still awaiting IES' own, equally long-delayed reauthorization. The Strengthening Education Through Research Act, which would help align IES to ESSA's new multitiered approach to judging research quality, still must pass the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislative changes also come as IES adapts to new leadership-Ruth Curran Neild replaced John Q. Easton as IES director barely six months ago-a crosstown office move, and a major Website overhaul set to begin rolling out in March to make the agency's 30,000 pages' worth of online reports and databases easier to use. Helping states and districts understand how to develop their own research and evaluate other evidence for education programs will be a prior- ity, according to IES leaders. "I think what ESSA gives us is a push to get really serious about what you might think of as evidence-use 2.0," Neild said. As states consider the evidence most important to their local contexts, she said, researchers will need to take a more comprehensive approach to looking at programs and policies. "Decisionmaking is really complex in education, and we need to be cognizant of that," Neild said. "It's not enough to just compare whether you have a larger effect size for one approach over another, because maybe the one with the larger effect size was 10 times the cost but had only 5 percent larger effects. "I think this is moving us into smarter territory, though it's definitely going to be a challenge to scale this kind of support up, " she said. The agency is also working to support more researchers who are taking an iterative approach to developing education programs. Of 1,000 active grants supported by the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research, more than a third have been directly linked to prior grants. Likewise, about 1 in 5 grants to study effectiveness focus on interventions or programs developed through prior work supported by IES. Joy Lesnick, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Technical Assistance, said the research approach in ESSA reflects a broader "culture shift" in how states and districts think about using data. "They have to have the research and the data to be able to use it, but they also have to think about the research in a way that's going to be able to inform their decisions and will be productive," she said. "That technical capacity-building is something that all Work Underway of us across all the centers are working IES has already launched a five- towards-in addition to producing reyear, $5 million research and develop- search so people can then use it." ment center at the University of ColThe institute was created in 2002 in orado-Boulder to study how research the Education Sciences Reform Act, a works its way into instructional de- companion law to the No Child Left cisions and education policies. Since Behind Act. It was intended to imthe passage of an omnibus spending prove the rigor of education research, bill last month, IES' fiscal 2016 bud- largely through a focus on the use of get is $195 million. All but one of its randomized controlled studies. research centers have returned to ESSA, by contrast, describes three the budget levels they had before the and in some cases four tiers of pro2013 across-the-board spending cuts gressively more rigorous evidence, known as the sequester. leaving it mostly to states to decide Jared Soares for Education Week By Sarah D. Sparks what level of rigor to accept. While IES will continue to support randomized controlled trials-considered the "gold standard" and the top tier of research under ESSA-it is looking for ways to use them to answer policymakers' questions more quickly. For example, back in September, IES launched a competition to support low-cost, short-turnaround evaluations, which will gauge interventions of no more than a single ac- Ruth Curran Neild, who took the helm at the Institute of Education Sciences in July, said ESSA's shift to let states develop their own evidence standards is "moving us into smarter territory." PAGE 21 > EDUCATION WEEK | January 13, 2016 | | 17

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 13, 2016

Education Week - January 13, 2016
Education Still Struggling for Traction as Campaign Issue
School Revenue Squeezed in Oil, Coal States
Feds to K-12: Ensure Safety For Muslims
Report Roundup
News in Brief
Political Winds Buffet Tenn.’s Achievement School District
Charter Sector to Get $1 Billion Boost From Walton
In the ‘Chess Capital’ of St. Louis, Game Takes Root in Poor Districts
Blogs of the Week
Education Week Launches Premium Site for K-12 Companies
The Slowest Internet in Mississippi
Rural Schools, Telecoms Battle Over Internet Pricing
‘Washington Gave Us Leverage’
Amid Its Own Changes, Research Office Gears Up for New ESSA Duties
Education Department Begins to Scope Out ESSA-Era Role
Blogs of the Week
Own the ‘Messy Dress’ of Scholarship
Stick to the Truth
Embrace the ‘Hurly Burly’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Edu-Scholars and the Public Square: What Is Our Responsibility?

Education Week - January 13, 2016