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.
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.
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
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Amid Its Own Changes, Research
Office Gears Up for New ESSA Duties
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
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
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
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EDUCATION WEEK | January 13, 2016 | www.edweek.org | 17
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 13, 2016
Education Week - January 13, 2016
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Amid Its Own Changes, Research Office Gears Up for New ESSA Duties
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Education Week - January 13, 2016