Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 16
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
ESSA Rules' Rollback Complicates States' Planning Process
sent packing by Congress
By Andrew Ujifusa
Congressional Republicans and President
Donald Trump's administration recently put
their own stamp on the Every Student Succeeds
Act by dismantling key elements of the previous
State school leaders say the moves won't significantly influence their approach to the law,
but advocacy groups will be watching closely to
see how the new, more flexible policy environment affects decisions about underperforming
schools and disadvantaged students.
Congress earlier this month blocked accountability rules written by President Barack
Obama's administration, while the U.S. Department of Education reduced what states must
report to the federal government about their
plans for holding schools accountable.
Taken together, the two moves lessen the federal influence and oversight over a law many
already see as returning more control to states
Without the Obama-era rules, for example,
there will be no explicit regulatory requirement
for states to label all schools with summative
ratings of some kind. And the new template for
state ESSA plans, which replaces one set out by
the Obama administration, no longer requires
states to detail the input they sought out and
received from various K-12 groups in designing
Some officials say they appreciate the moves
in large part because they provide clarity to
states about Washington's role in ESSA, and
because they don't disrupt what states already
With ESSA set to kick in next school year
and the state plans for the law due either next
month or in September, states are largely set on
their course of action and had already sought
and received helpful input from education organizations and advocates, said Carissa Moffat Miller, the deputy executive director of the
Council of Chief State School Officers.
"They've done all that stakeholder consultation, and quite frankly, that's made these plans
better. ... What I think you will see is states
going above and beyond the new template,"
But others see trouble ahead. Supporters of
robust federal oversight of education accountability say the new template, in particular, has
let states off the hook when it comes to provid-
ing details about key issues. They say these issues include how school improvement dollars
will be distributed and how states plan to handle waivers from certain requirements for Title
I money earmarked for disadvantaged students.
"For the feds to not care about that at all suggests that they're choosing to ignore portions of
the law," said Chad Aldeman, a principal at the
Bellwether Education Partners consulting firm
and a former staffer in the Obama education department. "As an individual advocacy group in a
state, you don't have nearly as much authority as
people writing the checks. If the federal government writes the checks and writes blank checks,
... it doesn't seem like they're equipping themselves or other people to monitor this."
'Break This Habit'
The writing was on the wall for the Obamaera ESSA accountability rules late last year,
when they were publicly targeted by Senate
Republicans on a list of regulations the GOP
wanted to repeal through the Congressional
Although as of late last week Trump had yet
to officially approve the move by Congress, his
administration had previously signaled support for it. Education Department officials can
re-regulate under the law, but they can't write
substantially similar rules to those Congress
just overturned-though it's unclear what that
means exactly. The department has given no indication it plans to restart the regulatory process.
"The regulation violates the law and its clear
prohibitions on the [education] secretary by prescribing new requirements through regulation or
as a condition of state-plan approval," GOP Sen.
Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate
education committee, said in prepared remarks.
Critics opposed to repealing the rules have
argued that they only contained necessary
protections for disadvantaged students and a
responsible check on state autonomy. The rules
actually gave states several specific options for
how to handle various parts of the law, such as
the timeline for identifying struggling schools,
these critics say.
However, Aldeman said that the Democrats
made a reasonable but ultimately losing bet
that they could use the department's power
to craft ESSA rules to shape the law's impact,
while not interpreting or discussing the law itself on their terms very forcefully.
"Their interpretation always depended on
them being able to regulate the law. The Democrats in general lost that battle," Aldeman said.
PAGE 18 >
Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
of Education Arne Duncan in President Barack Obama's administration.
"I think the important thing is for
her to figure out the landscape and
the audience she is addressing," said
Cunningham. "Is it parents, unions,
civil rights groups, Capitol Hill? The
sweet spot is how to figure out how
to talk about her agenda."
By Mark Walsh
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 22, 2017 | www.edweek.org
Public Relations Blowback
Few, if any, education secretaries
have gotten off to as rocky a start
as Betsy DeVos, who took the helm
of the U.S. Department of Education
last month with opponents ready to
There was her contentious confirmation hearing, with its muchmocked comment about guns in
schools to defend against grizzly
bears. Protesters temporarily blocked
her first visit to a public school, and
a series of perceived gaffes in interviews and speeches drew online outrage and scolding editorials-as well
as some off-base criticism.
DeVos in recent weeks did make a
number of drama-free appearances
to groups around Washington such as
the Council of the Great City Schools
and the National Lieutenant Governors Association. And she tagged
along with President Donald Trump
on a visit to a Roman Catholic school
in Florida to highlight the adminis- aides, refine her message, and take
tration's school choice priority.
it directly to constituencies that may
not initially be on her side.
"For Republicans, the blob [of esFinding Her Way
tablished education groups] is not
DeVos' press office declined a re- the friendliest territory," said Marquest for comment in time for dead- garet Spellings, a former education
line last week.
secretary under President George W.
But her rough start on the com- Bush and now the president of the
munications front raises the question University of North Carolina system.
of what's next for a neophyte federal
She recalled in an interview that
official as she aims to get her points even though she had worked for years
across to the public, while sorting out for the Texas Association of School
the policy details of a cabinet agency. Boards before joining Bush when
Former officials and public rela- he was governor of Texas and then
tions professionals with experience in the White House, she got "quite a
in the Education Department say chilly reception" from the National
DeVos needs to surround herself with School Boards Association. And she
savvy political and communications said DeVos shouldn't shy away from
addressing such likely skeptical audiences as the teachers' unions.
Spellings also said that given
DeVos' lack of experience in public
office and relatively limited background in the public arena-DeVos
is a longtime GOP political donor in
Michigan and philanthropist focused
on school choice issues-"I think she
would be well-advised to get about
the country and really go talk to people. Go into flyover country."
"I think she can learn the most by
getting out into the states," Spellings said.
The point about messaging is
echoed by Peter Cunningham, a former assistant secretary for communications and outreach under Secretary
U.S. Secretary of Education
Betsy DeVos, now in her
second month at the helm of
the Education Department,
is still settling into her role
of representing the agency
in the public eye.
No question that DeVos experienced
some fierce public relations blowback
in her first few weeks in office.
One example: the reaction to her
comments in an interview with a
conservative columnist after her protester-marred visit to Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington,
where she initially retreated to her
large government SUV. DeVos later
said teachers at the school seemed to
be in "receive mode" and are "waiting
to be told what they have to do, and
that's not going to bring success to an
The comment was not well-received by teachers or the secretary's
critics. DeVos took to Twitter to emphasize she was urging more empowerment for teachers, tweeting,
"Your teachers are awesome! They
deserve MORE freedom to innovate
and help students."
On Feb. 27, DeVos called the nation's historically black colleges and
universities "real pioneers of school
choice," setting off a firestorm over
her perceived lack of understanding of the roots of such institutions
in state-mandated segregation. The
New York Times editorial page called
the remark "a positively Orwellian
PAGE 18 >
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 22, 2017
Education Week - March 22, 2017
The Hard Work of Making School ‘For Everybody’
Parents See Benefits in Spec. Ed. Vouchers But No Silver Bullet
Trump Education Dept. Has Yet to Hit the Gas
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
News in Brief
Social Media Connects Students to Authors
Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
ESSA Rules’ Rollback Complicates States’ Planning Process
Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Chris Doyle: Fake News Isn’t New
Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 7
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 11
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 12
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 13
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 14
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 15
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 18
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 19
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 20
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 21
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 22
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 23
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Readers React
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 29
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 30
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 31
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW4