Education Week - May 17, 2017 - 20
In N.D., Local Educators Size Up What ESSA Has in Store
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Photos by Ben Gumeringer for Education Week
Dakota education department wants
to dramatically upend the way it holds
No longer would it label schools as
failing. Instead, improvement would
be expected at a much more incremental pace, and such crucial decisions as
how to close achievement gaps and
improve teaching mostly would be left
up to local school boards.
"I didn't see anything that gave me
pause," Cavanaugh, the elementary
school principal in Trenton's K-12
school, said of the state ESSA plan,
outlined at last week's conference and
now pending before the U.S. Department of Education. "The state will still
have to show academic progress, but
it looks like they're still holding us accountable."
Cavanaugh and thousands of
other educators across the country
will have to do the heaviest lifting
once the law goes into effect this fall.
At conferences, through webinars,
and in regional training sessions
these next few months, state education departments will walk district
leaders through the laundry list of
changes coming their way under the
Every Student Succeeds Act. There
will be new data-entry forms they'll
have to fill out, new academic benchmarks they'll have to meet, and new
sanctions they'll face if they fail to
meet those benchmarks.
Whether or not practitioners buy
in to those blueprints-which state
officials are pitching to local educators as "for them, by them"-will
largely determine ESSA's success.
North Dakota schools will, arguably, experience some of the nation's
most dramatic changes under the
The state's plan, according to experts who have reviewed it, pushes
the boundaries of state flexibility.
Some of those experts have warned
North Dakota State Superintendent Kirsten
Baesler addresses educators at one of two
summit meetings on the state's Every Student
Succeeds Act plan.
An attendee reviews detail about a portion
of the plan, which awaits federal approval.
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20 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 17, 2017 | www.edweek.org
North Dakota officials that the plan
will likely be rejected during the
federal Education Department's
peer-review process, which has just
Under the plan, school districts
would not be required to identify
ineffective teachers, as the law requires, but instead would identify
how much "ineffective teaching" occurs at a school.
North Dakota would not academically rank its 517 public schools, and
all of its schools, rather than just a
handful, would be categorized as
needing "continuous improvement."
Under the plan, the 13 worst-performing schools would receive more
federal dollars and be provided with
school turnaround consultants, but
there would be no state takeovers or
firings of staff members.
The plan also would cap at 10
percent the number of schools the
state labels as having persistently
underperforming groups of students
of color and students with special
needs-even though state officials
admit that many more schools would
likely qualify for intervention under
Most of the state's efforts at school
turnarounds would be outsourced
to AdvancED, a national school accreditor, and the School Improvement Network, a private schoolturnaround agency.
Bracing for Pushback
North Dakota officials are bracing
for a fight with the federal Education
Department-and they in part used
last week's "ESSA summit" in Mandan, like a previous one in Fargo, as
a sort of rally.
"We wrenched back control from
the federal government, and we gave
that control to you," said Kirsten
Baesler, the state's elected superintendent.
During a one-on-one meeting earlier this spring with U.S. Secretary of
Education Betsy DeVos, Baesler and
her federal-title-programs director,
Laurie Matzke, said they told the sec-
retary they feared their plan would
"She told us, 'If that happens, you
call me,' " said Matzke, although
DeVos did not make any specific
promises to them. "We told her this is
what we want to do. We didn't come
up with this plan on a whim."
The 250 or so educators who gathered at the Mandan summit to learn
details of the North Dakota ESSA
plan enthusiastically welcomed most
of the changes.
"This is leaps and bounds from
what we're coming out of," said Pat
Brenden, the superintendent of the
Dunseith school district, where a majority of the 395 students are Native
North Dakota educators said they
wrote the accountability plan fully
aware of the state's distinctive geography, sparse population, and homestead tradition that has long emphasized local control.
More than two-thirds of North
Dakota's schools are rural and
isolated, and the state is one of
the nation's least-populated, with
just 758,000 residents spread over
70,800 square miles. The state has
experienced a severe teacher and
superintendent shortage, and many
district chiefs at the May 8 conference described having to teach,
drive buses, and oversee multiple
districts. Job postings go unanswered for years at a time.
The oil boom of the early 2000s
brought an influx of immigrant and
black students who added to North
Dakota's diversity and also brought
new academic challenges. The drop
in oil prices since then has brought a
series of budget cuts, a high studentmobility rate, and climbing unemployment.
When President Barack Obama's
administration offered waivers of key
provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, state Superintendent Beasler, who was first elected in 2012,
abruptly withdrew North Dakota's