In order to “provide clarity” to states, school districts, and schools as they implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released proposed regulations on May 26 regarding ESSA’s provisions on accountability, data reporting, and state plans.
Overall, the proposed regulations clarify several provisions in ESSA, including (1) how to calculate and assign an overall rating to measure the quality of learning within individual schools; (2) how to report on and hold schools accountable for the academic performance of student subgroups (African American students, students from low-income families, English language learners, etc.); and (3) when states must intervene and provide support to low-performing schools, including schools in the bottom 5 percent of all schools and high schools where one-third or more of students fail to graduate. (For more information on the proposed regulations, watch the May 31 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance’s five-minute (or less) video series key happenings on federal education policy.)
The proposed regulations were immediately met with skepticism from key Republicans in the U.S. Congress who have cautioned ED to stay true to the flexibility that the law grants to states and school districts, but they were welcomed by Democrats who believe that ED must continue to play a watchdog role regarding education opportunities for traditionally underserved students.
In a statement announcing the regulations, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. sought ground in the middle. “These regulations give states the opportunity to work with all of their stakeholders, including parents, and educators to protect all students’ right to a high-quality education that prepares them for college and careers, including the most vulnerable students,” King said. “They also give educators room to reclaim for all of their students the joy and promise of a well-rounded educational experience.”
U.S. Representative Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, agreed with King, noting that the proposed regulations “provide much-needed flexibility to states and school districts, while maintaining a strong focus on improving educational opportunity and academic achievement for our nation’s most vulnerable students.” Scott added that the proposed regulations “fulfill the federal obligation to protect and promote equity, ensuring that ESSA implementation will uphold the civil rights legacy of the law.”
U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) disagreed, noting that the proposed regulations “[seem] to include provisions that the Congress considered—and expressly rejected.” He was joined by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) who said he would “use every available tool” to ensure that ESSA was implemented as Congress intended.
As is typically the case, the question of congressional intent—even for a bill only a few months old—is often not as black or white as the letters on a page, something to which U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) alluded during an April hearing on ESSA implementation.
“When the federal government gives the state billions of taxpayer dollars to improve education for our most vulnerable kids then it’s critical that the Department of Education ensure that those states actually use the money to accomplish those ends,” Warren said. “This is one of the conditions on which a lot of senators voted for this law, the condition on which many House Democrats voted for this law, and the condition on which the president of the United States signed this bill into law.”
Looking ahead, ED’s proposed regulations will be entered into the Federal Register and the public will have 60 days, or until August 1, 2016, to offer comments on the draft regulations. The final regulations should be released in the fall. Additionally, ED still needs to release proposed regulations for assessments and a provision called “supplement, not supplant,” which has to do with how federal funding is allocated among individual school districts. These proposed regulations are expected to be released in July 2016.
Categories:Every Student Succeeds Act