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Federal Flash: Updates on ESSA State Plans, School Safety, the Nation’s Report Card, and New Federal Data on Digital Access


This week’s Federal Flash checks in on the U.S. Education Department’s approval of state plans created under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), plus the first meeting of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s Federal Commission on School Safety. It also covers new federal reports on internet access, school discipline, and the latest results from the Nation’s Report Card in math and reading.

The U.S. Department of Education has approved state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, for Idaho, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Texas. With these, a total of thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have been given the go-ahead by the department.

Also, on March 28, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos held the first organizational meeting of the Federal Commission on School Safety. Participants included the principal Cabinet members with jurisdiction over school safety issues, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

Established by President Trump following the deadly mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Commission is charged with providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school.

The Commission is seeking recommendations from the public on how to increase school safety, which can be sent to

On the heels of that meeting, Secretary DeVos hosted two listening sessions on the school discipline guidance issued during the Obama Administration.  The Trump Administration is considering rolling back the guidance that was aimed at preventing racially biased discipline practices.

More information about the meetings and who attended is available at

On the same day as the meeting, the Government Accountability Office (or GAO), a non-partisan government watchdog group that reports to Congress, issued a report on the guidance that underscores its importance.

The GAO study found that black students, boys, and students with disabilities face more severe punishment than their peers. And that black students, in particular, were overrepresented among students we were suspended from school, received corporal punishment, or had a school-related arrest. The GAO noted that the disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, the school’s economic standing or the type of public school attended.

Additionally, the Institute of Education Sciences of the National Center for Education Statistics released its report on student access to digital learning resources. The report, also dubbed the “homework gap study” was required under ESSA.

The study found that more than a third—39 percent—of children aged 3 to 18 don’t have internet access at home. Older children and children whose parents have higher levels of education were more likely to have home internet access than others. In addition, the report shows the persistence of the digital divide, as children who are White, Asian, or of Two or more races had higher percentages of internet access than did Black, Hispanic, and Native American/Alaska children.

The report also suggests that limited connectivity at home may impact student achievement, further underscoring the importance of programs such as Lifeline and E-rate to expanding high-speed broadband access.

Finally, the latest results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, in reading and math for fourth and eighth graders were released earlier this week but there was little to celebrate.

There was no improvement in math or reading among fourth-graders.  There was a slight improvement in reading among eighth-graders, but math scores were flat.

The results show that racial disparities persist. African-American and Latino students were out-performed by their white peers in both subjects at both grade levels.

For a more in-depth summary of the results, read All4Ed’s analysis at

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the April 13 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute (or less!) video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at