The U.S. Department of Education today released its much-awaited draft regulations to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA as it is referred to by insiders, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December.
As reported previously by EdSource, the law in its broad outlines is very consistent with the reforms being implemented in California. The new law grants much more authority to states and to local districts than the No Child Left Behind law, which it replaces.
“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,” Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said. “They also give educators room to reclaim for all of their students the joy and promise of a well-rounded educational experience.”
There will be a 60-day comment period, beginning on May 31.
According to the Department of Education announcement, the new law “replaces NCLB’s narrow definition of school success based primarily on mathematics and English language arts test scores with flexibility for states to take a broader view of what makes for a successful school.”
Civil rights organizations reacted in a lukewarm fashion to the regulations.
“Without meaningful enforcement, laws are just words on paper,” said Nancy Zirkin, director of policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “While we review this new regulation with our national and local partners, we look forward to seeing the Secretary’s continued commitment to ensuring ESSA works for low-income students, students of color, English learners, students with disabilities and other students who are too often left behind.”
The organization has spearheaded the formation of a coalition of civil rights organizations that have been pushing for the federal government to take an assertive role in ensuring that districts are held accountable for ensuring improved academic outcomes for students who have historically underperformed or have been underserved. However, the thrust of the legislation, approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in both houses of Congress, takes the opposite approach. By emphasizing state and local control, it marks a significant shift from the top-down, and very detailed, accountability measures mandated by the NCLB law signed into law by former President G.W. Bush in 2002.
The response from the key Republican committee chairmen in Congress — Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN and Rep. John Kline, R-MN — was unmistakably hostile. Over the past few weeks Alexander has been in a very public dispute with Secretary King over what the law would require school districts to spend to equalize spending on low-income and other “disadvantaged” students.
“I am disappointed that the draft regulation seems to include provisions that the Congress considered—and expressly rejected,” said Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education. Labor and Pensions Committee. He did not specify what regulations he was objecting to, but threatened to go back to Congress to have the law overturned if it did “not implement the law in the way Congress intended it.”
Kline, who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, was similarly caustic. “I am deeply concerned that the department is trying to take us back to the days when Washington dictated national policy,” he said. “If this proposal results in a rule that does not reflect the letter and intent of the law, then we will use every available tool to ensure this bipartisan law is implemented as Congress intended.”