How changes to ESSA will affect schools
Thursday, March 30, 2017
A new presidential era means more changes are in store for education.
On March 27, President Donald Trump signed bills rolling back two regulations — one measuring school accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and another measure related to teacher training. The school accountability measure overwhelmingly passed in the Republican-controlled House, but narrowly made it out of the Senate with a 50-49 vote — despite opposition from business, labor and civil rights groups, as well as Democrats.
The repeal's critics argued that the ESSA's school accountability provision helps close the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their more affluent peers.
Signed by President Barack Obama in December 2015, the ESSA goes into full effect at the start of the 2017-18 school year. The law overhauls No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — President George W. Bush's 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 — and shifts accountability in elementary and secondary education from the federal government back to the states.
The law's now-overturned school accountability rules (released Nov. 28, just after President Trump was elected) had set requirements for evaluating schools based on student performance measures. The rules clarified how states should identify low-achieving schools, set a timeline for state intervention at those schools and explained what information should be released to parents and the public.
Without the rules, the requirements for accountability and state plans will be found in the language of ESSA itself, according to Education Week.
The rollback measure was introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Nine other Republican lawmakers co-sponsored the bill. Republican leaders said the accountability measures represented an executive overreach by Obama.
Democrats argued that over turning those measures opens loopholes that would allow poorly-performing schools to undergo less scrutiny, which could affect how those schools serve poor children, minorities, English-language learners and students with disabilities. Democrats and civil rights advocates also argue that repealing the rules would confusion and chaos for states just as the new law goes into effect.
Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, told The Washington Post that all the "political back-and-forth" was not helping the states, most of which are expected to submit their accountability plans to the Department of Education in September.
"But they're going forward, and they're producing strong plans regardless," he said.
In addition to overturning school accountability measures, the second bill signed by Trump reversed a regulation on teacher preparation. The regulation required states to issue annual ratings for training programs. It was meant to ensure that novice teachers enter classrooms more prepared, but it had been unpopular for some time.
Teachers' unions strongly opposed the teacher preparation measure, arguing that it wrongly tied teacher-training programs' ratings to performance of those teachers' students on standardized tests.
Both the school accountability and teacher training measures were overturned using the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress at least 60 days to review a major rule before it goes into effect. Lawmakers can object during that period if they feel the agencies carrying out the legislation aren’t adhering to the spirit of the law. This can lead to overturning the law with the president's signature, which is what happened with these two measures.
The Congressional Review Act was enacted in 1996, but used successfully just once before the Trump administration, by former President George W. Bush in 2001.
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