Wednesday, December 23, 2015


With help from Cogan Schneier and Nirvi Shah

12/23/2015 10:00 AM EDT  ::  STATE CHIEFS PONDER ESSA: State education chiefs have been combing through the Every Student Succeeds Act and there's a lot they'd like more clarity on - particularly about the new, pared-back role of the federal government. Some chiefs are excited about the new wiggle room and fewer federal constraints. But others worry that it might allow states to backslide when it comes to holding schools and districts accountable for student performance. Washington Superintendent Randy Dorn said Congress' move to diminish the education secretary's power was purely political. And Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said it's "clearly a reaction" to the last seven years, which include waivers from No Child Left Behind and competitive grant programs like Race to the Top that pushed states to adopt a confluence of reforms, like higher academic standards and more rigorous tests. "The federal role going forward needs to be sorted out," Chester said. "I think it's yet to be determined how much leeway states will have ... For example, the bill calls for 'ambitious' academic standards, so how exactly will the federal government determine whether states are meeting that requirement?"

- Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius wondered how much back and forth there'll be between states and the feds over things like new state accountability plans, now that states have more authority to make decisions and set goals. Chester argued that spats between states and the federal government over different parts of the bill would actually be a good thing. "I worry that if we look ahead a few years and there are no disputes between feds and the states, that it's a signal that anything goes," he said. "That's going to be the big question going forward." But Alabama Superintendent Tommy Bice said it's "insulting to think that we need a federal watchdog ... Our own state accountability system is much more robust than what was required. I don't have any fear that we'll backslide."

- Both outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his successor, John King, have made clear that the department will use its full regulatory powers to ensure states won't backtrack on the progress they've made.

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