Home > Uncategorized > Revisiting Predictions on President Trump’s Impact on Public Education II: ESSA

Revisiting Predictions on President Trump’s Impact on Public Education II: ESSA

November 30, 2017

A year ago I wrote several posts on Donald Trump’s appointments and where I saw them leading us. For the next five days I am going to revisit those predictions to see how they panned out. Today I take a look at how ESSA is playing out as compared to predictions I offered in 2016.

Here’s the latest information on ESSA, from a Politico post last week:

ALEXANDER LOOMS LARGE OVER K-12 EDUCATION: Sen. Lamar Alexander made a phone call this summer that quickly changed how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was enforcing the law governing how public schools are held accountable for educating kids. The Tennessee Republican had publicly and privately admonished a top aide to DeVos, instructing the aide that the law requires the federal government to keep its hands largely off state education policy. When Alexander’s complaints fell on deaf ears, he called DeVos directly. “She thanked me for it,” Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, told POLITICO. Caitlin Emma has the story.

Soon after the call, the Education Department said it was changing how it reviews state education plans developed under the law, possibly shielding the biggest federal concerns from public view by first conveying them in telephone calls with state officials rather than on paper. The review and questioning of states became less intense throughout the summer. Speculation swirled that the Trump appointee whom Alexander blasted, Jason Botel, was leaving the agency or switching jobs. Botel’s public critiques of state education plans, once lengthy and probing, now mostly ask for missing information or clarifications.

Alexander’s intervention at the Education Department shows how he uses his clout to steer DeVos’ agency and shape policy on a defining piece of his legacy – a major bipartisan rewrite of federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act. He said he feels like his intervention helped the department “from going off track.” A senior GOP aide said the agency “stopped giving bad advice to states” and stopped questioning matters that belong to state school officials, like setting goals for students and education systems….

Alexander after Trump’s election also worked to find an Education secretary who would uphold his state-centric, hands-off vision for the Every Student Succeeds Act. And he led the congressional effort to scrap an Obama rule for holding schools accountable under the law. But some worry that Alexander’s actions could translate into little to no federal oversight of state education. Critics note the law imposed certain requirements to protect poor and minority students, whose performance often lags behind their peers. They worry whether states will adequately track and provide equal opportunities for at-risk kids or face consequences from the Education Department if they fail to do so.

This confirms some of the fears I expressed when I examined the possible direction ESSA might head under a Trump presidency. From the outset Mr. Trump signaled his intention to provide states with more latitude in funding schools and that combined with his pledge to “…significantly curb the role of the department’s office for civil rights when it comes to state and local policies” is resulting in a diminished focus on equity, desegregation, and a continued emphasis on test-based accountability and “choice” that includes the opportunity for parents to use taxpayers funds to attend parochial schools. ESSA is becoming the worst of both worlds: it incorporates the standardized testing of NCLB with a trend towards “states rights” that will allow for vouchers that can be used for any schooling whatsoever.

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