Democrats and minorities are criticizing Education Sec. Betsy DeVos for approving plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act that do not include the performance of certain groups in rating systems.
DeVos has already approved 33 state plans with rating systems that omit the performance of groups including:
- Ethnic minorities
- Students with disabilities
- Students learning English
The ESSA was designed to protect minority groups, and DeVos’s actions represent a violation of the law, insist opponents.
“During congressional negotiations [on ESSA], we successfully fought to include provisions to ensure [subgroups] of students count in state accountability systems so that educators, school leaders, parents, and students receive the support and attention necessary to close achievement gaps,” reads a letter to DeVos signed by 50 Democratic lawmakers representing Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.
We are “concerned that you are not carrying out key protections in the bipartisan law that enabled us to support its passage, including accountability system requirements that ‘subgroups’ count in differentiation of schools and that schools where ‘subgroups’ are underserved be identified for both state and local support.”
School rating systems are incredibly important because they are a key factor in determining which schools need aid. Democrats insist that failing to include minority students’ performance in rating systems will make it harder to identify schools in which minority groups are left behind.
The ESSA does not require the use of ratings systems, but Democrats insist that if a state is going to use such a system, that system must include data on all students in order to comply with the ESSA’s accountability requirements. This data includes test scores, absentee rates, and graduation rates.
Lawmakers have asked DeVos to make states amend their ESSA plans to correct this problem, even if those plans have already been approved.
The ESSA is not as specific as Democrats claim, says DeVos, and her decision to approve states’ plans is in line with her push to give states more autonomy.
“I’m not signing any plan that doesn’t meet the tenets of the law,” said DeVos, adding that her signature does not represent an endorsement. Earlier this week, she criticized some ESSA plans that “meet the bare minimum required by the law” but fail to help struggling students.
“The problem isn’t a lack of innovation,” argues Phillip Lovell, Vice President of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “The problem is a lack of adherence to the law’s protections for historically underserved students."
DeVos has promised to meet with top Democratic lawmakers to discuss their concerns on the issue.
“The dispute over a single rule in a sweeping education law reflects a partisan split over the federal government’s role in education policy, and particularly its level of responsibility for civil-rights issues,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “While both Democrats and Republicans supported the 2015 law, Democrats are more supportive of the provisions regarding the monitoring of minority students’ performance.”
The best role the federal government can take in education is one that measures local systems compared to national norms. The states should be responsible for everything else.
If we fail to measure the progress of different ethnicities, then we do not know if they are succeeding or failing; however, these measurements can become a political football and actually interfere with the operation of schools. Perhaps what we need is less focus on rating systems and more focus on the overall quality of schools. In any case, DeVos is making it clear that under her leadership, states will have the power to do what they think is best.