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Schneider’s ESSA Digest, Part I (Pages 1 – 47)

December 18, 2015

I am in the process of carefully reading the 1,061-page Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the December 10, 2015, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), and writing a series of posts that will form a digest of those 1,061 pages.

It will take me some time. This is my first entry, which covers the first 47 pages.

Sometimes I refer to pages beyond the first 47, and sometimes, I alter the format of quoted excerpts for ease of reading. Sometimes I comment, and sometimes I just summarize.

Let’s just dive in.

The outset of ESSA concerns transitioning from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (or its waivers) to ESSA.

Pages 6-7 note that previous multi-year programs that are “no longer authorized” and that are not “substantively similar” to those authorized in ESSA will receive their final payout on or before September 30, 2016. However, “substantively similar” programs will continue to receive funds “in accordance with the terms of such prior award.” Multi-year programs that continue to be authorized in ESSA will continue “in accordance with the terms of such prior award.”

On page 7, the Secretary is required to “take such steps as are necessary to provide for the orderly transition” from NCLB and its waivers. But ESSA is clear that the NCLB waivers are dead, that they “shall be null and void and have no legal effect on or after August 1, 2016” (page 7).

Pages 8 and 9 note that ESSA went into effect the day that it became law (December 10, 2015)– unless otherwise noted. It immediately notes that ESSA goes into effect for any noncompetitive programs (i.e., funds awarded by formula) effective July 01, 2016– unless otherwise noted. As for competitive programs, the blanket ESSA effective date is October 01, 2016– unless otherwise noted. Title VI (“Impact Aid”) goes into effect FY2017– unless otherwise noted.

Title I subsection (b)(2) (“academic assessments”) remains in effect “through the close of August 1, 2016” (page 9) (meaning that current tests remain in place for the 2015-16 school year), with Title I subsections (c) (“statewide accountability system”) and (d) (“school support and improvement activities”) taking effect “beginning with school year 2017–2018” (page 10).

Page 10 continues onto page 11 by stating that current state plans for Title I will remain in place until either a new plan is approved or the 2017-18 school year arrives “whichever occurs first”( page 11). Page 11 includes language that state plans for school improvement and correction under NCLB or those modified under an NCLB waiver are subject to this condition.

Pages 12 -21 include the former table of contents for the ESEA reauthorization known as NCLB, which is the point of reference for the revision known as ESSA. (New ESSA table of contents is on pages 1 – 4.)

Page 21 also begins Title I, “Improving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Education Agencies.” (This is the same subtitle given to Part A under Title I.)

The new Title I “Statement of Purpose” (page 22) reads as follows:

The purpose of this title is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and
high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.

On page 22, one reads the amount of federal money devoted to Title I. Note that ESSA is only supposed to last for four years:

(a) LOCAL EDUCATIONAL AGENCY GRANTS.—There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out the activities described in part A—
(1) $15,012,317,605 for fiscal year 2017;
(2) $15,457,459,042 for fiscal year 2018;
(3) $15,897,371,442 for fiscal year 2019; and
(4) $16,182,344,591 for fiscal year 2020.

(b) STATE ASSESSMENTS.—There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out the activities described in
part B, $378,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2017 through 2020.

(c) EDUCATION OF MIGRATORY CHILDREN.—There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out the activities described in part C, $374,751,000 for each of fiscal years 2017 through 2020.

(d) PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH WHO ARE NEGLECTED, DELINQUENT, OR AT-RISK.—There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out the activities described in part D, $47,614,000 for each of fiscal years 2017 through 2020.

(e) FEDERAL ACTIVITIES.—For the purpose of carrying out evaluation activities related to title I under section 8601, there are authorized to be appropriated $710,000 for each of fiscal years 2017 through 2020.

The “activities in part A” are the “improving basic programs operated by state and local education agencies” (page 21).

Section 8601 involves the Secretary evaluating ESSA-funded programs (page 867).

Following the information on Title I funding comes the disclaimer that if Congress revises discretionary funding limits via legislation, then Title I funding “should be adjusted” accordingly (page 23).

Next comes “school improvement,” and the amount of Title I money that may be designated toward school improvements. Most of the allocated amount (95 percent) must go to local education agencies, with the state able to decide to disperse either by formula or competitive grants (page 24). The “allocated amount” is to be at least 7 percent of the Title I money allocated to states to carry out NCLB for Fy2016. The grant duration cannot exceed four years, with one of the four years allowed as a planning year (page 26).

Regarding Title I money spent on school improvement: States must have the approval of local school boards in order for the state to directly disburse Title I school improvement funds to other entities. ESSA allows these other entities to be nonprofits or for-profits:

USES.—Of the amount reserved under subsection (a) for any fiscal year, the State educational agency… may, with the approval of the local educational agency, directly provide for these activities or arrange for their provision through other entities such as school support teams, educational service agencies, or nonprofit or for-profit external providers with expertise in using evidence-based strategies to improve student achievement, instruction, and schools… (page 25).

Remaining Title I school improvement funds (in excess of the 95 percent noted above) may be used for “the implementation of comprehensive support and improvement activities or targeted support and improvement activities under section 1111(d) [“school support and improvement activities” as noted on page 90]” (page 26). The remaining funds must be disbursed to local education agencies that represent a state’s “geographical diversity” and in a manner that allotment is sufficient to fund the “selected strategies” that the payout is supposed to fund.

Title I school improvement funds may go to state-run school districts, or a consortium of local education agencies, or an “educational service agency” (page 26). “Priority” schools for Title I school improvement funds (page 28) include those needing “comprehensive support and improvement” (see page 90) and “targeted support and improvement” (see page 94).

Page 28 includes the stipulation that Title I school improvement money cannot be used in place of state or local funding that a local education agency would have received if there were no Title I school improvement money allocated.

Any excess Title I school improvement funds are to be divided among local education agencies in relative fashion (page 29). Moreover, page 29 states the “special rule” that states cannot grant local education agencies less funding in subsequent years than it did in previous years.

Page 30 discusses the maximum of 3 percent of Title I allocation that can be used for “direct services,” such as “career and technical coursework… that is aligned with challenging state academic standards, and leads to industry-recognized credentials…” (page 32-33) or for “credit recovery and academic acceleration courses that lead to a regular high school diploma,” or costs associated with Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, including possible exam fee reimbursement (page 33). “Personalized learning” is also listed, with the example of “academic tutoring” also named. (page 33). the priority for direct services funds are both “comprehensive support and improvement” schools or “targeted support and improvement” schools.

Direct services money may also be used to pay for transportation to another school should the student desire a transfer from a “comprehensive support” school to another school (including a charter school). The money can also be used to pay transportation to send a “low achieving student” in a “targeted support” school to attend another school (page 34). Note that offering “public school choice options” is not a federal requirement for a state or district’s receiving Title I direct services funding (page 35). Local education agencies that apply to the state for Title I direct services funds must demonstrate efforts to inform parents of their options (e.g., if school choice, then a “meaningful” number of options; if academic tutoring, then “a range of tutoring models, including online and on-campus”) (pages 36 – 37).

There is some humorous wording on page 37 regarding the regulation of tutors: If it cannot deliver in terms of “improving student academic outcomes,” then the “high-quality academic tutoring provider” could be dropped from the state-approved list of such tutors. (Note that if the tutor is removed for not delivering what “high-quality” tutors are supposed to deliver, then the continued usage of the overused descriptor, “high-quality,” is ridiculous.)

The Title I state grant application for Title I, Part A (“improving basic programs”) is supposed to involve a variety of contributors, so long as the involvement does not prevent timely submission of the application (page 38):

(1) IN GENERAL.—For any State desiring to receive a grant under this part, the State educational agency shall file with the Secretary a plan that is… developed by the State educational  agency with timely and meaningful consultation with the Governor, members of the State legislature and State board of education (if the State has a State board of education), local educational agencies (including those located in rural areas), representatives of Indian tribes located in the State, teachers, principals, other school leaders, charter school leaders (if the State has charter schools), specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, administrators, other staff, and parents….

Too, the US Secretary is supposed to have a “peer review” panel composed of numerous stakeholders to review Title I Part A applications (pages 39 – 41):

IN GENERAL.—The Secretary shall… establish a peer-review process to assist in the review of State plans;
establish multidisciplinary peer review teams and appoint members of such 5 teams who are representative of parents, teachers, principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support
personnel, State educational agencies, local educational agencies, and the community (including the business community); and researchers who are familiar with the implementation of academic standards, assessments, or accountability systems; and how to meet the needs of disadvantaged students, children with disabilities, and English learners, the needs of low-performing schools, and other educational needs of students;
that include, to the extent practicable, majority representation of individuals who, in the most recent 2
years, have had practical experience in the classroom, school administration, or State or local government (such as direct employees of a school, local educational agency, or State educational agency); and who represent a regionally diverse cross-section of States….

When I read the above stipulation that only two most recent years need be in the classroom or elsewhere even remotely tied to education, I think of Teach for America (TFA) presence (and influence) on Capitol Hill.

The US Secretary’s peer review is also supposed to be comprised of “varied individuals so that the same peer reviewers are not reviewing all of the State plans” (page 41). Furthermore, barring the Secretary communicating to a state that it should “revise and resubmit” its Title I Part A plan, the Secretary has 120 days to approve a state plan (pages 41 – 42).

Interestingly, one of the stated purposes of peer review of Title I Part A state applications is to “promote effective implementation” of a state’s academic standards:

PURPOSE OF PEER REVIEW.—The peer-review process shall be designed to maximize collaboration with each State; promote effective implementation of the challenging State academic standards through State and local innovation; and provide transparent, timely, and
objective feedback to States designed to strengthen the technical and overall quality of the State plans.

This section betrays hints of the “implementation was the problem” narrative used to explain (excuse?) Common Core resistance even as it tries to institute yet another top-down effort to create bottom-up support for standards. The problem here is that many states are stuck in the Common Core mire so that, practically speaking, what ESSA is pushing its peer review to help “implement” in most states is Common Core or some slight Common Core mutation.

The results of the peer review process are to be made public, and the public is to have a 30-day comment period on the state plan (pages 46 – 47). Even though the Secretary isn’t supposed to influence the peer review of state plans and the peer review teams are supposed to respect “State and local judgments,” (page 44) there is no written requirement that the Secretary is to abide by the recommendation of the peer review.

If states change standards, assessments, or accountability systems, they must revise their Title I Part A plans and resubmit to the Secretary, who is not required to have peer review for resubmitted plans. Furthermore, there is a splitting of hairs here in that a state’s choosing to change academic standards requires resubmission of the Title I state plan– which the Secretary can either approve or disapprove– even as the Secretary is supposed to be prohibited from approving the state’s choice of academic standards (see pages 46 and 47).

This approval-of-plan-but-not-of-standards could get dicey fast.

ESSA is clear that the state academic standards are to be tied to “achievement standards” with a minimum of three levels of achievement. It seems that all that is necessary is the “assurance” that a state “has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards” (page 47).

So, this reads as though a state only has to tell the Secretary, “we have challenging academic standards” but not reveal the standards in detail– which makes resubmission of a state plan due to changes in standards ridiculous if the Secretary is prohibited from approving or disapproving a state plan based upon judgments about the standards themselves, period.

This is a good place to stop for now.

More to come. A lot more.

magnifying glass


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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