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Schneider’s ESSA Digest, Part III (Pages 90 – 105)

December 30, 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.

This ESSA digest will be a long-term endeavor.

My first entry covers the first 47 pages.

My second entry continues by adding info from pages 47 to 90.

And now, I offer information on pages 90 to 105.

Sometimes I alter the format of quoted excerpts for ease of reading. Sometimes I comment, and sometimes I just summarize.

We will just dive in:

In my last installment, I left off on page 90 with schools determined to be in need of “comprehensive support and improvement.” As a condition for receiving Title I money, a state must notify a district regarding any school determined to be one tagged for needing improvement. The district and “stakeholders (including principals
and other school leaders, teachers, and parents)” are to “locally develop and implement a comprehensive support and improvement plan for the school to improve student outcomes” and which satisfies the following conditions:

(i) is informed by all indicators described in subsection (c)(4)(B) [centered on the federally-mandated annual testing], including student performance against State-determined long-term goals;

(ii) includes evidence-based interventions;

(iii) is based on a school-level needs assessment;

(iv) identifies resource inequities, which may include a review of local educational agency and school-level budgeting, to be addressed through implementation of
such comprehensive support and improvement plan;

(v) is approved by the school, local educational agency, and State educational agency; and

(vi) upon approval and implementation, is monitored and periodically reviewed by the State educational agency (pages 90-91).

There is also the additional requirement that states are to “establish exit criteria” for schools in need of comprehensive improvement– including setting a deadline not to exceed four years and to “result in more rigorous State-determined action, such as the implementation of interventions (which may include addressing school-level operations)” (page 97).

The major error in ESSA school improvement, of course, is that all is principally centered upon the raising of test scores, and what might serve as evidence of higher test scores is not necessarily evidence of sustained learning or even of genuine, developmentally appropriate learning at all.

Add to that the fact that there will always be some schools in that bottom five percent, and all schools in a state could theoretically increase test scores, the state could still have the very same schools in that bottom five percent.

Note, moreover, that it sounds good to spout “locally developed plan” based on “needs assessment”; yet the assessment is tied to the top-down, federally mandated, broken goal of raising test scores. Genuine learning and improved quality of life issues for students and their communities are much more complex than the numbers with which the federal government is obsessed.

In discussing issues of allowed school improvement for Title I high schools, ESSA notes that it will “permit differentiated improvement activities” (page 92), a statement immediately followed by “that utilize evidence-based interventions”– a qualifier that is not decisively tied to test scores for specific students (those who are “drop-ins,” or students who dropped out and returned, or those who are so far behind that earning credits toward graduation is obviously unrealistic given the student’s grade and age). ESSA even lets high schools with fewer than 100 such students off of the hook for developing an improvement plan.

This “less than 100” exemption is an opportunity for open enrollment districts– like state-run “achievement” districts– to spread such students around so that fewer than 100 are at any given high school. Such so-termed achievement districts are already aiming to prove themselves via the numbers, and it shuffling students helps with the numbers, those students will likely be shuffled. Food for thought.

ESSA continues with allowing “public school choice” so that students might escape schools in need of improvement. What is comical is that those escaping students could well lower the test score averages of the schools at which they enroll. This option to transfer is not mandated in ESSA. If the option to transfer is carefully played by a state, it could well use such an option to try to balance the test score averages of its schools as a means of “improving” those in-need-of-improvement schools via student shuffling. This shuffling is made easier by the fact that ESSA states that students “lower achieving students from low income families” (page 93) are to have priority to change schools. Thus, it is theoretically possible that nothing about the students changes except the school at which the lower-scoring students are enrolled– and the school that the students left could “improve” its test scores.

The catch for states is that if the state allows lower-scoring students to transfer to schools with higher test score averages, then the state must allow the student to remain at the school until the student has completed the highest grade at that school (page 93).

When higher test scores become the end-all for the billions in Title I funding, there will be state gaming of the system.

ESSA differentiates between schools in need of “comprehensive support” and those in need of “targeted support” (page 93). The targeted support schools are those in which “any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming” (page 94). The basic procedure for developing an improvement plan is the same as that noted above for schools “in need of comprehensive support,” including that of “additional action following unsuccessful implementation of such plan after a number of years determined by the local educational agency” (page 96). ESSA does not mandate school closure, or firing of teachers and/or administrators, or conversion to a charter (or to another charter, as the case may be). But the implication is there and appears most directly in the term, “which may include addressing school-level operations” on page 97.

The targeted school plan is also supposed to identify “resource inequities (which may include a review of local educational
18 agency and school level budgeting), to be addressed through implementation of such plan” (page 96). Addressing resource inequities could be good or bad depending upon a state’s (or district’s) approach. It could result in state legislatures better funding public education; it could also result in the closing of schools and firing of career teachers in favor of the likes of Teach for America (TFA) temp teachers. But the success of the plan will hinge on numbers– chiefly the federally mandated ELA and math scores.

Note that the federal government offers a disclaimer that ESSA terms should not be construed to undermine collective bargaining (page 100). Sure, states and districts could aim to cut expenses by employing cheaper teachers, but ESSA does not want to be blamed for such a decision.

Beginning in 2017-18, the state is supposed to notify any district if it has a subgroup of students determined to be underperforming based on the state’s plan submitted for Title I funds (which will be chiefly based on student test scores) (pages 96-97).

And now, for some US secretary of education prohibitions: “When promulgating any rule or regulation, to promulgate any rule or regulation on the development or implementation of the statewide accountability system established under this section” (page 100), the secretary cannot “add conditions [or requirements] that are inconsistent with or outside the scope of this part” (pages 100-101) of this section regarding schools in need of comprehensive or targeted improvement. However, the language here is not clear and leaves room for the secretary to place conditions and/or requirements and to argue that such “are consistent.” There is also the nebulous condition that the secretary cannot “be in excess of statutory authority granted to the Secretary” (page 101).

But there are some clear restrictions on the secretary:

[The secretary cannot] require a State to add or delete
one or more specific elements of the challenging State academic standards; or prescribe numeric long-term goals or measurements of interim progress that States establish for all students, for any subgroups of students, and for English learners with respect to English language proficiency under this part, including the length of terms set by States in designing such goals; or the progress expected from any subgroups of students in meeting such goals; specific academic assessments or assessment items that States or local educational agencies use to
meet the requirements of [federally mandated Title I testing] or otherwise use to measure student academic achievement or student growth under this part; indicators that States use within the State accountability system under this section, including any requirement to measure student growth, or, if a State chooses to measure student growth, the specific metrics used to measure such growth under this part; the weight of any measure or indicator used to identify or meaningfully differentiate schools, under this part; the specific methodology used by States to meaningfully differentiate or identify schools under this part;  any specific school support and improvement strategies or activities that State or local educational agencies establish and implement to intervene in, support, and improve schools and improve student outcomes under this part; exit criteria established by States [from schools in need of comprehensive improvement]… (pages 101-104).

There are a number of specifics that the secretary cannot do. Add to the above that the secretary cannot create a hard-and-fast, exhaustive list of illustrations on how the Title I state plan should read, and the secretary cannot offer “new, non-regulatory guidance” that “purports to be legally binding” (page 104)– hinting at Duncan’s overreach with his No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers.

There is also the statement that the secretary cannot add to the data reporting requirements of Title I: “[the secretary cannot] require data collection under this part beyond data derived from existing Federal, State, and local reporting requirements” (page 104).

The secretary cannot redefine Title I terminology in an effort to bypass the limitations on the secretary’s role regarding Title I (pages 104-105).

Page 105 continues with the required details of state plans for Title I funding.

I’ll save that for next time.

gavel keyboard


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?

both books

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

  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    You have so far used an excellent mix of strategies to summarize key points and get past the convoluted language. I think there are not many people with the endurance to do this important work.

    I have a big appreciation of your effort and success after spending all afternoon on one section treating “innovative assessment systems.”

    • campak14 permalink

      I am thankful for Dr. Schneider’s careful analysis too! My sense….after reading ESSA digest part 3, the architects of ESSA, have a conception of the human mind as some sort of blank slate.

    • campak14 permalink

      Dr. Chapman I look forward to yours and Dr. Schneider’s comments on innovative assessment.

  2. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Thank you so much for slogging through these thousands of pages of legalese, and translating them for us to understand as best we can.

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