Educators nationwide are voicing concern following a push by Republicans in Congress to overturn accountability regulations for ESSA which could have far-reaching consequences for how the law works in states.
Groups supporting the move argue that it would free schools from unnecessary burdens, while opponents contend that overturning the rules could hurt vulnerable students and create turmoil in states and districts trying to finalize their transition to ESSA.
ESSA, which also reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), received bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015. The regulations are administered by the U.S. Department of Education and ESSA goes into full effect at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
Under the 2015 law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, each state will adhere to more flexible federal regulations that provide for improved elementary and secondary education in the nation’s public schools.
“The ESSA law was established to help increase the effectiveness of public education in every state,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. “Our task is to inform, inspire, and encourage parents, students, teachers, and administrators to fulfill the intent and objectives of ESSA with special focus on those students and communities that have been marginalized and underserved by the education system across the nation.”
Last week, the House of Representatives approved a joint resolution that would overturn ESSA accountability rules issued by the Obama administration.
Those rules, which became final in November, are intended to detail for states the timeline for addressing underperforming schools, how schools must be rated, the ways English-language learners must be considered in state accountability plans, and other policy issues.
“One of the things that should be included in any modification of ESSA is the fifth criteria for schools which is about school climate,” said Helen Levy-Myers, founder and CEO of Athena’s Workshop, Inc., a texting application for educators. School attendance is often dependent on other factors, like the friendliness of the staff, school leadership, safety of the school and neighborhood, health of the community, and the level of engagement between students and teachers, she said.
A white paper presented by Levy-Myers noted that the “cold, hard truth is that chronically absent children end up leading harder lives.”
Students who miss just two or three days each month in kindergarten and first grade never catch up. They become chronically absent, defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.
While many Republican lawmakers have moved to strike down the implementation of ESSA, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told state school officers around the country that despite a delay, several regulations will be reviewed and changed by March 21.
DeVos told the officers that state ESSA plans will still be accepted either in April or in September.
In a memo to state school heads DeVos wrote: “Due to the regulatory delay and review, and the potential repeal of recent regulations by Congress, the Department is currently reviewing the regulatory requirements of consolidated State plans, as reflected in the current template, to ensure that they require only descriptions, information, assurances, and other materials that are absolutely necessary for consideration of a consolidated State plan.”