The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama administration accused of trying to dictate education policy to states — again

Members of Congress, education leaders and students applaud after President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act during a ceremony in Washington on Dec. 10, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The U.S. Education Department solicited public comment on draft regulations it has created for states to implement the school “accountability” and data reporting provisions of the new Every Student Succeeds Act — and, boy, did it get feedback, some of it scathing.

When Education Secretary John B. King Jr. announced the proposed rules in May, he said they were designed to “give states the opportunity to work all of their stakeholders … to protect all students’ right to a high-quality education,” and that they “give educators room to reclaim for all of their students the joy and promise of a well-rounded educational experience.”

King was referring to the mess created by No Child Left Behind, the K-12 education law that ESSA was passed last December to replace. NCLB, with accountability goals literally impossible to meet, had led to a severe narrowing of the curriculum and an over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing. Congress finally replaced No Child Left Behind — eight years late — because of NCLB’s flaws and because of criticism from across the political spectrum that the Obama administration had become too prescriptive and heavy-handed in education policy.

Now, the deadline for public comment of the proposed regulations has just passed, and education officials in some states as well as teachers, superintendents and others have told the Obama administration that it is still overreaching with its proposed ESSA regulations — and in at least one instance, went further and blasted the Education Department. Here’s a taste of a letter from the Vermont Board of Education, signed by chairman Stephan A. Morse (and you can see the full text below):

We are dismayed that the federal government continues to commoditize education and support charter and private schools which segregate children and show no particular learning advantage. We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools. We are disappointed that the federal government could not embrace and promote a more expansive understanding of the purpose and value of public schools in creating a strong citizenry.

And there’s this, from California’s education leaders (you can see the full text of the comment below):

ESSA provides an exciting opportunity for California to have a single, comprehensive accountability system based on performance, equity, and improvement that would meet both state and federal requirements. Unfortunately, we believe that the proposed regulations, if adopted without changes, will derail the significant progress being made in our state towards creating a single, aligned system.

Key problems with Education Department’s plans to implement new K-12 law

Critics say the proposed regulations are making policy not dictated in ESSA and will allow some of the biggest problems of NCLB to continue. The American Superintendents Association said in its comments about the regulations:

AASA remains concerned that the proposed regulations represent a federal overreach, with the department providing prescription that is inconsistent with and beyond the intended scope of ESSA.

And the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit known as FairTest that advocates against the abuse and misuse of standardized tests, was specific in its comments:

While the accountability provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are superior to those in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Department of Education’s (DoE) draft regulations intensify ESSA’s worst aspects and will have the effect of perpetuating many of NCLB’s most harmful practices. The draftregulations over-emphasize testing, mandate punishments not required in law, and continue federal micro-management. All this will make it harder for states, districts and schools to recover from the educational damage caused by NLCB – the very damage that led Congress to fundamentally overhaul NCLB’s accountability structure and return authority to the states.

Will the Education Department rewrite the proposed standards to meet any of the criticisms from these critics? We’ll see.


Here’s the letter from Vermont:

And here’s the letter from California:

And here’s the full letter from the National Education Association:

And here’s the letter from the American Federation of Teachers:

Here’s the comment from AASA, the School Superintendents Association:

AASA Accountability Regs July 2016[1] on Scribd

Here’s the comment from FairTest:

FairTest Comment ESSA Regulations Main[1] on Scribd

FairTest Comment on ESSA Draf Regulations Supplement[1] on Scribd