But judging from the mood recently at the annual conference of the Education Commission of the States, the states are anything but optimistic about the future, or about the new law.
The apprehension reminded me of the 1989 education summit convened by President George H.W. Bush. Back then the goal was to persuade governors to adopt a set of national education goals. All but a couple of states bought into the idea of “systemic change” with support from the federal government.
The prevailing view was that state and local control of schools wasn’t working. What was needed was a national vision for educating every child, regardless of geography, race, ethnicity, sex, ability or disability across social and economic classes. That vision would drive U.S. education policy for a quarter century, and it was a big part of the No Child Left Behind Act signed by George W. Bush in 2002.
Now, with the new education law, the pendulum has swung back to the states. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, ostensibly puts them in the driver’s seat.
So why aren’t they happy? I heard lots of reasons at the ECS meeting in San Diego.
Other educators said they’re worried about glaring disparities in the quality of teachers. According to Jeremy Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States, more and more states are trying to close that gap. “Seventeen states are talking a lot more about teacher compensation, retention and recruitment,” Anderson says. But some people at this year’s conference predicted that, if this issue is left to the states, districts will abandon the goal of putting an effective teacher in every classroom.
In states and school districts with large minority populations, civil rights groups fear that with less federal oversight, states will offer only a veneer of civil rights protections for low income, racial, ethnic and language minorities.
Looming over all this discussion was the budget crisis in many states. “Revenue volatility” has become the euphemism for budget cuts and uncertainty. Many educators worried that the most promising, innovative reforms will inevitably lose support because they’re too costly.
In many states, the system of paying for schools leaves wide gaps between rich and poor districts, and many face lengthy and costly legal battles over equity and adequacy.
All of which is to say that, with so many problems to address, states have had little time to prepare for ESSA.
Here’s what we know about their plans to comply with the law, thanks to a new analysis by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success. Of the 16 states and the District of Columbia that have submitted ESSA plans for approval by the U.S. Education Department, most did a pretty good job devising ways to evaluate schools, this study concludes.
They fell short, however, in making sure the performance of ALL students is counted and in the fine print of implementation.
“While there were promising elements,” the report says, “our peer reviewers found that most state plans failed to provide significant details about how their systems would work in practice.”
That should raise some red flags concerning kids with disabilities, English language learners and those from low-income families.
Under ESSA, states have to come up with their own deadlines to improve struggling schools as well as their own metrics for measuring improvement. States must also show they’re closing the achievement gap. Even “school climate” is now on the list of things to measure.
But what if kids aren’t learning? What if dropout rates remain too high and test scores remain too low?
ESSA says there must be consequences for doing little or nothing to solve these problems, but if a hammer comes down on school districts, it will have to come from the state, not the federal government.
As Mike Griffith of the Education Commission of the States pointed out at the tail end of the conference in San Diego: “We are on the cusp of a huge change.”
He was referring to how schools work, whom they’re accountable to and how they’re funded.
It’s clear, though, that the success of this major shift hangs on a big question: Can Americans trust their states to do the right thing?
The document released today is only an initial sketch — a proposal, really — one that must compete with Congress’s own ideas. It indicates how Trump plans to make good on his pledge to dramatically reduce parts of the federal government while increasing military spending.
And, it provides some direction on how the administration plans to promote school choice, the president’s signature education issue.
As we’ve noted before, federal education spending provides a small fraction of the resources spent on public schools and colleges in the U.S. For example, the Education Department’s entire budget for 2017 was $69.4 billion. Meanwhile, the budget for the New York City public schools — the nation’s largest district — was $29.2 billion, of which $1.7 billion came from the federal government.
Still, the blueprint gives the clearest indication to date of where schools and colleges fall on the priority list for this administration, and its plans for education policy going forward. Here’s our breakdown.
A $168 million increase for charter schools, currently funded at over $300 million annually.
$250 million for an unspecified “new private school choice program,” which may be vouchers. The budget proposal states that total school choice funding will eventually reach the level Trump mentioned in the campaign: $20 billion. (Tax credit scholarships, another potential vehicle to fund private school choice, would be implemented through tax reform, and are not mentioned in this budget plan).
A $1 billion increase for Title I, which provides funding to high-poverty schools. This increase would be dedicated to promoting and increasing school choice.
The $2.25 billion Supporting Effective Instruction program, also known as Title II, Part A. This grant program for states was designated to better recruit, support and train educators, particularly for high-need schools.
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides $732 million in need-based aid for college students.
$193 million from TRIO and GEARUP, programs that help prepare low-income, first-generation and disabled students for college, starting in middle school.
For the Pell Grant, the federal government’s main income-based college aid program, the proposal calls for “level funding.” But, that “level” technically includes “a cancellation of $3.9 billion from unobligated carryover funding.” So, while Pell Grant funding would not go down, that $3.9 billion would not be available.
The proposal “eliminates or reduces” a list of programs without giving further details, including: “Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property, and International Education programs.”
In a sometimes fervid discussion Wednesday, a Tacoma teacher, a youth advocate and a retired state Supreme Court justice laid bare the costs to society — and to students — when adequate funding for public education isn’t there.
Hundreds gathered at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall for the talk, a Seattle Times’ LiveWire event, that explored how investing in K-12 schools is linked to a mix of social issues, such as youth incarceration and unemployment rates.
In the talk titled “Set up to fail: The cost of not funding K-12 education,” Tacoma’s Lincoln High School teacher Nathan Gibbs-Bowling spotlighted the region’s economic disparities in terms of students’ access to a quality education, remarks to which the audience gave warm applause.
“You cannot sit and focus on the minutia of government and calculus when your stomach is churning,” he said, and some students are forced to choose between work and school.
Gibbs-Bowling, 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year, previously taught in a high-income school, where he said the needs of those students contrast sharply with the ones of his students now.
In remarks before the panel, Omari Amili, a former dropout who went to prison for bank-fraud convictions, emphasized how a college education helped him. Amili now has a master’s degree from the University of Washington-Tacoma and works with other former inmates who want to transition to college.
Angel Gardner, Seattle’s Youth Poet Laureate, shared her personal story, too. Born in the city’s Central District, Gardner was removed from her parents’ home as a child and grew up in foster care before aging out of the system at 18.She then spent two years without a permanent place to live, a period during which judges chose her for the youth poet-laureate title. Throughout the discussion, the panelists offered specific solutions to boosting students’ success, such as schools offering occupational training and extended school days.
They also emphasized the importance of how having stable housing and a strong family life can influence achievement and behavior.
More than half of the young people who commit crimes are dropouts, according to Columbia University researchers who looked at the economic impacts of the students. Dropouts are also more likely to be on welfare.
Bridge, who was a judge and state Supreme Court justice for nearly 20 years before stepping down in 2007, emphasized the collaboration of schools and other programs to make sure students’ basic needs get met.
“If they’re not engaged in the community,” she said of schools, “we’re going to be facing even worse situations from the standpoint of public safety, unemployment and disruption in communities than we have right now.”
Seattle Times education reporter Claudia Rowe moderated Wednesday’s forum, which was part of The Seattle Times’ LiveWire series that aims to bring together experts to discuss vital issues affecting the region.
Rowe is part of the newspaper’s Education Lab, a project that spotlights approaches to issues in public education.
Information in this article, originally published March 22, 2017 was corrected March 23, 2017. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where Lincoln High School teacher Nathan Gibbs-Bowling previously worked. He said he worked in a high-income school in a neighborhood like Ballard in Seattle.
Seattle Times staff reporter Paige Cornwell contributed to this report. Jessica Lee: 206-464-2532 or firstname.lastname@example.org