December 13

Net Neutrality; State ESSA Plans

Process and Protest: To advance educational excellence and equity, we must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable students and communities. To accomplish this goal, we need clear processes for the deliberation and development of policy, and we need to take opposition to current and proposed policies and practices – protest – into account as a healthy part of those processes. This Newsbrief gives our sense of important and timely federal educational news within this process and protest context.

In This Newsbrief:

  • A Vote on Sweeping Changes to Internet Freedom
  • State ESSA Plans: Notable Developments
  • Partner and Friend Updates

A Vote on Sweeping Changes to Internet Freedom

The Issue:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote this week to overturn rules pertaining to “net neutrality.” Under current net neutrality rules, internet service providers (ISPs) must provide all users with equal access to the internet, cannot lawfully block user access to certain websites, and cannot choose favorites in terms of which websites load faster than others. Without net neutrality rules, internet service providers would be able to: negotiate higher prices with certain companies to make their web pages load faster; prioritize traffic to users based on the ISP’s own political and financial interests; require users to pay additional fees to access certain websites at all. The impacts of these policies on schools could be massive: districts could be faced with new, higher costs for connections fast enough to use in classrooms; ISPs could choose to make access to free educational software and content slow and difficult and access to paid services from their preferred corporate partners fast and easy; universities’ access to research databases could slow to a crawl.

The Process:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is slated to vote to repeal “net neutrality” rules on Thursday, December 14. The formal open comment period for this rule has already ended. There are current allegations that many of the comments submitted were forged and/or originated from Russian email addresses. Additionally, FCC records have disappeared regarding consumer complaints about the failure of internet service providers to comply with net neutrality rules. The FCC has held no public hearings on the matter and is poised to go forward with its vote to repeal net neutrality rules despite these unresolved procedural irregularities. The United States Congress could enshrine net neutrality protections through legislation, though no action appears imminent.

Learn More:

Be a Part of the Process:

  • Take ActionCall the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-2311 to speak with your members of Congress about the impact of net neutrality on schools.

ESSA State Plans: Notable Developments

The Issue:

With limited resources, a number of vacant leadership positions throughout the Department, and under significant political pressure, the United States Department of Education (US ED) is reviewing and approving the state plans required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Recent changes to the review process and the recent approval of the plan submitted by Michigan have come with some controversy.

The Process:

Michigan: US ED approved Michigan’s plan the day after Thanksgiving, following at least five rounds of revisions. Michigan submitted its plan for the April 2017 deadline. Following US ED’s approval, the Education Trust-Midwest released a statement saying the plan’s approval was a missed opportunity to advance equity and that the plan still had a number of significant deficiencies, including the lack of summative ratings, a switch to less rigorous exams in the state’s testing system, and a lack of clarity about how struggling schools will be identified and supported. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) dismissed the public statement as having misrepresented the feedback MDE received from federal officials and as representing an “outlier” opinion. Meanwhile, the lack of a centralized support structure/accountability system in Detroit has become the source of some conflict, and may push members of the state legislature to implement a summative A-F ratings system for schools and districts.
Other States to Watch
It is unclear how US ED will approach the approval process for the following state plans, each of which pose significant challenges to ESSA’s statutory requirements:

  • West Virginia has decided not to account for the graduation rates of student subgroups in their accountability system. West Virginia also does not assign summative ratings to schools.
  • New York’s request to US ED for a waiver from certain of ESSA’s requirements has drawn criticism from advocates because of the way the state is proposing to assess the academic proficiency of students with disabilities.
  • Florida has not asked US ED for a formal waiver but also does not plan to include the proficiency of English Learners in their accountability system.

Learn More:

Be a Part of the Process:

Partner and Friend Updates

  • State Accountability Under ESSA: Fall 2017 Submissions: The American Institutes for Research (AIR) has reviewed the state ESSA plans submitted to US ED for the fall 2017 deadline, summarized the key elements in these plans, and analyzed how the new accountability systems in states propose to meet the requirements of federal law. Additional reviews of state plans from AIR are forthcoming.
  • An Independent Review of ESSA State PlansThe Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners have completed their second and final round of reviews of ESSA state plans. In addition to the report linked above, they have compiled best practices at CheckStatePlans.org.