November 20

Leadership at US ED; 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 into account opposition to current and proposed policies and practices – protest – 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. 

Senior Leadership at US ED Comes into Focus

The Issue:

The U.S. Senate’s review and confirmation process is underway for several individuals the Trump Administration has nominated to key leadership positions at the United States Department of Education (US ED).

  • Mick Zais, a brigadier general and former South Carolina Superintendent of Education, has been nominated for the position of Deputy Secretary of Education.
  • Jim Blew, director of Student Success California, an education reform advocacy organization affiliated with the national 50CAN group, has been nominated for the position of Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Analysis.
  • Kenneth Marcus, the president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has been nominated for the position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.

An additional nominee, Timothy Kelly, was nominated for the position of Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education, but had his nomination withdrawn by the Trump Administration after it was discovered that he had written posts on his personal blog that were offensive to Muslims and to other groups.

The Process:

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing last week on the candidacies of Mr. Zais and Mr. Blew. Other than Chairman Lamar Alexander, no Republican member of the Committee asked any questions of Mr. Zais or Mr. Blew. Both men are expected to  be confirmed soon by a full vote of the Senate. The Senate HELP committee has not yet announced a date for a hearing on Mr. Marcus’ nomination.

Read More:

Be a Part of the Process:

The Trump Administration will continue to nominate individuals for vacant political appointee positions at US ED. The U.S. Senate HELP Committee will be holding hearings to discuss these nominees, and the full Senate will be holding votes on each nominee. To be confirmed in their position, each nominee needs to be approved by a simple majority in the Senate.

  • Get informed & Take Action:
    • Additional background and context for the nomination and confirmation process under the Trump Administration can be found here. The full list of nominees by the Trump Administration that are pending in the U.S. Senate can be found here.
    • Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-2311 to speak with your U.S. Senator about how they plan to vote on the current nominees for positions at US ED.

State ESSA Plans in Context

The Issue:

With limited resources, a number of vacant leadership positions throughout the Department, and facing significant political pressure, the United States Department of Education (US ED) is reviewing the State Plans required of each state by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). For varying reasons, government leaders in at least five states have urged US ED to reject the plans submitted by their state’s SEA. Additionally, civil rights and advocacy groups are putting pressure on US ED to address specific provisions in various state’s plans that do not appear to be in compliance with the requirements of ESSA. In this regard, perhaps the biggest test facing US ED is how to handle the plan submitted by the state of Florida, which appears to flout several provisions of ESSA, including requirements to consider English learners’ proficiency test scores in the state accountability system, to provide these students with tests in their native languages, and to identify schools as needing improvement if/when they have large disparities in student achievement across demographic groups.

The Process:

All states have submitted their ESSA State Plans to US ED for review. Roughly one-third of states submitted their plans in April 2017, and the remainder submitted their plans in September 2017. All but two of the plans submitted for the April deadline have been approved by US ED, with US ED’s approval of the plans submitted by Michigan and Colorado still pending. The plans submitted for the September deadline are now undergoing staff and peer review, and US ED has committed to providing feedback to each SEA prior to reaching a decision on that state’s plan. Under ESSA, US ED has up to 120 days to approve/deny each State Plan. This means most of the State Plans submitted for the September deadline are likely to be approved sometime around January 2018.

Learn More:

Be a Part of the Process:

Get Informed:

Take Action:


Partner and Friend Updates:

  • The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) analyzed all 50 states’ and the District of Columbia’s ESSA plans as part of their ESSA Educator Equity Best Practices Guides, with specific focus on educator equity provisions — ensuring that low-income and minority students are not disproportionately taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers. Generally, they find that states did not include rigorous plans to hold themselves accountable for providing low-income students and students of color with equitable access to strong teachers. They also provide state-specific analysis of strengths and opportunities for improvement.  (November 2017)
  • The Education Commission of the States has developed a  national overview of the key policymaking roles in K-12 education policy (e.g. governor, state legislature, chief state school officer, state board of education, executive level education secretary), a summary of each role’s general powers and duties and information on how they relate to other policymaking roles. Understanding these roles is fundamental to navigating the complex systems of education decision-making. (November 14, 2017)
  • AdvancED has released a whitepaper focused on continuous improvement practices and challenges, specifically why school and system efforts often fall short. They describe key components of effective continuous improvement implementation in a school setting, and how they support school success. Factors include: clear direction; resource management; healthy culture; implementation capacity; efficacy of engagement; student engagement; high expectations; and impact of instruction.
  • The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s new Rate the Ratings report examines the strength of state rating systems across three dimensions: (1) whether annual school ratings are clear and intuitive for parents, educators, and the public; (2) to what degree schools are incentivized to focus on all students, not just  students with low scores on state tests; and (3) whether the performance of all schools, including those with high rates of poverty, is being fairly measured and judged.