Holding schools accountable is something that we strongly believe in. Last week, the Senate voted 50-49 to repeal the Obama administration’s rule for holding schools accountable for student performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This rule provided a level of federal oversight to states and school boards, especially for some of our most vulnerable students. It required schools to submit plans for ensuring that their most vulnerable students would receive a quality education and not fall behind.
The Republican argument for doing away with the accountability rule was that it was too prescriptive and didn’t let the states decide how they want to handle accountability of schools. The Democrats and education advocates argued that scrapping the rule at this point would be chaotic and leave some of the most disadvantaged students at risk.
“Supporters of blocking the rules said that, in many instances, they were too prescriptive and went against the spirit of ESSA, which lawmakers crafted in large part to return more accountability decisions to states and districts. They also argued that in lieu of the accountability rules, the Education Department could provide nonregulatory guidance and technical assistance to states and districts to support their transition to ESSA, which kicks in for the 2017-18 school year. The National Governors Association and AASA, the School Administrators Association, backed overturning the rules. The NGA outline several concerns it had with the regulations last year.
Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Alexander said the regulation runs counter to ESSA itself. As examples, Alexander said that the regulations improperly prescribe how states must build rating systems for schools, and how they must handle relatively high opt-outs from mandatory state tests, among other instances.
“This regulation would say to states: ‘Ignore the law that 85 senators just passed 15 months ago. Ignore the law that President Obama called a Christmas miracle. … Listen instead to the unelected bureaucrats at the United States Department of Education,'” Alexander said on Wednesday.
However, critics charged that the move was unnecessary, would create confusion in states about whether and to what extent their ESSA accountability plans comply with the law, and could endanger crucial protections for disadvantaged students. They also argued that the measure, introduced through the Congressional Review Act, was a solution in search of a problem, introduced without significant backing from teachers, state chiefs, and others. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, for example, was critical of the accountability rules in some respects as they were developed, but said overturning them “would demonstrate a disregard by Congress of school districts’ operations and timelines.” Supporters of the regulations also argued that, in many cases, the regulations increased flexibility for states, instead of restricting it.”
A similar measure has already cleared the House, and President Trump is expected to sign the bill. Scrapping this rule is a step backwards. The ESSA should be implemented in such a way to advance opportunity and achievement for all students, and public accountability and reporting rules are necessary to achieving that end.
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