Press Room NEWSLETTERS
January 19, 2018

ED Review... a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders

What's inside...
Lessons Learned
Improve, Rethink, and Renew
ESSA Update
IDEA Monitoring Findings
Rebuilding Rural America
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Lessons Learned

On January 16, Secretary DeVos spoke at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as part of the conference "Bush-Obama School Reform: Lessons Learned." Following are excerpts from her remarks. Video is available here.

"Everyone wants students to be prepared and to lead successful lives. We can't say that sort of public harmony exists in other policy arenas.... Our unity of purpose here presents an opportunity. But while we've changed some aspects of education, the results we all work for and desire haven't been achieved. The bottom line is simple: federal education reform efforts have not worked as hoped. That's not a point I make lightly or joyfully. Yes, there have been some minor improvements in a few areas. But we're far from where we need to be.

"We saw two presidents from different political parties and philosophies take two different approaches. Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem. Too many of America's students are still unprepared. Perhaps the lesson lies not in what made the approaches different but in what made them the same: the federal government. Both approaches had the same Washington 'experts' telling educators how to behave. The lesson is in the false premise: that Washington knows what's best for educators, parents, and students.

"Federal mandates distort what education ought to be: a trusting relationship between teacher, parent, and student. Ideally, parent and teacher work together to help a child discover his or her potential and pursue his or her passions. When we seek to empower teachers, we must empower parents as well. Parents are too often powerless in deciding what's best for their child. The state mandates where to send their child. It mandates what their child learns and how he or she learns it. In the same way, educators are constrained by state mandates.

"We will not reach our goal of helping every child achieve his or her full potential until we truly change. Let me offer three ways we can move forward in that pursuit. First, we need to recognize that the federal government's appropriate role is not to be the nation's school board.... The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) takes important steps to return power where it belongs by recognizing states—not Washington—should shape education policy around their own people. But state lawmakers should also resist the urge to centrally plan education.... That brings me to point number two. To finish the analogy...let's call a new play: empowering parents. Parents have the greatest stake in the outcome of their child's education. Accordingly, they should also have the power to make sure their child is getting the right education.... Which leads to my final point: if America's students are to be prepared, we must rethink school.... 'Rethink' means we question everything to ensure nothing limits a student from pursuing his/her passion and achieving his/her potential. So each student is prepared at every turn for what comes next.

"It's past time to ask some of the questions that often get labeled as 'non-negotiable' or don't get asked at all. Why do we group students by age? Why do schools close for the summer? Why must the school day start with the rise of the sun? Why are schools assigned by your address? Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place? Why is choice only available to those who can buy their way out or buy their way in? Why can't a student learn at his or her own pace? Why isn't technology more widely embraced in schools? Why do we limit what a student can learn based on the faculty/facilities available?"

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Improve, Rethink, and Renew

Over a three-week period, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Jason Botel traveled twice to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—the second time with Secretary DeVos. In successive Medium posts (1 and 2), Botel summarizes his experiences and outlines the Department's ongoing support. "It is a courageous, can-do spirit I'll remember most from visiting Puerto Rico [and the Virgin Islands]," he noted, "and I know it will continue to fuel our partnership with [their] hard-working leaders and community members."

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ESSA Update

Secretary DeVos recently announced the approval of a number consolidated state plans under ESSA. Minnesota and West Virginia (January 10 release) and Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico (January 16 release) were among the 34 states and Puerto Rico to submit their state plans by the final deadline of September 18. "States continue to embrace the flexibility and power given to them under ESSA," stated the Secretary. "I am pleased to approve these plans, which comply with the requirements of the law. I look forward to seeing how the states turn ideas into action to improve outcomes for all students."

ESSA requires the Secretary to issue a written determination within 120 days of a state's submission of its plan, unless the state requests additional time for its revisions.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Chief State School Officers, the Department offered states flexibility on using remaining School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding.

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IDEA Monitoring Findings

Last week, the Department released findings of monitoring activities related to Texas Education Agency's (TEA) compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This comes after the Department's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) initiated monitoring following reports of significant decline in the number of children identified as children with disabilities eligible for special education and related services in Texas. The monitoring report lists three specific areas in which TEA failed to comply with federal law: (1) TEA failed to ensure that all children with disabilities were identified, located, and evaluated, regardless of the severity of their disabilities; (2) TEA failed to ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) was made available to all children with disabilities; and (3) TEA failed to fulfill its general supervisory and monitoring responsibilities to ensure that school districts properly implemented IDEA's child find and FAPE requirements.

In 2004, Texas implemented a special education representation indicator of 8.5% to measure the percentage of students enrolled in special education and related services. OSEP found that indicator resulted in a declining identification rate of children with disabilities in the state. Data from TEA demonstrates that the number of children identified as children with disabilities under IDEA declined from the 2003-04 to 2016-17 school years by 32,000 students, even as total enrollment grew by more than one million students.

As early as November 2016, TEA began taking steps to address initial concerns expressed by OSEP, including issuing a letter to every district emphasizing their child find responsibilities under the IDEA. TEA supported OSEP in obtaining necessary information through the Department's monitoring, including coordinating a series of listening sessions throughout the state which were attended by OSEP and TEA staff. Additionally, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, with state legislators, implemented a new law that prohibits the use of school performance indicators that solely measure total number or percentage of enrolled children receiving special education and related services (cover letter).

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Rebuilding Rural America

President Trump established the Rural Prosperity Task Force in April 2017 to identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes needed to secure a prosperous future for rural America. The task force, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, consists of representatives from 22 federal agencies and local leaders. In a new report, the task force identifies more than 100 actions centering on five key areas: (1) electronic connectivity, (2) improving quality of life, (3) supporting a rural workforce, (4) harnessing technological innovation, and (5) rural economic development (fact sheet and Executive Order on Streamlining and Expediting Requests to Locate Broadband Facilities in Rural America).

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Odds and Ends

  • On January 8, President Trump resubmitted to the Senate a number of Department nominations: Mitchell Zais to be Deputy Secretary of Education, James Blew to be Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, and Kenneth Marcus to be Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. (Subsequently, all three were approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and advanced to the full Senate.)

  • Yesterday (January 18), Secretary DeVos joined Congressional leaders and over 200 students at a rally to celebrate school choice and parental involvement in education, becoming the first Secretary of Education to participate in National School Choice Week.

  • In a blog post, School Ambassador Fellow Elmer Harris calls "local heroes" directly into action by urging them to apply to be a 2018-19 full- or part-time Fellow at the Department.

  • The first Wednesday of each month, the agency's current cohort of School Ambassador Fellows host #FellowsAtEd Twitter chats at @USEDGOV.

  • Another blog post recaps the fifth-annual ED Games Expo, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

  • The Department released the transcripts of the first round of negotiated rulemaking on Borrower Defense to Repayment and Gainful Employment regulations.

  • According to a First Look report from the agency's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), revenues and expenditures increased in public K-12 education for the second consecutive year, reversing a decline in spending in the prior four years after adjusting for inflation (blog post).

  • The Department's What Works Clearinghouse celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2017 (Looking Back), continuing to identify evidence-based practices for educators.

  • The Corporation for National and Community Service released a new toolkit for superintendents, principals, and other education stakeholders about using national service to strengthen education. This toolkit helps determine school's needs, find the right national service program, and apply for resources that best fit the school. It also includes examples of how districts and states are utilizing national service.

  • The Endowment for the Arts is collaborating with the Education Commission of the States on a Statewide Data Infrastructure Project for Arts Education.

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Quote to Note

"I'm aware that change—the unknown—can be scary, that talk of fundamentally rethinking our approach to education seems impossible, insurmountable. But not changing is scarier. Stagnation creates risks of its own. The reality is...we should be horrified of not changing. Our children don't fear their futures. Think of a newborn, born into hope—not fear. They begin life with a clean slate, with a fresh set of eyes to see things we don't currently see. That's how students begin their life-long learning journeys—with unlimited potential, yet with limited time. Their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations, their futures can't wait, while another wave of lawmakers puts yet another coat of paint on the broken 'system.' One year may not seem like much to an adult, but it's much too long for the child who still can't read 'Goodnight Moon.' We, the public, can't wait either."

        Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (1/16/18), in her remarks at the American Enterprise Institute

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Upcoming Events

Next week, Secretary DeVos will participate in the Education World Forum in London. Ministers and advisers representing over two-thirds of the world's population will gather to discuss education policy.

Digital Learning Day (February 22) is just over a month away. The goal is to highlight more examples of how great teaching paired with technology can improve student outcomes.

The Library of Congress is accepting applications for week-long summer programs for K-12 educators through March 21. Held at the Library, the professional development provides educators with tools and resources to effectively integrate primary sources into classroom teaching—with a special emphasis on student engagement, critical thinking, and construction of knowledge.

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Credits, Subscribe & Unsubscribe

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Last Modified: 01/19/2018