Betsy DeVos Continues Misleading Narrative About ESSA

Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Secretary of Education by Vice President Mike Pence.
Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Secretary of Education by Vice President Mike Pence.

U.S. Secretary of Education Besty DeVos gave an interview to the Associated Press on Monday where she continued to share the misleading narrative that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) returns power to the states.

They asked, “President Trump has talked a lot about undoing some of the Obama legacy. When it comes to education can you talk to us about the areas where you think you’ve been successful in this regard? What is the federal role, the federal government’s role in education and how do you accomplish those goals?”

She answered:

Well those are a number of questions. Let me start with what we believe the federal government’s role is in education and that is a much less heavy footprint than has been present in recent years. We really believe that states are the best laboratories of democracy on many fronts and we are in the middle of moving to implement the ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which really dissolves power back to the states and gives them a lot more flexibility around meeting the needs of students in their unique states and with their unique situations. And we think that there has been an overreach in many cases on the part of the federal government in really intruding on states’ issues and states’ areas of responsibility as well as trying to engineer things from the federal level in a way that is not helpful to students overall.

We’ve covered this a number of times here. For starters, ESSA requires uniform standards and assessments. Two states – Arizona and New Hampshire – allow for a range of options for assessments for their elementary and middle schools. This, Common Core supporter Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute says is wrong. “(T)hey have erred in enacting laws that would let local elementary and middle schools select among a range of options when it’s time for annual standardized testing. That’s bad on policy grounds, and it clearly violates ESSA,” he wrote.

The Feds, of course, get to decide what “uniform” looks like.

DeVos has embraced the authority given to her under ESSA. ESSA has made a mess over teacher accountability.

So much for flexibility.

Has the U.S. Department of Education shown much flexibility in its nitpicking and rejection of state accountability plans? States were under the impression (a false impression I might add) that they were going to have flexibility. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has wrung his hands about the inflexibility the U.S. Department of Education has shown but they are only doing what the law allows them to do.

This idea ESSA dissolves power back to the states is nonsense.