CL4E Weighs In on Proposed Department of Ed Rules on ESSA

This week, several members of the Conservative Leaders for Education coalition officially submitted comments on the proposed accountability rules laid out by the U.S. Department of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The draft rules were formally released and opened up for public comment in May, and that comment period closed Aug. 1.

See a copy of the members comments here or below.

 

August 1, 2016

Meredith Miller
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 3C106
Washington, DC 20202-2800

Docket ID:  ED-2016-OESE-0032

Dear Ms. Miller,

Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E) is a new initiative chaired by former Education Secretary William Bennett and comprised of state policy makers and legislators with an acute interest in and purview over education policy. Specifically, we have articulated four fundamental principles that we believe should underpin all education policy. Those principles are: Local Control, Choice, Accountability and Quality Content.  To learn more about these principles, and our effort, visit our website at www.ConservativeLeaders4Ed.org.

We write today to provide our comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) proposed accountability and state plan regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as published in the May 26 Federal Register.

First, we commend Congress and the President for finally replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB). States’ reliance on waivers put far too much power in the hands of the DoE, and NCLB’s discontinuation was an overdue and welcomed accomplishment. Education is key to not only the well-being of millions of children, but to the future prosperity of our nation. The ESSA decidedly returns the principal authority of education policymaking to its rightful place: states and localities.

Second, we are grateful for the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed regulations, specifically on the development of state accountability systems. We believe it is our responsibility to advise the DoE on regulatory provisions that threaten to violate the spirit of the law and specifically where we think the language will encroach on the control allocated to states and localities under the law. The DoE writes that “we are proposing these regulations to provide clarity and support to SEAs, LEAs, and schools as they implement” the ESSA. However, the current regulations by the DoE walk a fine line of potentially undermining the rights of each state and the intended goal of providing clarification and guidance on ESSA implementation. States have the tools, local knowledge and expertise to make sure systems are transparent and hold schools accountable for the success of their students. The regulations must afford them every opportunity to get education back on track in a way that meets the needs of their states.

We provide the following specific comments pursuant to the implementation of ESSA and the regulations proposed by the DoE.

  1. Accountability Indicators: Under the law, each State must establish “systems of annual meaningful differentiation” for public schools, based on 5 indicators: academic achievement, graduation rates, a measure of student growth if determined appropriate by the state, progress in achieving English language proficiency, as well as at least one other “indicator of school quality or student success.”  Under the law, the indicator of school quality or student success must receive less weight than the combination of the other indicators.We strongly believe that academic achievement must be the central measure of an accountability system. Some – not all, but some – administrators, boards, and educators may try to hide behind other nonacademic measures. However, if students are not learning the basics then they will struggle to find a decent job or to be successful in college. Others are requesting that proposed language around school quality and student success should not be as stringent, we disagree. Non-academic skills and school culture can be informative, but proper measures should be put in place to ensure that those factors do not overshadow the extent to which a school is serving the academic needs of students. State education systems must measure students’ academic skills and knowledge, period. We urge the department to resist the calls of others to loosen the law’s intent on non-academic indicators.
  1. Transparency: ESSA maintains that previously required information provided by states to parents and the public continue and be augmented by additional important information such as per-pupil expenditures by school.Fundamental to a quality education system is the ability for parents and community leaders to be informed consumers, as taxpayers and key stakeholders in the system. For far too long, information related to school, district, and state accountability has either not been completely honest or has been buried on government websites under mounds of indecipherable data.  We have a moral obligation to prioritize the data that matters most to parents and ensure that they receive it in a clear and concise manner.  We support the regulations reflection of this expanded transparency and urge you to maintain requirements that the information be more timely and meaningful for parents.  We particularly applaud the attention given to the “Parent Report Cards” in the law and the subsequent requirement to obtain parent feedback in the development of the new report prior to its submission to the DoE.  We highly recommend that in addition to the content, there be an emphasis on a robust distribution plan.  Parents will do what is best for their children and often serve as a catalyst for innovation when equipped with actionable information.

 

  1. Stakeholder Engagement: We value the flexibility that has been given to the states to create their own accountability systems designed to meet the unique needs of the states.  It is an opportunity to bring in a diverse and fully invested group of stakeholders across all parts of the community to create a shared vision of success for students.The proposed rule currently includes language clarifications by the DoE to address early stakeholder engagement in the development of various components of state plans.  We strongly recommend that you not prescribe or direct those stakeholder engagement activities, respect state autonomy and allow state leaders to lead the way in executing effective stakeholder engagement plans that actively involve all key stakeholders. In particular, we will be encouraging states to ensure that employers and higher education leaders, are invited to provide their unique perspective on the individualized needs of the state economies as a part of the goal setting process.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these proposed rules. Please contact us if we can help represent the point-of-view of conservative state lawmakers. To learn more about our organization, visit www.ConservativeLeaders4Ed.org.

 

Sincerely,

Representative Paul Boyer (AZ)
Chair, House Education Committee

Senator Owen Hill (CO)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Mary Scott Hunter (AL)
Representative, Alabama Board of Education

Senator Peggy Lehner (OH)

Senator Luther Olsen (WI)
Chair, Senate Committee on Education

Representative Amanda Price (MI)
Chair, House Education Committee

Senator Howard A. Stephenson (UT)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Senator Mike Wilson (KY)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

(All signatories are founding members of Conservative Leaders for Education)

 

 

Bill Bennett: Conservatives, we’ve got a rare opportunity to lead on education

Fox News | Bill Bennett | 7.28.16

Ahead of the Democratic National Convention this week, party leaders recently released the official Democratic policy platform. Not surprisingly, when it comes to education—an issue that has long been considered a mainstay of the Left—the agenda bends to teachers’ unions and other interest groups at odds with meaningful education reforms.

Americans deserve better, and they can do better. The 2016 election cycle, coupled with the overdue reforms delivered in the Every Student Succeeds Act, presents an opportunity for conservatives to re-stake the Republican Party as the champion of prudent and pragmatic education policy. And we can do so by articulating positions with a proven track-record of success: Greater local control, parental choice, high academic standards and aligned assessments, and honest frameworks for measuring student development and keeping teacher, principals, and districts accountable.

Already, momentum is in our favor. In December, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law with broad bipartisan support. The law forever ends No Child Left Behind and marks a historic return of control over education issues to state and local authorities—from classroom expectations to funding to accountability measures and beyond. The law has been heralded as a “huge win for conservatives,” but to ensure these reforms translate to tangible results will require conservative leaders to offer solutions, especially at the local level.

This week I was proud to join several Republican leaders from across the country to launch Conservative Leaders for Education. Comprised of conservative-minded state lawmakers and education policy makers, the coalition is committed to advocating principled policy as states begin to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.

At the same time, the organization will serve as a clearinghouse of best practices, where educators, policymakers and the public can share ideas and contribute to a constructive policy discussion.

The formation of Conservative Leaders for Education comes at a pivotal time. Over the past thirty years the United States has gradually ceded control of education to a centralized, big government. Faced with rigid mandates from Washington, policymakers often inflated performance measures by systematically lowering the bar for schools. As a result, many students were often told they were on track to graduate high school prepared for college or a career, when in fact they were not.

That reality has fueled the remediation crisis on college campuses. Today, more than 50 percent of first-time students at community colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year institutions need remediation to learn skills they should have mastered in high school. About four in 10 students who take remedial coursework will never complete a degree. And it’s not just at-risk students who take a hit; 45 percent of students who place into remediation come from middle- and high-income families.

While Washington’s role in education has grown, so too has special interest groups’ influence on policy development. Over the past several decades teachers’ unions have steadily increased lobbying efforts, which have roundly opposed any mention of accountability. Out of those campaigns underperforming teachers have found themselves comfortably immune from answering to student outcomes, while the public has received less actionable information about how well their kids are doing.

It is time we push past old education models which put the wellbeing of adults (unions, administrators, teachers, etc…) ahead of students. The Every Student Succeeds Act has sown the groundwork for conservative leaders to stand up for the principles and policies that will leave a meaningful and lasting footprint. And with record levels of Republican control at the state level, right now we have a rare opportunity to cement local control over education, school choice, honest accountability and high-level content in our schools and classrooms.

Those goals won’t be easily won. Unions and entrenched special interests will continue to unilaterally oppose measures that require them to answer to student performance and the effectiveness of schools. Many have already called on the U.S. Department of Education to regulate implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though many proposals violate the intention of the law. If conservatives are hesitant to take the lead, liberals will.

Fortunately, there are leaders within the Republican Party to carry this banner. Governor Mike Pence, who was recently tapped as the vice presidential nominee, has achieved remarkable success expanding school choice in Indiana, which now boasts one of the largest voucher programs in the country. Just as commendable are the citizen advocates, like those participating in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference this week, who demand education be accountable to those closest to it.

The Every Student Succeeds Act marks a unique devolution of the federal overreach into education. For the first time in decades, states will have nearly full autonomy over, and responsibility for, the outcomes of their students. I urge conservative leaders, parents and educators to join us in advancing principled policies that will ensure this moment produces the type of education systems that will equip our young people to lead.

William J. Bennett is a former U.S. Secretary of Education for President Ronald Reagan and host of America Strong: The Bill Bennett Podcast.

Ex-Education Secretary William J. Bennett Urges GOP to ‘Seize the Day’ on ESSA

Education Week | July 26th | Andrew Ujifusa

A new education policy group led by former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett wants to ensure that state Republican lawmakers stick to conservative principles as they implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Conservative Leaders for Education aims to promote school choice, local control, “transparent” and “timely” accountability, and “high academic standards” chosen by states as they shift to ESSA, the new federal education law passed last year. The idea behind the group is to push those principles in statehouses, but also to have state lawmakers share specific policy ideas to match.

“NCLB is dead. We urge states to seize the day. Republicans need to step up,” Bennett said in a phone interview, referring to the previous iteration of federal education law, the No Child Left Behind Act. “I’ve been complaining, worrying, wondering out loud, frustrated about education as a conservative. Democrats act as if they own it, and in many ways, they have owned it.”

We also got Bennett—the new group’s chairman, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s education secretary from 1985 to 1988—to discuss his dealings with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on education. More on that below.

Conservative Leaders for Education’s membership is made up of state lawmakers who chair education committees in eight states—Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin—and it will seek to add new state lawmakers in the future. (All of those states, except Colorado, have Republican governors.)

Right now, Republicans control 30 state legislatures and 31 governorships, and they have unified control of 22 states. The GOP has held sway over the majority of states since the 2010 elections, but Bennett said that up until ESSA, they didn’t have the freedom to create as much education policy as they might have wished. ESSA changes that, he said.

Conservative Leaders for Education will be particularly helpful for state lawmakers who have control over K-12 policy, but aren’t necessarily veterans of education policy and political battles, said Michigan GOP Rep. Amanda Price, the chairwoman of her chamber’s education panel and a member of the new group’s steering committee.

“I think it’s going to be a unique and useful resource for us,” Price, who’s been chairwoman of her chamber’s K-12 committee for about 18 months, said in a phone interview.

Unions, Choice, and Accountability

Bennett is particularly concerned that the two national teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, will exert more influence than Republican K-12 leaders as states and districts begin the shift to ESSA.

I asked the about the fact that the AFT and NEA were closely involved with the creation and passage of ESSA, and that the NEA even gave ESSA architect Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an award last month. Bennett responded that while that may be true, he’s already seeing evidence that the unions are pushing for soft and fuzzy “subjective” accountability provisions that fly in the face of the new group’s principles.

And he cited AFT President Randi Weingarten’s attack on testing during her remarks at the Democratic National Committee on Monday.

“They’re happy to get this at the local level, they think they’re stronger at the local level,” Bennett said of the unions. “That’s why I think they’re giving at least two cheers for ESSA. … When you talk about choice, you know what the unions will say about that.”

But the new group doesn’t want state education departments in Republican-controlled states to be too prescriptive either—that goes against what ESSA should accomplish, said Kentucky Sen. Mike Wilson, the chairman of his chamber’s education committee, who is also on the new group’s steering committee.

“It stifles creativity and innovation that we know really happens at the local level,” Wilson said.

For his own part, Wilson said he’s been pushing for legislation to allow charter schools in Kentucky. He said his bill is in sync with ESSA because it would require Bluegrass State charter schools to be held to the same standard as traditional public schools.

One area where Wilson isn’t a huge fan of recent developments around ESSA? The requirement in draft ESSA accountability rules for a “single, summative rating” for schools that might mask specific issues in specific schools, he said. He thinks “dashboard” accountability can be more helpful. (His state’s schools chief, Stephen Pruitt, agrees.)

Those and other K-12 disagreements, like those in Michigan over teacher tenure and evaluations, show why the group is needed, Price said: “Education is not for the faint-hearted.”

Advising Trump

Apart from ESSA, I also asked Bennett, who now hosts a talk radio program, to flesh out comments he’s made previously that he’s been in contact with GOP nominee Donald Trump about education policy. Bennett, for example, has backed the Common Core State Standards, but Trump has denounced the standards, although without specifying why.

Bennett responded that he had one brief conversation with Trump, telling him he’d be happy to offer Trump advice about education. “He said, “Great, I’ll look forward to talking with you further,”” Bennett said, although he added that Trump hasn’t followed up.

However, Bennett said he has shared his ideas with conservative economists Stephen Moore and Lawrence Kudlow, who have been working with Trump’s campaign directly on policy. And Bennett noted that he’s also personally shared his ideas with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, although he hasn’t seen anything come of that.

Photo: Former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Michael Caulfield/AP-File

Bill Bennett: Conservatives, we’ve got a rare opportunity to lead on education

Fox News Online | July 28, 2016 | William Bennett

Ahead of the Democratic National Convention this week, party leaders recently released the official Democratic policy platform. Not surprisingly, when it comes to education—an issue that has long been considered a mainstay of the Left—the agenda bends to teachers’ unions and other interest groups at odds with meaningful education reforms.

Americans deserve better, and they can do better. The 2016 election cycle, coupled with the overdue reforms delivered in the Every Student Succeeds Act, presents an opportunity for conservatives to re-stake the Republican Party as the champion of prudent and pragmatic education policy. And we can do so by articulating positions with a proven track-record of success: Greater local control, parental choice, high academic standards and aligned assessments, and honest frameworks for measuring student development and keeping teacher, principals, and districts accountable.

Already, momentum is in our favor. In December, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law with broad bipartisan support. The law forever ends No Child Left Behind and marks a historic return of control over education issues to state and local authorities—from classroom expectations to funding to accountability measures and beyond. The law has been heralded as a “huge win for conservatives,” but to ensure these reforms translate to tangible results will require conservative leaders to offer solutions, especially at the local level.

This week I was proud to join several Republican leaders from across the country to launch Conservative Leaders for Education. Comprised of conservative-minded state lawmakers and education policy makers, the coalition is committed to advocating principled policy as states begin to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.

At the same time, the organization will serve as a clearinghouse of best practices, where educators, policymakers and the public can share ideas and contribute to a constructive policy discussion.

The formation of Conservative Leaders for Education comes at a pivotal time. Over the past thirty years the United States has gradually ceded control of education to a centralized, big government. Faced with rigid mandates from Washington, policymakers often inflated performance measures by systematically lowering the bar for schools. As a result, many students were often told they were on track to graduate high school prepared for college or a career, when in fact they were not.

That reality has fueled the remediation crisis on college campuses. Today, more than 50 percent of first-time students at community colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year institutions need remediation to learn skills they should have mastered in high school. About four in 10 students who take remedial coursework will never complete a degree. And it’s not just at-risk students who take a hit; 45 percent of students who place into remediation come from middle- and high-income families.

While Washington’s role in education has grown, so too has special interest groups’ influence on policy development. Over the past several decades teachers’ unions have steadily increased lobbying efforts, which have roundly opposed any mention of accountability. Out of those campaigns underperforming teachers have found themselves comfortably immune from answering to student outcomes, while the public has received less actionable information about how well their kids are doing.

It is time we push past old education models which put the wellbeing of adults (unions, administrators, teachers, etc…) ahead of students. The Every Student Succeeds Act has sown the groundwork for conservative leaders to stand up for the principles and policies that will leave a meaningful and lasting footprint. And with record levels of Republican control at the state level, right now we have a rare opportunity to cement local control over education, school choice, honest accountability and high-level content in our schools and classrooms.

Those goals won’t be easily won. Unions and entrenched special interests will continue to unilaterally oppose measures that require them to answer to student performance and the effectiveness of schools. Many have already called on the U.S. Department of Education to regulate implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though many proposals violate the intention of the law. If conservatives are hesitant to take the lead, liberals will.

Fortunately, there are leaders within the Republican Party to carry this banner. Governor Mike Pence, who was recently tapped as the vice presidential nominee, has achieved remarkable success expanding school choice in Indiana, which now boasts one of the largest voucher programs in the country. Just as commendable are the citizen advocates, like those participating in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference this week, who demand education be accountable to those closest to it.

The Every Student Succeeds Act marks a unique devolution of the federal overreach into education. For the first time in decades, states will have nearly full autonomy over, and responsibility for, the outcomes of their students. I urge conservative leaders, parents and educators to join us in advancing principled policies that will ensure this moment produces the type of education systems that will equip our young people to lead.

William J. Bennett is a former U.S. Secretary of Education for President Ronald Reagan and host of America Strong: The Bill Bennett Podcast.

 

Conservative Leader William Bennett to Lead Coalition of Republican Education Leaders

GOP Leaders With Bold Vision for Shaping Education Policy In Their State Will Do So Through Local Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act

Washington – William J. Bennett, former Education Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, noted author, and award-winning professor in academia will chair a new organization called Conservative Leaders for Education. Comprised of leading Republican state lawmakers and education policy makers, the initiative’s focus will be to ensure that conservative principles and reforms gain traction in state policy decisions and ESSA implementation. The impetus for the formation of the group was last year’s enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and returns much of the control and decision making in education policy back to the states. ESSA requires states to develop state-specific implementation plans covering things like teacher evaluations, assessments, and plans on how they will intervene in the states’ lowest performing schools.

“For years, conservatives have pushed for more local control of education, and now they have it thanks to ESSA. But it’s critically important that Republicans now take an active role in shaping the implementation of this new law in their states so that all students benefit from the best education possible,” said Secretary Bennett. “Republicans currently control more state legislatures than at any time in modern history. ESSA presents us with a unique window in time to shape education policies in a way that leaves a lasting and meaningful imprint.”

The initial group of coalition members consists of state education chairs across eight different states- AL, AZ, CO, KY, MI, OH, UT and WI- with the plan to continue to add additional members who are interested in shaping their local education policy.

“The Left is already mobilizing around the ESSA implementation process and rallying support for what they believe is important. There needs to be balance in the system and a platform for conservatives to voice their views, exchange ideas, and provide information to others looking for help,” said Kentucky Senator, Mike Wilson.

“The Conservative Leaders for Education coalition provides legislators like myself who have not been entrenched in education policy for the past decade a unique opportunity to come together and collaborate on how to best move forward under ESSA,” said Representative Amanda Price, chair of the Michigan House Education Committee. “I am hopeful that the new state flexibility under ESSA will enable us to create more ambitious, state- specific goals and aspirations for our education system, but that will only be possible if we design our state accountability systems based upon principles that support the rights of parents, encourage transparency, and engender accountability.”

Conservative Leaders for Education was founded on a set of four conservative core principles that will help drive these key decision makers in their states as the new law is implemented. Those principles include:

  1. Local Control: Reaffirm that educating students is predominately the responsibility of states and localities, especially in the areas of funding, personnel, reviving poorly performing schools, and academic standards and aligned tests.
  2. Parent Choice: Advance educational choices and innovation for parents and students by trusting that parents will do what is best for their children, while not absolving lawmakers from providing oversight.
  3. Accountability: Demand that states, local districts, and individual schools be transparent through the provision of information to parents that is accessible, timely, comparable, and easy-to-understand. Superintendents, principals, teachers, and others need to be held accountable fairly for student learning or the lack of it.
  4. Quality Content: Assert that high academic standards and aligned tests – both chosen by the state – are crucial because they evaluate what a student is learning.

 

 

As ESSA Shifts Influence to States, the Map Favors GOP Power Players

You may have read over and over that the Every Student Succeeds Act shifts more power over education policy to states. But what you may be less familiar with is the overall political landscape in the states. It sounds like a simple issue, but it could have a profound effect on how states decide to approach the new federal education law. So let’s ask the question of states: Who’s in charge here?

Relying partially on information from the National Conference of State Legislatures as of April 20, we’ve put together a map that shows not just the partisan control of state legislatures and governorships, but also, where applicable, the party of state schools chiefs and how that compares to the partisan control of state government. (There are nine states in which superintendents are elected as members of a political party… [more]