Fed law could prompt Mass. to rethink education approaches
By State House News Service | February 10, 2016, 16:02 EST
STATE HOUSE — A new federal education law that shifts some control from Washington D.C. to individual states will give Massachusetts a chance to reconsider several pieces of its education system, a policy expert told lawmakers Wednesday.
Passed in December, the Every Student Succeeds Act replaces No Child Left Behind as the latest reauthorization of the 50-year-old national education law originally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Beverly Miyares, a professional development specialist at the Massachusetts Teachers Association Center for Education Policy and Practice, described the law’s new provisions as a shift away from “substantial” federal authority over K-12 education.
“The general thought is that under ESSA, the federal control is greatly reduced, and if you ever are charged with reading the 1,059 pages, I suspect you may be struck with some of the language where there are specific prohibitions as to what the secretary [of education] cannot do,” Miyares told legislators and staff during a briefing Wednesday. “And if you’ve lived through education policy in the last few years, you’ll see this as a very clear reaction to where we’ve been for the last several years.”
The new law stipulates that the U.S. education secretary cannot prescribe accountability indicators or set a minimum number of students required to report in a particular subgroup, Miyares said, as well as including “very broad statements about what the secretary cannot do” such as restraints against new data collection.
Under Title I of the act, states will also now be tasked with determining their own long-range goal for education improvement, part of a plan that must be submitted to federal education officials for approval. No Child Left Behind set an original goal of having all students proficient by 2014, and the current Massachusetts goal under a flexibility waiver is to decrease proficiency gaps by 50 percent by 2017.
State education officials could make as simple an adjustment to the long-range goal as extending the timeframe or “change it completely,” Miyares said.
Miyares said the state could also use the new law to rethink its accountability system, which assigns each school a level from 1-5 annually, with interventions for the lowest performing schools. The ESSA calls for the identification of 5 percent of the lowest performing schools every three years for “comprehensive support,” plus “targeted support” for schools with low-performing subgroups.
“We should think about whether it makes sense to identify schools every year,” Miyares said. “What would it be if we only did it every three years? How could that be a positive influence and a positive effect on what’s happening in schools, to let them think about longer-term improvements rather than having them show improvement every single year?”
The Every Student Succeeds Act also gives states more flexibility in school turnaround strategies and educator evaluations.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who hosted the briefing on the new law along with Rep. Alice Peisch, said afterwards there is “still so much unknown” about potential impacts on Massachusetts. Chang-Diaz and Peisch co-chair the Joint Committee on Education.
“Some people have sort of described some of the things we did as a state over the past few years as, ‘We did that because the feds made us,’ and the big question that this reauthorization is going to prompt is, how much is that correct,” Chang-Diaz told the News Service. “How much did we make decisions because there was a lot of incentive or pressure from the federal government or how much was because the people of Massachusetts thought that was good policy? I’m sure it’s not going to be a binary answer.”
The 2016-2017 school year is expected to be a “transition year” in which states develop their Title I plans, Miyares said. The new state plans, as approved by the U.S. Department of Education, would go into effect no later than the 2017 to 2018 school year.
“There’s a lot of question marks here, a lot of opportunities, and I hope we’ll start to see soon how this is going to play out for Massachusetts,” Miyares said.
— Written by Katie Lannan
Copyright State House News Service