'Quality Counts' examines headwinds in ESSA implementation

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Education Week's "Quality Counts 2017" report puts a premium on partnership, collaboration and—above all—direction as essential ingredients for states to develop plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act in the 2017-18 school year.

The latest entry in this widely watched series focuses on ESSA implementation. A major concern, the editors stress, is the wide variation in state-level capacity to develop implementation strategies under the new federal benchmark law for K-12 schools. "ESSA gives states and districts greater flexibility, but it also asks a lot of them. … States are pressing forward with their own ESSA blueprints, honed in many cases after months of outreach, multiple listening tours, and hours of meetings."

Another big unknown, the report observes, lies with the White House. "President-elect Donald Trump's upset victory in November has muddied the waters at the federal level." In the past year, the Obama administration has crafted regulations for accountability, spending and testing under ESSA, "but it's unclear how much of that work will end up influencing the law's direction in the long run. The incoming Trump administration will get to decide whether to delay, tweak or toss those regulations."

Under Trump and his pick for education secretary, voucher and charter advocate Betsy DeVos, the danger is real that the administration may seek to scuttle the hard-fought compromise that is ESSA. "Some of Trump's campaign proposals—like redirecting $20 billion in federal funding to help students attend the private, public, or home school of their choice—would likely require renegotiating the portion of ESSA that deals with the formula for distributing Title I dollars to states and districts," the report says.

The full report is available online.

The AFT has an online community to help affiliates participate effectively in ESSA-related issues at the state level. It includes sample legislative language, timelines for the ESSA transition, an FAQ, webinars and more. The site is also designed as a hub to help AFT specialists in different districts and states exchange information and discuss strategy related to the law. For access, leaders and affiliate staffers are invited to contact Emily Kopilow (ekopilow@aft.org) in the AFT educational issues department.

[Mike Rose]