January 21, 2016
Ms. Deborah Spitz
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW, Room 3E306
Washington, DC 20202
Docket ID: ED-2015-OESE-0130
Dear Ms. Spitz:
On behalf of Chiefs for Change, thank you for the opportunity to provide recommendations on implementing programs under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). P.L. 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), reflects many of the key priorities of our organization and we are firmly committed to its successful implementation.
Chiefs for Change is an organization of state and local education leaders who have implemented achievement-boosting education policies in our own states and communities, and we are committed to ensuring more children succeed by supporting the implementation of such policies and practices nationwide. We enthusiastically support the new law’s focus on ensuring more flexibility, providing choices for children in struggling schools, and maintaining provisions to help ensure no student falls through the cracks.
Our state and local leaders are already at work designing new accountability systems to leverage the expanded flexibility provided under ESSA to provide meaningful identification of schools in need of support and to develop evidence-based interventions designed to improve student outcomes. We are also working with our state and local partners to create a diverse pipeline of education leaders that will improve student outcomes and lead to successful implementation of ESSA. As this work continues, we intend to be very involved in the rulemaking process to ensure our efforts are not inadvertently impaired by overly-prescriptive rules and regulations that fail to account for unique local needs and circumstances.
Support for state and local flexibility in ESSA implementation does not mean, however, we believe there is no role for the federal government in ensuring this law is successfully implemented. In fact, we believe the role the U.S. Department of Education will play in implementing the new law will be crucial to its success or failure. The federal government must strike a crucial balance between providing the flexibility state and local leaders need to be successful to adapt ESSA policy goals to conditions “on the ground,” while also providing the oversight and direction needed to ensure that the educational needs of all children are adequately addressed throughout the nation. We recognize that this balancing act will not be easy, but we trust that it can be achieved through a cooperative effort between the U.S. Department of Education and the entire education community. In that spirit, we offer the following broad suggestions for ESSA regulations and guidance.
Focusing on Academics
Chiefs for Change believes that state accountability systems should be driven first and foremost by student academic indicators. ESSA requires states to include at least one indicator of “school quality” which may, or may not, be related to student learning outcomes. While the law requires this indicator to be a “substantial” factor in how states differentiate among schools, the academic factors must have a “much greater” weight. “Substantial” is not a federally-defined term in the law, and Chiefs for Change members are committed to significantly limiting the extent to which any non-academic factor plays in the meaningful differentiation of schools. We urge the U.S. Department of Education to take steps to ensure any federal rule establishes the absolute primacy of academic indicators in state accountability systems. In our view, accountability systems that rely too heavily on non-academic indicators will severely restrict the ability of educators to identify and support learners who need the most help, and, as a result, dramatically reduce the overall effectiveness of ESSA.
Measuring Achievement for All Students
Chiefs for Change members believe that annual measurement using statewide assessments is necessary to ensure accountability for academic results at the state and local level. As such, our state and local leaders are committed to policies that will hold schools and districts accountable for assessing at least 95 percent of all students and from each subgroup. We believe that any rulemaking related to the 95 percent assessment requirement must make it clear that there is no “wiggle room” when it comes to implementing this foundational provision.
Supporting Struggling Students
Chiefs for Change supports robust state accountability systems that measure and disaggregate outcomes for all students. Therefore, we are encouraged that the statutory language allows, and that good policy and practice encourages, state accountability systems to use such data to also focus interventions on the lowest-performing quartile of students. A focus on the lowest-performing students, from all backgrounds, is the single best way to make sure that no students are excluded from state and local accountability requirements due to factors related to subgroup or N-size classifications over which students and families have no control. Federal rulemaking must not inhibit the ability of states to continue to focus on the lowest-performing students.
Expanding Choices for Students
Chiefs for Change supports new provisions under ESSA that expand educational options available to students. We are very supportive of the updated Charter Schools Program and the ability of school districts to use Title I funds to pay for transportation to public charter schools. In addition, we are pleased that ESSA now allows states to use a portion of Title I funds to provide competitive grants to school districts to offer locally-determined “direct student services” that can be used to enable students in struggling schools to transfer to another public school, enroll in courses not otherwise available at the school, provide personalized learning, and other activities designed to improve student academic outcomes. We recommend that the Department encourage states and school districts to take advantage of this new opportunity for struggling students and caution against the creation of an overly complicated federal compliance system that diminishes the ability or desire of states to participate in activities that expand choices for students.
Chiefs for Change believes that ESSA signals a new era for federal and state efforts to improve educational achievement for all students. We realize that along with the greater flexibility granted to states under this bill comes more responsibility for states to get this right. Our states and local school districts are up to the task, and we look forward to working with the Department at the federal level to encourage the types of successful policies and practices being implemented in our partner states. Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything Chiefs for Change can do to assist with implementation of the new law.
Michael Magee, Jr.
Chief Executive Officer