Education – Department of Education Releases ESSA Resources on Accountability and English Language Learners

The U.S. Department of Education released additional resources on January 19 to support States in transitioning to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Frequently Asked Questions on Accountability under Title I, Part A of law provides an overview of many of the key provisions for accountability and school improvement and includes descriptions of how States and local education agencies may meet these requirements, provides examples, and links to other related non-regulatory guidance. The resource guide on accountability for English learners describes accountability provisions for English learners in greater detail, including how they compare to previous authorizations of the law.

Education – Senate to Hold Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Education Nominee

The January 11 hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education was postponed and will now be held on January 17. The Department of Education is responsible for implementation of federal education laws including Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Visit the Committeeweb site for more information or to access live video the day of the hearing.

Education – U.S Department of Education Releases ESSA Guidance

On January 10, 2017, the U.S. Department of Education released a series of resources to support States in their transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The guidance documents are intended to provide additional clarity on the role of States, districts, and schools under the ESSA to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education and that they graduate from high school prepared for success in college and careers.

  • The Consolidated State Plan guidance is intended to help States plan to meet requirements regarding improved student academic achievement and increased quality of instruction.
  • The State and Local Report Cards guidance is intended to help implement requirements regarding increasing transparency and informing students, parents, and educators on the success of students and schools.
  • The High School Graduation Rate guidance is intended to help calculate a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, disaggregated by subgroups (including students with disabilities).

Education – Supreme Court Hears IDEA Case

On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of a Colorado student with autism, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.Endrew’s parents withdrew their son (known as Drew) from public school and enrolled him in a private school after his individualized education program (IEP) proposed goals for fifth grade that closely resembled goals for earlier years. This case addressed the following question: what level of educational benefit must school districts confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? The Arc joined other disability advocates in filing an amicus brief in November that argues that Congress’s move to standards based education, combined with the specific language of the amendments to the IDEA, make the Tenth Circuit’s merely-more-than-de-minimis standard untenable. The brief argued that these amendments make clear that a school district’s educational interventions must provide a child with a disability an equal opportunity to meet the standards the district applies to all children and that any deviation from that universal standard must be tied to the unique needs of the child. For more information about the oral argument, see the argument analysis from SCOTUSblog. A decision is expected this summer.

On December 28, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released three new sets of guidance packages to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities:

Education – Senate to Hold Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Education Nominee

On January 11, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education. The Department of Education is responsible for implementation of federal education laws including Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Visit the Committee web site for more information or to access live video the day of the hearing.

Education – ESSA Regulations on Assessments Finalized

On December 7, the Department of Education released final regulations on assessments in public schools. These regulations implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 require states to continue testing students every year, but provide more flexibility for states to try out new kinds of tests or use a nationally recognized college entrance test (such as the SAT) at the high school level. Among other things, the final regulations tweak the criteria for deciding when a state can get a waiver for exceeding the cap on the percentage of students who can take an alternate assessment based on alternative achievement standards (AA-AAS). The default cap of 1% of all students being tested was set to ensure that only students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities” take an AA-AAS. Many states preclude students who only take an AA-AAS from receiving a regular high school diploma. Read a fact sheet on the final regulations here and see the waiver language here.

Education – Secretary Calls for End to Corporal Punishment in Schools

On November 22, Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. sent a letter to governors and state education officials urging an end to the use of corporal punishment. “School-sponsored corporal punishment is not only ineffective, it is a harmful practice, and one that disproportionally impacts students of color and students with disabilities,” King wrote. There are 22 states that either expressly permit in-school corporal punishment or where no state law prohibits it. The 15 states that expressly permit corporal punishment are AL, AZ, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, MO, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, and WY. The seven states where no state law prohibits corporal punishment are CO, ID, IN, KS, MA, NH, and SD. According to the Department of Education’s data, 110,000 students were subjected to some type of physical punishment in school during the 2013-2014 academic year.

Education/Civil Rights – Dept. of Education Releases Report on School Resource Officers

Last week the Department of Education released new resources related to the hiring and training of school resource officers (SROs). These are the latest efforts by the Departments of Education and Justice to reshape school discipline by pushing back against zero-tolerance policies, some of which have led to claims of SROs violating students’ civil rights, including incidents of restraint and seclusion. The resources include guidelines created for local and state policymakers that outline best practices for creating agreements between schools and local law enforcement agencies. Those best practices will now serve as requirements for SROs hired through Department of Justice grants. For hiring and training school police, the Department of Education outlined a list of recommended actions for policymakers including seeking community input when creating agreements with law enforcement agencies, establishing a process for evaluating SROs, and training officers on issues such as child development and the appropriate use of restraint. See the resources here and here.

Education – Report on Private Schools and Equitable Services Released

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new study examining the growth of private school choice programs and their impact on federal funds for eligible students. According to the study, participation in voucher and education savings account (ESA) programs doubled in the past 5 years, from approximately 70,000 students to approximately 140,000 students. Similarly, funding for these programs has also increased, from approximately $400 million to $859 million. Under laws and regulations for two key federal grant programs, public school districts are required to provide equitable services, including special education and related services for students with disabilities, to eligible private school students. However, they do not specifically address providing these services to students in private school choice programs. Education officials in all the surveyed states maintained that vouchers and ESAs complicate their efforts to implement these programs. To resolve the complication, GAO recommended that the Department of Education include quality information to clarify requirements and responsibilities for student funding eligibility. Read GAO’s study here.