There was great fanfare last December when Congress finally replaced No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act.  This was hailed as a drastic turn from the Federal government dictating to states and local school systems how they should operate.  Instead, the law was touted as returning control to the local level.

However, as with such things, the devil is in the details.  Which in this case means the regulations being developed by the U.S.. Department of Education that school systems will have to adhere to.

Now the Network for Public Education is calling attention to proposed regulations that appear to turn the intent of ESSA on its head.

According to NPE, Although the intent of ESSA was to put an end to the “test and punish” regime of NCLB and give more flexibility to the states, in some ways the draft regulations are even more punitive and prescriptive than under NCLB.

For example, although ESSA permits states to pass laws allowing parents to opt their children out of taking the state tests, the draft regulations would require states to harshly punish or label as failing, schools in which more than 5% of students opt out.

The regulations would also require that every public school in the country receive a single grade–based primarily on test scores and other strictly academic factors — even though the law properly leaves it up to the states to devise their own grading systems within certain limits. This would impose simplistic and damaging school grades that have already been found defective in many states and districts across the country.

In each case, the US Department of Education is foisting its own preferences while tying the hands of states, districts, parents, and educators to devise their own accountability systems, as ESSA was supposed to encourage. Specifically:

Draft regulation 200.15: This would force states to intervene aggressively and/or fail schools in which more than 5% of students chose not to take the state tests. This violates the provision in ESSA recognizing “a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments”

Draft regulation 200.18: This would require that each school receive a single “summative” grade or rating, derived from combining at least three of the four indicators used to assess its performance.  Yet imposing a single grade on schools has been shown in states and districts across the nation to be overly simplistic, unreliable and unfair, and is nowhere mentioned in the law. This is why it has been severely criticized in Florida, for example, and why NYC has moved away from such a system.

For many education “reform” watchers, this overreach is hardly a surprise considering that President Obama’s Secretary of Education is John King, former head of education for the state of New York.  King’s penchant for decisions not in the best interest of public education was well known before he got to Washington.

Of particular interest to Alabama is the regulation requiring schools be graded with a single grade.  This is the very thing required by Act No. 2012-402 that we have now spent untold hours and dollars on in trying to figure out an equitable way to implement it.  More commonly known as the A-F grading bill passed in 2012 by Rep. Terri Collins.

Two questions immediately come to mind.  1) If ESSA will require that we identify schools in such a manner, why are we continuing to try do the same with a separate Alabama law?  2)  One would think that any move embraced by the Obama administration would never be endorsed by Republicans in Alabama.  But that does not seem to be the case.