Has the US Dept of Education Become a “Rubber Stamp?”

Recent research shows that the US Department of Education has approved nearly all state plan approval requests for state waivers under the Every Student Succeeds Act – even from states that have ignored or defied federal guidelines.

The federal ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015) was designed to give national-level guidance to state -level school oversight. Typically, this has come in the form of federal plan approvals, or waivers, depending on the terminology of the federal law being applied.

EDR_society1_logo-1500900485403The research, published in Educational Researcher, and available for purchase online, shows that the US Department of Education has edged toward blanket approvals, noting “the current administration’s reliance on negotiation over sanction.”

From the abstract:

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has generated considerable buzz in education circles and the general media. But how much has really changed, and what does this mean for states as they begin the process of implementing a new federal education law?

. . .

Ultimately, however, states that ignored or defied federal feedback were successful given both the limits ESSA places on U.S. Department of Education authority and the current administration’s reliance on negotiation over sanction. Thus far, this approach has ensured states are realizing the maximum flexibility available through the law, as all state plans were approved, regardless of whether states heeded federal feedback and complied with the law.

Analysis on the Education Dive site follows up:

In cases where ED asked for more details on specific aspects of a state’s plan, state officials often provided more information, but they didn’t necessarily change anything, the authors write. Under the previous No Child Left Behind law, states’ plans often remained under “conditional approval,” but the authors’ review of ED’s feedback suggests federal officials are “willing to grant states increased power and flexibility under ESSA; state education leaders simply have to reach out and grab it.”

For more analysis, read the full coverage on Education Dive.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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