Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ recent hiring of some individuals with controversial pasts and opinions (for example: an advocate of school choice, a past employee of a for profit college, and someone who has denounced feminism as well as affirmative action all the while stating she was discriminated against because she is white) and DeVos’ withdrawal of several Obama administration policy memos (that protected student loan consumers) are bringing education back into the limelight, thus let us look at two new laws that deal with education (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/04/devos-pick-head-civil-rights-discrimination-being-white; https://www.the74million.org/article/meet-the-9-new-staffers-tapped-to-fill-key-roles-in-secretary-betsy-devos-department-of-education; http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/04/devos-names-big-league-clinton-hater-to-civil-rights-job.html; http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/04/15/523447993/this-week-in-education-devos-announces-some-hires-free-college-and-free-textbook). H.J. Res 58 and H.J. Res 57 are the laws concerned with education and both revoke Federal Regulations, via the Congressional Review Act, that were established during the final months of the Obama administration.
As with the other laws that came to be through the Congressional Review Act, H.J. Res 58 (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-joint-resolution/58/text) is one sentence long and makes a regulation null and void. The Federal Regulation repealed has to do with the amended Higher Education Act of 1965, specifically with the provision about States and institutions of higher education assessing their teacher preparation programs (in most states this is either a college bachelor’s or master’s degree) on an annual basis and reporting the findings of this evaluation to the Department of Education (https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea98/index.html; https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/FR-2016-10-31/2016-24856).
The rationale behind this annual review and report is that since 90% of America’s children attend public schools (https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-571.pdf) and since children are a nation’s future, it is in the interest of a nation to ensure that children are receiving education from competent, well trained teachers. Thus one must evaluate the training programs which turn eager students into capable teachers. After conducting a survey, in 2015, the Government Accountability Office found that some States were not adequately assessing whether a teacher program was low performing and that half of the States deemed the (then) current reporting system “slightly useful” or worse and so the logical decision was made to update the reporting criteria: “The final regulations [that H.J. Res 58 overturned] address shortcomings in the current system by defining the indicators of quality that a State must use to assess the performance of its teacher preparation programs, including more meaningful indicators of program inputs and program outcomes, such as the ability of the program’s graduates to produce gains in student learning (understanding that not all students will learn at the same rate). The final regulations build on current State data systems and linkages and create a much-needed feedback loop to facilitate program improvement and provide valuable information to prospective teachers, potential employers, and the general public” (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/10/31/2016-24856/teacher-preparation-issues).
It seems laughable that a regulation as benign as this was overturned, until one pauses and remembers that a fundamental philosophical standpoint of DeVos and company is that education should not lie in the hands of government but rather in the hands of parents – thus gutting a regulation that allows the government to know the caliber of the nation’s teachers by knowing the caliber of teacher training programs makes sense, for government should be involved nowhere in the education process.
The philosophical underpinnings of H.J. Res 57 seem to be in the same vein as H.J. Res 58, for the regulation repealed would have been heralded as sound in a by-gone era. The Federal Regulation repealed had to do with Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was the name given to the 2015 bi-partisan renewal of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (search “H.R. 610” on our blog for a brief discussion of this Act). Before the 2015 renewal there was Bush’s renewal, called The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); NCLB tried to ensure that schools were of good quality by introducing state wide assessments – it was through these state wide assessments and one other indicator that schools were held accountable (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/11/29/2016-27985/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965-as-amended-by-the-every-student-succeeds).
Obama’s ESSA changed how schools would be held accountable, it introduced an “accountability system that is State-determined and based on multiple indicators, including, but not limited to, at least one indicator of school quality or student success and, at a State’s discretion, an indicator of student growth. The ESSA also significantly modified the requirements for differentiating among schools and the basis on which schools must be identified for further comprehensive or targeted support and improvement. Additionally, the ESSA no longer requires a particular sequence of escalating interventions in title I schools that are identified and continue to fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). Instead, it gives SEAs [State educational agency] and local educational agencies (LEAs) discretion to determine the evidence-based interventions that are appropriate to address the needs of identified schools” (source: same as above).
The specific regulation within ESSA that H.J. Res 57 repealed had a second modification to NCLB: “In addition to modifying the ESEA requirements for State accountability systems, the ESSA also modified and expanded upon the ESEA requirements for State and LEA report cards. The ESSA continues to require that report cards be concise, presented in an understandable and uniform format, and, to the extent practicable, in a language that parents can understand, but now also requires that they be developed in consultation with parents and that they be widely accessible to the public. The ESSA also requires that report cards include additional information that was not required to be included on report cards under the ESEA, as amended by the NCLB, such as information regarding per-pupil expenditures of Federal, State, and local funds; the number and percentage of students enrolled in preschool programs; where available, the rate at which high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education programs; information regarding the number and percentage of English learners achieving English language proficiency (ELP), and certain data collected through the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). In addition, the ESSA requires that report cards include certain information for subgroups of students for which information was not previously required to be reported, including homeless students, students in foster care, and students with a parent who is a member of the Armed Forces” (source: same as above).
H.J. Res 57 and H.J. Res 58, begin the march towards reducing the role government has in the educating our nation’s young.