Education reform: Building ESSA (Part 1) — interview with Lindsay Fryer | VIEWPOINT

Lindsay: I think keeping your principles in
line as you’re negotiating and making sure that, you know, you can’t compromise on these
things, but you can on these things. That’s how you get legislation done. Rick: Hey, I’m Rick Hess, Director of Education
Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Great to have you with us today. I’ve got the privilege of being joined by
my good friend and colleague, Lindsay Fryer, Vice President at the Penn Hill Group, former
K-12 Lead for Senator Lemar Alexander, who was point for Senator Alexander as two years
ago when the U.S. Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. The way overdue re-authorization of the No
Child Left Behind Act. Lindsay, first question, for folks who kind
of follow these things, but don’t know the ins and outs, what is the Every Student Succeeds
Act and how big a deal is it? Lindsay: So the Every Student Succeeds Act
reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is the chief education
K-12 law governing education in this country. And this was a pretty major re-authorization. We’d had No Child Left Behind which was probably
the most famous re-authorization of ESEA since ’65, I’d say, which had in place very strict
federal mandates about what states had to do in order to get federal money. And there’s a lot of strings attached to it. And the entire education community had gotten
tired of that law and then other conditions placed on it through the Obama administration
and Arne Duncan’s Waiver. So ESSA was a chance to really reset the clock
and say, let’s re-examine the federal role in education. Let’s return some control back to states and
school districts. And so it’s a huge deal because the law essentially
does that. Rick: So if you look at Every Student Succeeds
Act kind of from a little bit of a distance, what are two or three or four of the biggest,
most important things that it did? Lindsay: So I would say the first is, it definitely
restored state and local control and it turns a lot of decision making power back from the
Department of Education the Secretary of Education telling states what to do, really putting
that decision back in the hands of states and school districts. So that’s the first thing. And that was the real intended goal, I’d say
bipartisanly, across the board. Second thing is, probably one of the most
hotly debated topics that the Congress had over this was the issue of assessment and
testing. Everybody talks about it all the time. And under No Child Left Behind, you basically
had a federal test saying this is the one point in time to show whether or not your
school is failing or succeeding. The test mattered so much. And what ESSA does is say, the tests are still
important. It’s still important to know how students
are achieving, but it shouldn’t be the be all end all as to if your school is succeeding
or failing. So ESSA really said, we’ll keep the tests,
but we’ll return control about the decisions of the results of those tests to states and
districts. And it’s your decision to figure out what
to do with them and how to use them as a barometer to judge whether or not your school is succeeding
or failing. And that was one of the main things that ESSA
addressed really figuring out how to re-balance the focus on tests. And then, lastly, I’d say is we’ve seen a
lot of Secretary creep in terms of interfering in state and local decision making and the
law puts in place very strict prohibitions on the Secretary to say, these are the things
you can and cannot add to state and local plans, state and local decision making and
really to keep him or her away from decisions that were meant to be state and local. Rick: So what’s an example of that, when you
say prohibitions on the Secretary? Lindsay: So I think the biggest one is states
have a lot of flexibility in what indicators to choose in their accountability system. There’s some parameters and guardrails around
that, but there’s a lot of leeway to say, what do you want to do to, again, determine
whether your school is succeeding or failing? How do you want to weigh certain things together
to judge your schools? And one of the prohibitions says the Secretary
cannot force you to say, you know, it has to be school climate, it has to be bullying
that you have to include in there. You can figure out what you as a state want
to include, and then how to weigh all those indicators together to look at your schools
across the gambit. So the Secretary can’t interfere with that,
can’t interfere with anything to do with your state standards. So, you know, common core was a hugely debated
topic and that’s partially because the federal government got involved with something that
was originally a state idea for states to come together and figure out what good standards
look like and adopt those if they so choose. But then the federal government said, “Well,
actually, we think this is a great idea and we’re gonna give everyone extra points or
give them a waiver if they adopt the common core state standards.” Now that type of activity could never happen
again. There’s very strict prohibitions about federal
interference with state standards. So I think those are two major examples there. Rick: And how did that play out on the Hill? So were there people who were saying, “Look,
if there’s good standards, of course Washington should push states to use them because they’re
good. And we can’t give states too much control
over how to judge if schools are doing okay, because some states might make bad decisions
for kids”? Were there people saying that and how did
you negotiate where ESSA wound up? Lindsay: So definitely, I’d say this general
framing of accountability was the most hotly debated topic during re-authorization and
standards fit within to that frame. The biggest thing I think in terms of the
standards is there actually was bipartisan, bicameral agreement that the Secretary shouldn’t
be interfering with state standards because the politics around Common Core, I think. Something again that should have been left
up to the states to adopt if they wanted became a federal thing. And so I think that across the board everybody
said, “Let’s pump the brakes on this and make sure that the secretary can’t get involved
with this in the future.” But the idea of how they fit into accountability
systems and if states are settings high bars for their students and then what to do if
the states bars aren’t high enough, that was definitely a big negotiation point. And you had Republicans saying, “Complete
hands off from the department of Ed,” and the Democrats saying, “Well, we do need some
federal involvement, maybe less than No Child Left Behind. But we still want some,” I believe they called
them guardrails, “federal parameters about what was really important for the department
to look at.” And so it was just this push pull of what’s
the federal role in education. That fundamental question, you know it sounds
like a cliche sometimes, but it really did come down to Democrats versus Republicans
saying, “Well, less versus more and what’s the sweet spot? What’s the middle ground?” And that’s where the compromise point needed
to be made. Rick: And on these guardrails that you’re
talking about, when somebody says, “Hey, that state’s standards aren’t high enough. That state has…” Like how do we know? Who judges what’s high enough and who judges
what’s like a necessary guardrail? How does that all work? Lindsay: One thing for sure is the Secretary
no longer says whether or not a state’s standards are good enough. I think the point of ESSA was to say let’s
give states a shot. Let them figure out what academic achievement
they want their students to have and what goals are good enough. And let’s use institutions of higher ed within
that state to kind of align K-12 to higher ed. So you say, my standards are aligned so that
when students graduate from high school they’re entering college without the need for remediation. They’re entering college being able to take
credit-bearing coursework without the need to be held back. So that was the minimal descriptions that
states had to consider within the setting of their standards. And then it’s up to them to put that out to
the public. And the public should decide whether or not
those are good enough, and whether the goals that they set in regards to those standards
are good enough. So, you know, we really wanted the states
to take charge of that. We learned a lot, I’d say in the past decade,
about education and we thought we wanted to set the states off on a path to really say
these are our standards, these are our goals, let’s see if this works for us. Rick: So what were a couple of the real sticking
points then as you guys were negotiating this? Lindsay: I would say, again, back to this
idea of accountability, you know, how many indicators needed to be in the accountability
system. So, you know, No Child Left Behind just had
tests and graduation rates. So we wanted to add stuff around English Language
Learner Proficiency being that the population of the U.S. has changed significantly. Rick: And the “we” here is? Lindsay: “We” being, I’d say, Congress, in
generally speaking. So Republicans and Democrats, both sides of
the Capitol, Senate and House wanted to…like what indicators are enough, like how many
should we have? So, again, Republicans wanted less. Democrats wanted more. This idea of things that haven’t been measured
before, like school climate or bullying or social and emotional learning…there’s a
lot of interest around that, especially from the Democrats, I would say. Should those be included in a more high stakes
accountability system? That was a huge sticking point. And the agreement was, well, let’s let the
states decide. They can include those measures if they want,
but we’re not gonna tell them to do that. I’d say the weighting of indicators, academics
versus non-academics…if we were gonna allow some non-academic measures in there, what
the weights of those would be. That was a huge sticking point because a lot
of my Democratic colleagues really wanted the academics to be the be all end all, and
place a high focus and prescription on what the weights needed to be. And then again the Republicans were more like,
let’s let the states figure out how to get the conglomeration of these indicators together
to determine whether our schools are successful. So… Rick: Now how did that come out? Lindsay: So I think we came to pretty interesting
ground there. We said all academic measures have to be significant
in the accountability system in terms of they’re given significant weight. And, in the aggregate, all the academic indicators
together have to weigh more than any non-academic indicators. But the states decide what the weights are
and there’s a prohibition on the back end to make sure the Secretary can’t interfere
with those weights. Rick: And when you say academic indicators,
what are those? Lindsay: So graduation rates, math and reading
test scores, English language proficiency, those are the academic indicators I’m talking
about, student growth as well. Rick: And those have to be more than half
of how schools are graded. Lindsay: Each of them individually has to
be significant, which the state decides what that means, and then in the aggregate more
than non-academics. Rick; And in the negotiation, how much of
issue was school choice, was charter schooling, that kind of stuff? Lindsay: Pretty significant, I mean, Senator
Alexander and Chairman Cline at the time…you know, school choice is important to them. Senator Alexander often said, you know, if
he had his druthers and he was writing his own education law, he would make everything
a voucher and have the voucher follow the child to the school they attend, public or
private. So, you know, that was a debated issue in
the Senate. The amendment failed, that he offered. So, you know, it did come up again in negotiations
because the house had a portability proposal wherein Title 1 dollars, just Title 1 dollars,
follow kids to the public school that they attended. So it was definitely discussed. In the end of the day, you know, Alexander
felt he had had his shot. His amendment failed, so he lived to fight
another day. Cline kind of felt the same way, because the
Democrats didn’t want any type of that proposal there. So we decided not to include that aspect of
school choice. But there’s very bipartisan support around
the charter schools program and, you know, a lot of work together to make sure that was
included to strengthen the program so that states have an opportunity, not just to open
new schools, but replicate and expand existing schools and, you know, look at their authorizing
practices. So there’s a lot of bipartisan support around
that program. Rick: You know, one of the issues that was
part of the conversation was trying to gives states districts more flexibility about how
to use federal dollars. Could you talk a little bit about how that
got talked about and what the law changed if anything there? Lindsay: Yeah, so I think in terms of like
the fundamentals about how money flows to states and then to districts, we didn’t change
too much with regards to the funding formulas, except for Title 2, I’d say. There was a funding formula change, so there
will be some… Rick: And Title 2 is? Lindsay: Title 2 is the title in ESSA that
focuses on teachers and teacher training. So the fundamentals of how money flows didn’t
change. I think just the politics around that is very
interesting. It’s not Republican versus Democrat. It’s winners and losers in states. Who loses money? Who gains money? It’s very difficult to change funding formulas
in a re-authorization. But I think this idea of flexibility…you
know, there’s a lot more room for states to figure out how they want to spend their money
and on what activities they think are important than I’d say in the past. And the other thing that, it’s probably a
less talked about provision, is something called transferability, where you can move
money between titles. You know, like I talked about the funding
formulas, by the way that states and districts get their money. But once you get your money, you have flexibility
with how to move it around between certain titles to say, these are the initiatives that
are important to me as a district, as a state and this is how I wanna spend my money. There’s a lot more of that then there was
in the past. Rick: Hey everyone, thanks for watching part
one of our discussion with Penn Hill Vice President, Lindsay Fryer. If you enjoyed what you saw, remember to like
the video or leave us a comment. And if you want to see more check out part
number 2.

1 thought on “Education reform: Building ESSA (Part 1) — interview with Lindsay Fryer | VIEWPOINT”

  1. I think using the state universities and even international university standards as an academic yardstick to measure school progress is a wonderful idea.

    Non-academic measures should be something looked at and handled by school counselors, administrators, and others who influence school culture and environment so that they can make corrections and help schools to be more welcoming and conducive to learning.

    I think the biggest issue will always be the amount of funding we give to public schools in each state and whether these measures will affect that funding, where the funding comes from, etc. Finland, while certainly a bit more homogeneous of a culture than America, is great in that they have a focus from all the citizenry on good education and they are willing to have their money go to paying teachers well, and the teachers are well educated in the best educational research has to offer, and the schools get lots of autonomy in what they do.

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