January 11, 2016

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AASA Statement on ESSA Implementation

Today, the U.S. Department of Education held the first of two public hearings on regulating the Every Student Succeeds Act. Education Week summarized the responses here. Speaking for AASA, Dan Domenech gave the following statement: 

"Good afternoon. I am Dan Domenech, Executive Director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. AASA is the national professional organization representing the nation’s 10,000 public school superintendents. As I recently penned in a thank you note to the Congress members who led the effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): 

'I started at AASA in 2008, when Congress was just one year (in what would prove to be an 8 year effort) into ESEA reauthorization. Reauthorization has long been a priority of our members, who were focused on revising No Child Left Behind and delivering a comprehensive and updated piece of legislation that provided federal parameters while returning autonomy and authority to the state and local level. Our members prioritized an approach that preserved a federal focus on equity that strengths and supports—rather than prescribes and dictates to—our nation’s schools. In ESSA, Congress delivered both.'

AASA looks forward to working with the Department as you move forward with ESSA regulation. We appreciate the expediency with which the Department is undertaking the regulation process and strongly encourage the Department to move regulations that are in line with the spirit of the ESSA statute and that reflect the input and feedback of stakeholders. By focusing the federal role on strengthening and supporting public schools, and avoiding any tendency to unnecessarily prescribe and dictate, the Department can and must work to implement ESSA in a manner that reflects the expanded authority and flexibility now granted to the education experts at the state and local level.

ESSA makes clear Congress’ intent that states be solely responsible for the development and implementation of, and decisions regarding, all aspects of their State accountability systems.  Section 1111(e) clearly states the Secretary may not add any requirements or criteria outside the scope of this Act, and further says the Secretary may not take any action that would “be in excess of statutory authority given to the Secretary. This is an idea with broad bipartisan support, as the conference report itself writes, 'While it is the intent of the Conferees to allow the Secretary to issue regulations and guidance to clarify the intent and implement the law, Conferees intend to prohibit any such regulation that would create new requirements inconsistent with or outside the scope of the law.'

The Department kicked off the regulatory process with a pair of public hearings and a quick 30-day comment period on Title I regulations. Title I is where many of the onerous, punitive elements of NCLB originated. ESSA represents the first time in 15 years that state and local education agencies can demonstrate what they can do in the accountability and assessment arena absent federal overreach and prescription, while preserving student-sub group accountability and graduation rate data. AASA urges the Department to start its regulatory process by remembering that state and local educators are in the business of education to serve children, that they are professionals much better positioned to know the intricacies of local systems and implementation, and to practice restraint in designing their regulations to ensure that USED efforts do not overstep the intent of ESSA or move to recreate elements of the broken NCLB.

This is also an excellent opportunity for the Department to assume a leadership role in advocating for the transformative changes that technology and personalized learning can bring to education. By re-examining the rules and regulations that, for example, tie credit-bearing courses with seat time requirements, perpetuate the agrarian school calendar in the twenty-first century, and ignore competency based accountability systems in favor of standardized testing, USED can lead by empowering school districts to implement critical technology and personalized learning opportunities in flexible ways that best meet the needs of the schools and students they serve.

Thank you for convening this public hearing, and I appreciate the opportunity to share these comments today. We look forward to working with USED on, and ensuring the involvement of our nation’s public school superintendents in, the many facets of ESSA implementation. "


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