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Ed. Dept. Outlines ESSA Transition on Tutoring, School Choice, Teachers

UPDATED

The Every Student Succeeds Act may be an honest-to-goodness law, but it won't be fully in place until the 2017-18 school year, when we'll have a new president and secretary of education.

Between now and then, the feds, states, and school districts are in a sort of no-man's land between the previous version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, plus the Obama administration's waivers and ESSA.

ESSA will make the waivers null and void on August 1 of this year, making the 2016-17 school year a time of big transition. 

So how will that work? The U.S. Department of Education already gave states some specifics, and Thursday, they put out some more detailed information.

Some highlights of the latest guidance:

Choice and Tutoring for States Without Waivers

States that don't have waivers from the NCLB law (including California) have been asking the department if their districts will still need to set aside 20 percent of their Title I money for tutoring and school choice, for schools that don't meet achievement targets. The short answer: Nope, they won't have to do that anymore. 

Instead, non-waiver states will have a choice. They can either a) stick with tutoring and school choice, or b) come up with another plan that targets schools that have missed achievement targets for multiple years. If they go with Option B they don't have to set aside 20 percent  of their Title I funds for tutoring and school choice.

That piece of guidance affects just the eight states that don't have waivers from the NCLB law: California, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Washington, Wyoming, and Vermont. Those states can look forward to additional guidance from the department on how to craft their interim plans.

Test Participation

Under ESSA and a recent budget law, formula grants, like Title I, stay under No Child Left Behind Act rules for the 2016-17 school year, with some exceptions that we'll get into below. So what does that mean for testing-participation rates? Under both ESSA and NCLB, schools will still need to meet the requirement that 95 percent of students take state tests for the next two years. ESSA allows states to decide what happens in schools that miss that target, while under NCLB they were automatic failures. But, since we're still in a transition period, the ESSA language on participation rates won't kick in until the 2017-18 school year, when the new plans are approved and fully in place. So between now and then, the feds get to enforce the 95 percent requirement, just like they did under NCLB and its waivers. 

Teachers

States no longer have to continue to ensure that teachers meet NCLB's "highly qualified" definition (which calls for teachers to have a bachelor's degree and state certification in the subject they're teaching). That makes sense because ESSA gets rid of the requirement anyway. But importantly, states will still be expected to implement the plans for equitable teacher distribution that they submitted earlier this year. Many of those plans rely partly on HQT, but also other factors, including teacher effectiveness.

School Improvement

The 42 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with waivers from NCLB can focus just on their 5 percent lowest-performing schools (priority schools) and those with really big achievement gaps (another 10 percent focus schools). States can either stick with their current lists of those schools, or come up with a new list in March. To make sure the transition to ESSA goes smoothly, the department is allowing states to target their Title I funds for school improvement in essentially the same way they did under waivers.  

English-Language Learners

ESSA and NCLB handle accountability for these students differently. (More on ESSA's approach here). For now, states can freeze their lists of schools that have been identified as not meeting targets for these students and continue to help them improve, just like they are doing with low-performing schools. 

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