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Want More Info on the Transition to ESSA? The Ed. Dept. Has an FAQ For You

As district and state officials know all too well, we're in a transition period between the outdated, much maligned No Child Left Behind Act and its waivers, and full implementation of the shiny new Every Student Succeeds Act.

The U.S. Department of Education has already released guidance on parts of how that transition will work. But Friday, the agency came out with an omnibus "here's what we have decided" frequently asked questions document. (Read the whole wonky thing here.)

The FAQ repeats a lot of information that states already have, or have probably guessed by now. For instance, waivers are null and void on Aug. 1, 2016. States no longer have to implement the pieces of waivers that ESSA doesn't cover, like teacher evaluation through student outcomes. Waiver states don't have to keep measuring school performance by the dreaded yardstick at the center of NCLB—adequate yearly progress—instead, they should keep focusing on the lowest-performing schools (priority schools) and those with big achievement gaps (focus schools). And states without waivers don't have to set aside money for tutoring and choice, unless they want to.

There are also a couple of new or at least clarified tidbits, including:

  • States do not have to submit new so-called "consolidated plans" for spending their Title I and other ESSA funds by July 1 of this year for the new 2016-17 school year. That might sound like a small detail, but it's something state officials have really been wondering about.
  • States already knew that they can either stick with their current priority and focus schools, or pick new ones by March 1. But now they know that if they are keeping the same schools, they don't need to submit new documentation to the department. What's more, states that were planning to identify new schools under waivers also get the option of just sticking with their current lists.
  • States don't have to include whether a state has missed AYP on their new school report cards. They do have to say whether a school is a priority or focus school.
  • States already knew that they didn't need to comply with the NCLB law's outdated requirement that teachers be highly qualified, meaning they have a bachelor's degree and state certification. And they already knew that they would still be called on to implement plans they submitted last summer that call for high-poverty schools to get their fair share of qualified teachers, even though most of those plans depend at least partly on the highly qualified teacher definition or evaluations based on test scores. (That's kind of a head scratcher.) But the department said in this new FAQ that it will provide more info on how that will work down the line.

There are of course, plenty of ESSA questions floating around that this particular FAQ doesn't get into, including what the timeline the department envisions for regulating on the law, which issues it will address in regulation, and how a President Donald Trump's education secretary would change ESSA implementation. (Kidding. Kinda.) 

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