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Betsy DeVos Approves Delaware's ESSA Plan, After Blowback

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After some serious drama, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday gave Delaware the green light for its Every Student Succeeds Act plan.

You read that right. Delaware, aka the state whose Feedback Shook the World, is the first state to get the all-clear to proceed on ESSA.

What drama are we talking about? Here's some quick background: DeVos had been hitting the local control theme hard in speeches since taking office. But her team's response to the submitted plan from Delaware, one of the first states to get ESSA plan feedback from the Trump education department, seemed out of line with that rhetoric.

The department questioned the ambitiousness of the First State's student achievement goals and criticized the state for wanting to use Advanced Placement tests to gauge college and career readiness. (The department said this was a no-go because the tests and courses aren't available in every school.)

That got many important people pretty upset, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education chairman and an ESSA architectChris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, also said he was disappointed. Both said that DeVos' team had essentially overstepped the bounds of the law.

In response, Delaware made some tweaks to its plan, and clarified some things for the department. The state gave some more information to show why its goal of cutting the number of students who don't score proficient on state tests in half by 2030 is indeed, ambitious. And it explained that all public high school students do, in fact, have access to the courses, tests, and other measures the state wants to use to figure out whether students are ready for college and the workforce. Delaware also moved science test scores to another part of its accountability system, at the behest of the feds. More in this great blog post from Andrew.

Apparently, all that was good enough to convince DeVos—who has final say over giving a state plan the thumbs up or down—to approve Delaware's ESSA vision.

"My criteria for approval is clear: does the state's plan adhere to the law? Delaware demonstrated their plan does, and so I am happy to approve it," DeVos said in a statement. "I hope it will give the students, families and educators in the state a strong foundation for a great education."  
Upon learning that the department had approved Delaware's plan, the CCSSO's Minnich said in a statement Tuesday that he was pleased the department had "acted quickly" to give the state's plan the go-ahead. 

Importantly, although the department laid out its problems with the First State's ESSA plan in detail, that might not be the case with other states from here on out. Last week, the department announced a switcheroo in the way it gives states feedback on their ESSA plans. Instead of sending letters explaining where state ESSA plans fall short, the feds will first schedule two hour phone calls with states to go over possible problems. If the state is able to explain a potential hiccup to the department's satisfaction, the feds might not mention in the state's official feedback letter, to be made public after the call.

That has raised big questions about transparency, including from two key Democratic ESSA authors, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia.

Reminder: So far, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have turned in ESSA plans. Of those, nine states have received feedback from the department. The remaining states are set to turn in their plans in September. We break down highlights from all the plans that have been turned in so far here. 


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