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DeVos Team Considering Reshuffling of Education Department's Main K-12 Office

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U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos's team is mulling a significant reorganization of the office of elementary and secondary education or OESE, the main K-12 arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

The effort would be part of the Trump administration's overall push to "streamline" government. The department signaled earlier this year that it would merge the OESE, which oversees programs like Title I grants to help districts serve disadvantaged students, with the office for innovation, which deals with charters, programs for private schools, and more.

As part of that merger, the department is considering a reshuffling of OESE itself. The revamp would be aimed at grouping together employees with similar skills, as opposed to having separate offices focused on particular programs, said Elizabeth Hill, a department spokeswoman. The possible overhaul of the office was first reported by Politico.

"It's about working more collaboratively to break down silos, and look at programs more holistically," Hill said in an interview with Education Week. The idea is to give officials a better sense of how programs are playing out on the ground, she added.

That could mean consolidating and reconfiguring the eight smaller offices within the broader OESE, according to a draft plan explaining the changes. Those are: the offices of academic improvement, early learning, Impact Aid, Indian education, migrant education, safe and healthy students, school support and rural programs, and the office of state support.

Instead, the draft reorganization plan calls for grouping together employees with similar job functions into three broader offices, each overseen by a different deputy assistant secretary.

One team would deal with administration, including data management, strategic planning and budgeting, and human resources.

Another would work on grants management, including planning, competition, monitoring and compliance, and technical assistance.

And a third would be in charge of both an "effective practices team" and a team aimed at building relationships with state officials and grantees. The "effective practices" team would oversee programs aimed at choice, high-quality schools, improving student achievement, safe and healthy students, and the use of data and evidence collection. It would also include the office of migrant education and the office of Indian education, both of which are mandated by law.

Hill said there would be experts in place on each program, as there are currently. The plan isn't expected to result in staff cuts.

The proposal, which was put together by Jason Botel, the deputy assistant secretary, and others, is in its early stages and could change, Hill said. She also said it was part of "phase one" of a broader effort to revamp the agency.

Separately, David Esquith, the former head of the office of safe and healthy students, an office that would be affected by the proposed changes, was reassigned. He chose to retire rather than take on a new assignment, a source confirmed. Esquith is a former Peace Corps volunteer, special education teacher, lobbyist for the Association for Retarded Citizens, and congressional aide.

Paul Kesner, an education program specialist, will now be heading up that office. Before coming to the US Department of Education, Kesner worked in the higher education community, taught middle school, and served as a principal. Esquith's retirement was first reported by Politico.

There have been similar leadership changes at other offices within the department under the Trump administration. For instance, Kathleen Styles, the former chief privacy officer, was reassigned in early April. Angela Arrington became the department's interim chief privacy officer my colleague, Ben Herold, reported.

The broader effort to overhaul the department already has its critics in the field. For instance, 18 groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, Californians Together, League of United Latin American Citizens, Migration Policy Institute, National Association for Bilingual Education, TESOL International Association, and UnidosUS, wrote to DeVos earlier this month, asking her not to merge the office of English-language acquisition into the broader OESE, a possibility floated earlier this year.

Photo: Swikar Patel for Education Week

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