Speaking before the Council of Chief State School Officers last month, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos surprised many in the audience by criticizing a number of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans and pleading with states to aim higher. Broad criticism followed her remarks: DeVos had an opportunity to leverage the enforcement authority of her office to ensure the very innovation she claims is lacking.
However, DeVos’s critics cannot forget that, for the first few plans to receive Education Department responses, her staff read the law, reviewed the plans, and delivered thorough feedback to spur improvements. Chief state school officers voiced their objections, the agency responded and its review process became less stringent.
Given how this developed, DeVos’s criticism was jarring, but perhaps not altogether surprising. Her sentiments about the quality of state plans were shared by governors on a bipartisan basis. Several governors, prior to their states submitting final ESSA plans, pressed state education agencies to bolster plans with bold reforms that would drive improvement.
Governors were not alone. Bipartisan concerns, from independent peer reviews to respected policy organizations, were ever-present throughout the process.
Rather than the panacea many hoped for,...