Gretchen Guffy is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

This is the first day of class for 50CAN U. Every Thursday Gretchen Guffy, 50CAN U dean of policy & research, and Karen Silverman, 50CAN U dean of advocacy, will take turns checking in and discussing what the 50CAN team is currently reading and learning to become better advocates and education policy experts. We’re kicking off 50CAN U’s weekly class with Gretchen, who will give us an update on new resources in 50CAN U’s policy syllabus for students who want to better understand the current state of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which governs federal funding for state school systems.

As the dean of policy and research at 50CAN U, I curate our policy syllabus and make sure it’s filled with the best and most up-to-date resources on key education policy topics.  And even though we unveiled our policy syllabus just last week, it’s already due for an update.

The federal Department of Education (DOE) recently announced that states can now apply to waive the ESEA requirements to identify and intervene in schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two or more years. Instead of having to follow ESEA school improvement requirements, states that receive a waiver will now have the option to design their own system that “targets efforts to the schools and districts that are the lowest-performing and to schools that have the largest achievement gaps, tailoring interventions to the unique needs of those schools and districts and their students. States will also have flexibility to recognize and reward both schools that are the highest-achieving and those whose students are making the most progress.”

This waiver system raises a series of questions. While this particular option sounds like a great idea – eliminating the “one size fits all” approach – how states will take advantage of it, and what sort of interventions and supports they will offer, will depend heavily on their resources, capacity and will to not only design but effectively implement such a system. In other words, how will the interventions proposed under this system vary from what is already being done to try and increase student achievement? Will this flexibility really yield better results? 

To better understand the new waiver system and ESEA in general, I’ve posted some additional reading materials to the policy syllabus:

ESEA Flexibility Overview
This document, put out by the DOE, gives an overview of the new waiver system and how states can apply.

ESEA Flexibility FAQs
This was put out by the DOE and answers frequently asked questions about the new waiver system, including how it will affect parents, teachers and, most importantly, students.

Getting it Right: Crafting Federal Accountability for Higher Student Performance and a Stronger America
This report by the Education Trust outlines recommendations for crafting a federal accountability system that responds to local criticism of the current law, but also makes sure all schools are advancing.

Essential Elements of Teacher Policy in ESEA: Effectiveness, Fairness, and Evaluation

The Center for American Progress and Education Trust teamed up to lay out recommendations for how to make sure that ESEA encourages great teachers in every state. 

Education Waivers 101

The Center for American Progress provides an overview of the waiver system and answers eight common questions about its terms.

So there’s your new homework! Let me know if you have any questions, but for now, class dismissed.


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