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Happy Thanksgiving! Federal Government Serves Up Bountiful Education Regulatory Agenda

Happy Thanksgiving! Federal Government Serves Up Bountiful Education Regulatory Agenda

On the eve of Thanksgiving, the federal government is presenting Americans with a plethora of proposed regulations, among them several disturbing rules out of the U.S. Department of Education (USED) that suggest ever-increasing control over education by the federal government.

One of USED’s proposed regulations is titled “Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged.” The abstract of the regulation states:

The Secretary will amend the regulations governing title I, part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA), to phase out the authority of States to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards in order to satisfy ESEA accountability requirements. These amendments will permit, as a transitional measure, States that meet certain criteria to continue to administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards and include the results in accountability determinations, subject to limitations on the number of proficient scores that may be counted, for a limited period of time. 

Ze’ev Wurman, visiting Hoover Institution scholar and former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, explained to Breitbart News that, since 2007, students in K-8 and high school take one of three annual state tests. They may take a Regular Assessment, based on “state standards.” Or, today, based on the Common Core standards in some states, students with relatively mild disabilities (no more than two percent of the population) may take a Modified Assessment, an easier test. Or, for students with severe disabilities (no more than one percent of the population) there’s an Alternate Assessment. 

“There were some major issues with these tests, particularly with the Modified Assessment,” Wurman said. “Some states and school districts – Virginia, for example – allowed schools to administer the modified assessment to English Language Learners – a clearly inappropriate action.” He adds:

Other states, such as California, allowed districts to administer the modified tests much beyond the expected two percent. Some districts went as far as double and triple of that for their students taking the much easier California Modified Assessment (CMA). These regulations suggest that, because the Common Core assessments are supposed to allow accessibility and administration modification for most of the Special Education students, the Modified Assessments will be phased out. It seems to me, in the proposed regulation, the federal government is simply taking away state authority to define the “modified standards,” which, in one way, is probably not a bad idea given how abused the modified assessment has been.

However, Wurman says that the proposed regulation raises the question of whether the Common Core assessments can reliably measure the achievement of most Special Education students.

“The jury is out on that, and watch the first test administration next year to hear the Special Education complaints that are bound to pop up,” Wurman noted. “This may become a powerful issue once the Special Education community wakes up, since they have special rules and laws protecting them.”

Another proposed regulation demonstrates the federal government’s continued attempt to govern teacher training. USED’s statement about this reads:

On April 25, 2014, the President directed the Department to propose a plan to strengthen America’s teacher preparation programs for public comment and to publish a final rule within the next year. The Administration seeks to encourage and support States in developing systems that recognize excellence and provide all programs with information to help them improve, while holding them accountable for how well they prepare teachers to succeed in today’s classrooms and throughout their careers.

Despite language such as “the Administration seeks to support States…” William A. Estrada, director of federal relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), observes, “The federal government has absolutely no constitutional authority to set rules for states on how to prepare teachers for the classroom.”

A proposed regulation that is also relevant to the battle over the Common Core standards is one that highlights how the Education Department will continue its use of waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to coerce states into conforming to federal education policies. The adoption of the Common Core standards by most states was accomplished by luring them with federal “Race to the Top” grants and waivers from the burdensome restrictions of NCLB.

The regulatory agenda reads:

[A]s we continue to work with Congress on reauthorizing the ESEA, we continue to provide flexibility on certain provisions of current law for States that are willing to embrace reform. The mechanisms we are using will ensure continued accountability and commitment to high-quality education for all students while providing States with increased flexibility to implement State and local reforms to improve student achievement.

“The Department’s implied threat is that only ‘States that are willing to embrace reform’ will be given waivers from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind,” writes Estrada. “This shows clearly how the federal government plans to continue to use the waivers – and the threat of a state losing federal education dollars – to force states to adopt the Common Core, and other education ‘reforms.'”

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