DeVos to State Chiefs: We Can, We Must Do Better for Students

DeVos to State Chiefs: We Can, We Must Do Better for Students

March 5, 2018

WASHINGTON – Addressing the nation's chief state school officers, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos delivered some "tough love" regarding progress under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is the bipartisan education legislation passed by Congress in 2015 that returned power over education back to states.

DeVos' remarks came after her review and approval of a majority of states' ESSA plans. The law requires a federal review to ensure compliance with the law but then gives latitude to the states to determine how best to ensure educational success. DeVos challenged the chiefs to embrace the flexibility afforded them by ESSA and innovate on behalf of their students. "Just because a plan complies with the law doesn't mean it does what's best for students," said DeVos.

The following are highlights of the Secretary's speech:

"Compliant" Is a Low Bar

"Just because a plan complies with the law doesn't mean it does what's best for students. Whatever the reasons, I see too many plans that only meet the bare minimum required by the law. Sure, they may pass muster around conference tables in Washington, but the bare minimum won't pass muster around kitchen tables."

Multiple Governors Shared Concerns About Plans

"Some of your own governors – Republicans and Democrats -- didn't like your plans either and refused to sign off on them. …

"[One] warned his state's superintendent that ‘adding layers of bureaucratic paperwork does little to help low-performing schools.' …

"[A]nother governor lamented that his state's plan ‘stymies any attempt to hold schools accountable for student performance and includes provisions aimed at preserving the status quo in failing schools.'"

The problem is a systemic culture of prioritizing compliance over creativity

"For too long, many of you have operated – and in many cases, been forced to operate -- as if your work was only accountable to folks in my office. As if all that mattered in education was a sign-off from Washington… My predecessors, from both parties, often fell into the trap of a top-down approach."

The more important judges of plans are students, families and educators

"The imperative to do something shouldn't have to come from Washington. It shouldn't have to come from your state capital. The imperative to do better comes from students. …

"ESSA plans aren't a ceiling. There is no ceiling. There is no ceiling on what students can achieve. These plans merely establish the floor!

"ESSA plans are just words on a page. Let me put it this way: We don't evaluate football teams solely on who has the better game plan on paper. We evaluate them by what happens on the field! The real work of ESSA lies ahead."

There's still the opportunity to innovate and improve

"We must pursue a paradigm shift… a fundamental reorientation... a rethink…. Question everything. At every school. In support of every student's success. …So I ask each of you: What are you going to do to rethink education in your state?"

We can, must and will do better – for students and our future.

"Right now a student is being bullied somewhere for only wanting to read, pay attention to the teacher and learn. Right now a student is being told he can't study a topic for his dream job because the school building doesn't have the teacher or the technology. Right now a student at school is stepping over rats, breathing in mold and dodging fists. …

"That child doesn't care about an ESSA plan. That student's parents don't care about my signature on your piece of paper. They care about what you do….

"We can act now. We must act now."