Secretary’s Approval Letter Pennsylvania ESEA Flexibility

May 15, 2013

The Honorable Ronald Tomalis
Secretary of Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126

Dear Secretary Tomalis:

Thank you for submitting Pennsylvania’s request for ESEA flexibility to the U.S. Department of Education (ED). ED appreciates the hard work required to transition to college- and career-ready standards and assessments; develop systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; and evaluate and support teacher and leader effectiveness. ED is encouraged that Pennsylvania and many other States are designing rigorous plans to increase the quality of instruction and improve student academic achievement.

Pennsylvania’s request was reviewed by a panel of six peer reviewers during the week of April 1, 2013. During the review, the peers considered each component of Pennsylvania’s request and provided comments in the form of Peer Panel Notes that the Secretary will use to inform any revisions to your request that may be needed to meet the principles of ESEA flexibility. The Peer Panel Notes, a copy of which is enclosed with this letter, also provide feedback on the strengths of Pennsylvania’s request and areas that would benefit from further development. ED staff has also carefully reviewed Pennsylvania’s request, taking into account the Peer Panel Notes, to determine consistency with the ESEA flexibility principles.

The peers noted, and we agree, that Pennsylvania’s request was particularly strong in Principle 1 and 3. For example, Pennsylvania has created the Standards Aligned System, an online portal that houses a variety of resources and materials to support districts and schools in the transition to the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards. Pennsylvania also has a broad legislative framework for developing teacher and principal evaluation systems, which was informed by information and experience gathered during educator evaluation pilots.

At the same time, based on the peer reviewers’ comments and our review of the materials Pennsylvania has provided to date, ED has identified certain components of your request that need further clarification, additional development, or revision. In particular, significant concerns were identified with respect to the following:

  • The lack of ambitious annual measurable objectives that provide a meaningful incentive for all schools to improve;
  • The low weighting of graduation rate in the School Performance Profile (SPP); and
  • The lack of evidence that Pennsylvania will implement rigorous interventions in priority and focus schools.

The enclosed list provides details regarding these concerns, as well as other key issues raised in the review of Pennsylvania’s request, that must be addressed before the Secretary can approve your request for ESEA flexibility. ED encourages Pennsylvania to consider all of the peers’ comments and technical assistance suggestions in making revisions to its request, but we encourage you to focus primarily on addressing the concerns identified on the enclosed list.

Although the Peer Panel Notes for Pennsylvania provide information specific to your request, Pennsylvania also may benefit from comments and technical assistance suggestions made by other peer panels regarding issues common to multiple State educational agencies’ (SEA) requests. For this reason, Department staff will reach out to Pennsylvania to provide relevant technical assistance suggestions and other considerations that may be useful as you revise and refine your request.

ED remains committed to working with Pennsylvania to meet the principles of ESEA flexibility and improve outcomes for all students, and stands ready to work with Pennsylvania as quickly as possible.

You and your team deserve great credit for your efforts thus far, and we are confident that the Department’s ESEA flexibility team will work with your staff to address outstanding concerns. If you have any additional questions or want to request technical assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Sue Rigney at 202-260-0931. Thank you for your continued commitment to all of Pennsylvania’s children.



Deborah S. Delisle
Assistant Secretary


cc: Amy C. Morton, Executive Deputy Secretary

Secretary's Approval Letter Pennsylvania ESEA Flexibility