By Holly Kragthorpe
After years of trying to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Congress and President Obama passed a new version of this legislation last December called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The new law goes into effect during the 2017-18 school year. So, what will it mean to move from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB)-era to the ESSA-era? This greatly depends on the degree to which teachers speak up in the coming months.
Why Speak Up?
As a teacher who taught under NCLB, while I welcomed its focus on traditionally underserved students, I also saw that, in many ways, we educators were not empowered to use our professional judgement in the classroom. ESSA has the potential to change that. Here are six reasons why teachers like you should speak up about how your state should implement ESSA.
1. Teacher evaluation
Federal oversight of teacher evaluation will end. This means that teachers have the opportunity to help design or amend their local teacher evaluation systems. From talking to educators and reviewing the research, we know that teacher evaluation should be multi-measured and meaningful for teachers and should contribute to improved student outcomes. Teachers have a real opportunity to advocate for some valid and reliable measures within teacher evaluation.
2. State standards
Under NCLB, states were encouraged to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Now under ESSA, the federal education department will remain neutral on standards. Nonetheless, teachers have the opportunity to let their state departments of education know their questions, concerns and recommendations regarding their state’s standards. The National Council of Teachers of English have published this list of state input-gathering meetings for state standards.
As under NCLB, states must still assess students in reading or language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12, and in science once in grades 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. However, under ESSA, states will now have flexibility in how and when they administer those tests. Also, states are allowed to set a cap limiting the time students spend taking tests. Teachers can encourage their state to apply to be part of the Innovative Assessment Pilot as part of the “test less, test better” philosophy.
4. School accountability
Under ESSA, states get to decide how schools should be held accountable for serving all students. By law, every state must have “timely and meaningful consultation” with teachers on the design of their new accountability plans. Once the plans are submitted to the federal government, they must undergo peer review. By law, this must include — you guessed it — teachers. This is an opportunity for teachers to help us avoid repeating the accountability pitfalls of NCLB.
5. Support for schools with achievement gaps
Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) is a thing of the past, but will happen going forward if a school is struggling to serve all groups of students? Under ESSA, local educational agencies are required to develop a support and improvement plan “in partnership with stakeholders (including principals, other school leaders, teachers and parents).” This means that in cases where schools have groups of students who are struggling, teachers have opportunities to develop solutions to improve student outcomes and to ensure their states avoid unintended consequences that may harm or penalize students.
6. Professional development
Under ESSA, Title II funds can be used for new purposes, such as peer-led, ongoing professional development that is job-embedded and evidence-based. Using these funds in new ways is optional, however, which is why they need to hear from teachers about how these dollars could positively impact their professional growth and their students’ academic achievement.
How to Get Involved
Over the past few months, I’ve heard teachers ask smart and thoughtful questions about how ESSA will impact their classrooms and careers — it is vital that teachers continue to engage on ESSA, using your voices to shape how this federal legislation is implemented in your state, district, school and classroom.
Teachers from across the country will be diving into each of these issues here on the E4E News Blog over the next few weeks, so stay tuned! If you’re unsure of what your state is doing, visit UnderstandingESSA.org for state-by-state roundups of the latest developments.
Finally, we will be sharing a weekly ESSA Spotlight each Wednesday with a few key things you need to know in the E4E Weekly Update email. If you’re not already an E4E member, sign up here!
Holly Kragthorpe is the national policy manager at Educators 4 Excellence.