Response: There is 'Hope That ESSA Will Bring Positive Change To Classrooms
The new "question-of-the-week" is:
What practical impact do you think The Every Student Succeeds Act will really have in the classroom?
The Every Student Succeeds Act is the successor to No Child Left Behind. Regulations are still being worked out, but many educators - including me - wonder if it really will have any kind of impact on our work in the classroom.
Today, Randi Weingarten, Barnett Berry, Morgan Polikoff, Erik M. Francis, and Jacki Gran off their responses to the question.
You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Barnett and Morgan on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
I have a few specific concerns of my own about the new law, particularly related to its impact on English Language Learners. I'm concerned that the demand that ELLs be reclassified and moved out of support programs in five years will harm many of our students, a concern highlighted in a brand-new study described elsewhere in Education Week.
You might also find these other resources useful:
The Best Resources For Learning How The Every Student Succeeds Act Affects English Language Learners
Now, onto today's guests:
Response From Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten is President of the American Federation of Teachers:
This is exactly the right question to ask, and exactly the question that should guide policymakers and administrators as the law is implemented.
That said, what happens in classrooms will depend a lot on whether states and school districts embrace the opportunity ESSA presents to do a real reset and to partner with teachers, parents, and community members to really rethink how we teach, and how we reach, each child.
Though the law is not perfect, the AFT supported its passage, as it tempers the testing fixation, prohibits the federal government from continuing policies that increased high-stakes testing, and maintains the commitment to equity that started with Lyndon Baines Johnson and the first ESEA--deploying $15 billion to help level the playing field for kids in need, so they too can be provided opportunities to be prepared for life, college and career. ESSA turns the page on the broken policies of No Child Left Behind, NCLB waivers and Race to the Top.
The AFT has advocated getting the law right and our membership has demonstrated how important the law is through its advocacy. AFT leaders and members testified in front of Congress and at several congressional district-level town hall meetings; more than
200 rank-and-file members and leadership visited their members of congress in person; more than 20,000 responded called their member of congress, and AFT members took more than 100,000 actions online, including nearly 20,000 comments submitted to Congress.
This union fought, on behalf of our 1.6 million members and the students we serve, for the end of test-and-sanction policies that were suffocating schools, demoralizing teachers and students, and creating anxiety for parents. We are now working to ensure the U.S. Department of Education properly regulates the law and that states, districts and schools implement it in a way that achieves the potential of ESSA: that every public school is a place where parents want to send their kids, where students are engaged, where the curriculum is rich, where joy is taken in teaching and learning--and where, ultimately, all children succeed.
States now have much greater power than they have had under No Child Left Behind. That means they have a chance to fight to maintain the status quo--despite calls from parents, teachers, students, business leaders and community members for change.
But some states, I hope most states, will recognize the law for what it is--an opportunity to strengthen our public schools, to increase equity, to adapt and to innovate; an opportunity to broaden the conception of schooling that has been so narrowed under No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and waivers, and move toward preparing all students for college, career and citizenship.
But right now, an opportunity is all it is. I really believe in the promise of ESSA as it was conceived - but as we all know, the devil is in the details. Implementation will make or break this law. And for those states that would rather maintain the status quo, we must come together to speak loudly for our students and our schools.
When we talked to AFT members about ESSA in December, we found out that their biggest fear about the new law was that "nothing will change." That's pretty telling - and I can't blame teachers and school staff for feeling that way. But here are a few ways I hope ESSA will help bring positive change to our classrooms:
ESSA can help end the obsession with testing in schools and provide room for a broader, student-centered curriculum that focuses on much more than math and reading. Although the requirement to test students remains the same, states and districts now have the opportunity to rethink accountability and to incorporate assessments as just one type of indicator to help inform instruction and improve schools.
Beyond requirements to test students in English and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and science once in each grade span, states and districts have broad flexibility. To help reduce the obsession with standardized tests, ESSA enables states and school districts to use funds to audit state and local assessment systems to eliminate unnecessary tests and improve assessments. It also allows states to set a target limit on the total amount of time that students spend taking assessments for each grade. In fact, an exciting pilot program in which seven states can initially be accepted will allow the use of project- and performance-based assessments in lieu of regular state standardized assessments.
In addition, AFT fought for stronger charter-school accountability and transparency provisions--provisions that will provide much-needed scrutiny and monitoring for the benefit of both students and teachers. The act also contains language designed to help ensure that charters educate the same populations as neighborhood public schools.
ESSA allows states to create support-and-improve accountability systems. ESSA can put an end to test-and-punish accountability for schools and teachers. The act allows states to incorporatemultiple measures of school success into accountability systems, and to work with districts and schools to actually support and improve schools, rather than simply sort and punish. ESSA also requires more transparency around funding and resources--a critical step to help move us toward a more equitable system for students. Additionally, the federal government will no longer specify sanctions (school closings, teacher firings, forced transfers, etc.) in return for money. Decisions aboutinterventions now fall to the states. This means that should states choose to reject the status quo, districts can work with schools to tailor interventions to the needs of specific schools and populations. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, educators and families can look at evidence-based strategies such as academic rigor and authentic instruction, smaller class size and greater personalization, and staff capacity building and collaboration
ESSA values practitioner voice and professional judgment. Across its text, the act includes provisions that can elevate the profession and improve conditions for teaching and learning. ESSA requires consultation with educators and other stakeholders, and allows local educational agencies to use funds to develop feedback mechanisms--such as educator surveys--that can improve working conditions. It also provides specific language on growth and leadership, allowing states to use funds for centers on induction, class-size reduction, mentoring, career pathways and recruitment of a diverse teacher workforce.
ESSA ends federally mandated evaluations. The new law stopped the feds from requiring Common Core and from closing neighborhood schools. One of the most important changes was the end of federal test-based teacher evaluations, which creates an opportunity to design and implement teacher evaluation systems that grow and strengthen the profession, instead of sorting and punishing teachers. States can develop and implement systems but are required to cooperate with stakeholders, including teachers, paraprofessionals and their unions.
I want to end with the biggest change we will see in the ESSA era:
States now have much greater power than they have had under No Child Left Behind. That includes the power to listen to - or to tune out - the input of parents, teachers, students, business leaders and community members.
We need all those voices to create a system that will actually work for students and teachers. And this isn't just about making people feel heard. The fact is, if we want robust and innovative accountability measures that really work, and that encompass more than test scores, we need to engage the people on the ground who educate students every day. If we really want to make a difference in the lives of students, we need to hear from them, and their parents, and the professionals who spend so many hours a week with them.
If states harness their power to listen and collaborate, rather than to shut down and shut out, then ESSA can bring about the changes our schools desperately need.
Response From Barnett BerryResponse: There is 'Hope That ESSA Will Bring Positive Change To Classrooms' - Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo - Education Week Teacher: