As NCLB’s replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) comes into focus, educators’ input is poised to play a larger role in the implementation of law than ever before. Over the past several weeks, educators, other key stakeholders, and representative organizations have come to discussions with the Department of Education, both in person and electronically, to share thoughts on the guidance and clarification that are needed in moving forward in implementing this law.
As part of the listening, the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows (TAFs/PAFs) were asked to hold listening sessions for Department staff with teachers, principals, and other stakeholders to inform ESSA implementation. This past week, several other TAFs and I organized sessions in and around our own communities with district superintendents in Connecticut, math teachers in California, students in Rhode Island, business leaders in Colorado, and educators in Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire; and, in the coming weeks, we have discussions planned in rural communities in Northern California and Washington across to urban centers of New York City and New Jersey, to name a few.
As I sat in Colorado soliciting input, I realized that this shift to a more proactive, solutions-oriented mindset proved harder than it sounds. For too long, we have been asked merely to react. Now we have the opportunity to shed the reactionary posture we have been exercising for the past two decades under NCLB and it’s not easy.
In these sessions we heard a lot of important feedback. We heard calls in Connecticut for incentives for districts and states to innovate. High school students shared their feelings about standardized assessment and their concern about the extent to which current assessments really measure who they are. Math teachers and leaders in California expressed a need for clearer definitions of college and career ready standards and posed questions about accountability measures that reflect more than test scores. In every place, we heard calls for improving all angles of the teaching profession –recruitment, retention, and job satisfaction.
While important to hear, what is evident is that they are not new – all are responses to what has been; What’s new is that we are being called on to contribute our professional expertise in crafting what could be. If ESSA is to work, states, districts, and the federal government must seize opportunities to craft policy that employs our firsthand knowledge of what works and doesn’t in real classrooms and schools. At this moment, the federal government is asking what we see as the key provisions and policies so that any guidance or rules enacted reflect our professional expertise. We know that every teacher and school leader won’t sit in a room with Department staff, but please know that you can send your thoughts and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. Adding your voice does not mean having to read and digest 1,000-plus pages of the law. Plenty of analyses and summaries have been published and you can find some starting places on the Department’s website.
I am glad that ESSA provides an opportunity for us all to rethink the assessment, accountability and educator evaluation systems to ensure they are meaningful and helpful. It’s important that the law requires consultation with stakeholders like us at every level. Now, we need to be ready with our vision and our solutions of what can be so that every student can truly succeed.
Mark Sass teaches social sciences at Legacy High School in the Adams 12 School District in Colorado and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education. This blog also represents contributions from roundtables led by fellow TAFs Matt Presser and Nancy Veatch.