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Though there is much swirl today about the state of public education in the United States, with buzzwords like “school choice,” “vouchers,” and “common core,” it still can be difficult to know exactly how educational policy affects your children, or the children in your life or community, whom we all want to see thrive. It remains our collective responsibility—and in our best interest as Americans—to see all of our young people get the education and skills they deserve as citizens of this country.

Yet, while we can take comfort in the fact that today, the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, we know that not all schools are funded equally. As the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation notes, only 40 percent of children are leaving school with the “critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to be prepared for the next step – including 12 percent of black students, 25 percent of Hispanic students, and 20 percent of low-income students.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) seeks to remedy that. ESSA is a bipartisan law that seeks to ensure that each child has the same opportunities—no matter their race, ethnicity, or socio economic status. At its core, ESSA is a civil rights law that guarantees that each child has the same opportunities, while providing resources for the schools that need the most help.

Below are five Facts on ESSA.

  1. ESSA was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015. It passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support and, unlike the 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act, was designed not to be a “one size fits all” approach to education from the top down. ESSA shifts responsibility from the federal government and leaves it to states, districts and schools to determine which supports (such as quality teachers, new technology, art, music, science, challenging classes) and interventions (what constitutes a failing school, remedies) are best if its schools fail to educate its children.

What does this mean for your student? In its best manifestation, ESSA is meant to allow ground-up input from parents, teachers and stakeholders to determine what they know is best for their schools and children. It is meant to individualize those priorities and implement them for each school.

  1. NCLB depended solely on students test scores and graduation rates to determine success or failure. ESSA leaves accountability goals almost entirely up to the states. States must now submit their accountability plans to the Department of Education, which has a limited oversight role. Test scores and graduation rates must be given “much greater weight” than more subjective measures, but again, once those states determine which schools and interventions are necessary, it is up to them to implement them and follow through. For more on accountability, watch the following video or from the Alliance for Excellent education or the whitepaper from the TNTP organization. 

What does this mean for your student? State legislators are much closer to parents and stakeholders than those in Washington, D.C. Because federal oversight—which in the past has helped to protect “the least of these” when states wouldn’t—is diminished under ESSA, it is up to parents and stakeholders to make sure that their local and state leaders are “doing the right thing” by their children. Find your state here to begin informing yourself of the issues.

  1. Although many parents and teachers rejected across-the-board testing and the high-stakes (like school closures) tied to it, under ESSA states will continue to test students in math and English in grades 3-8, and at least once in high school. But now, “adequate yearly progress” has been eliminated, along with the sanctions — including possible school closure as well as teacher evaluations. Schools and school districts now have greater flexibility in how tests are administered including shorter more frequent testing throughout the year or finding more accurate tests to determine what children are actually learning. Schools still need to report test scores of “subgroups:” including children of color, students learning English, children who receive special education, and students from poor communities, which has proven to be beneficial for those groups in terms of academic improvement.

What does this mean for your student? It depends. Each state may differ. If your student is in lower or middle school, they still will be tested regularly, however, schools will be given the option of different types of tests. For high schools, districts are able to use national tests like the ACT or SAT to determine proficiency instead of state tests, and states are allowed to institute a cap limiting the time a student uses to take tests. ESSA also allows the use of computer-adaptive testing in state and local assessments, a process that could allow for much more accurate data on student performance. (Source: Edutopia)

  1. Common Core. The new law allows states to adopt the Common Core but does not require it. In fact, it requires the Education Department to remain neutral: “The Secretary shall not attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce State adoption of the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative or any other academic standards common to a significant number of States, or assessments tied to such standard.”

What does this mean for your student? Although ESSA technically has rid itself of the ”common core” curriculum, which sought to set consistent educational standards across the nation. However, ESSA does require that states submit, for Dept. of Education approval, state plans that include “challenging” academic standards, which elsewhere are described as “college- and career-ready,” which means that students will hopefully all develop the skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century.

  1. The Trump Administration. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to bring their accountability systems into compliance with the new law in the 2017-18 school year. As current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos noted in her confirmation hearings, she plans on keeping in place the Obama administration’s timeline for submitting states to submit their ESSA plans, including an early deadline of April 3. Organizations such as the Legal Defense Fund are working to ensure the Secy. DeVos makes sure states comply with the law and spirit of ESSA, so that every child in this country can reach his or her potential.

What does this mean for your student? Right now, the Senate is considering following the House of Representative’s lead in using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which would eliminate accountability regulation for ESSA including accounting for specific subgroups (mentioned above) and timely intervention for failing schools. As noted in the TNTP blog, this could take us back to the days when “states could paper over a chronic failure to fulfill even their most basic educational obligations,” which is why your involvement in holding the Republican-controlled Congress liable is crucial.

The bottom line is that your input as a parent or someone who wants to see the children in their life succeed is imperative. The fear is that if ESSA is not implemented properly with the right accountability standards, the federal government will not be able to step in where states would or could not. Now it’s up to you to step up and make sure that those who envisioned that every student—regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or language ability—succeeds.

To become more involved in ESSA plans for your state, please sign up for alerts and follow the following organizations:

The “Dignity in Schools Campaignhttp://www.dignityinschools.org/essa-state-plans

The 74 million: https://www.the74million.org/

The TNTP blog https://tntp.org/blog/

Edutopia https://www.edutopia.org/

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