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Every Student Succeeds Act

Perspectives on ESSA

January 05, 2017 6 min read
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While education professionals around the nation prepare for the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, four educators—including a teacher, principal, district leader, and state chief—and a civil rights advocate share their unique perspectives on the new law:

Voices: Teacher

Classroom-Level View of Law’s Strengths, Potential Soft Spots

Misti Kemmer is a 4th grade magnet teacher at Russell Elementary, a Title I school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

What do you think will be the most helpful part of the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

Misti Kemmer

I’m really interested in what’s going on with Title II, the professional development piece. I’m seeing language that will allow states to really give teacher-leadership a chance. We get a lot of professional development that’s not necessarily applicable to what we’re doing. And, the way the law’s written, there’s a really great opportunity for classroom teachers to step up as leaders, if the state uses the money in that way.

What are you most concerned about with the law?

I’m really concerned about the way that states interpret the law, especially around areas of teacher evaluation and testing. I started teaching under No Child Left Behind, and I work in a low-income, urban school, and it was very, very punitive. If test scores weren’t here, we were somehow in trouble. My concern is that could happen again if too much weight is put on test scores or if the weight isn’t put on [them] in a thoughtful way.

What do you need more information about as ESSA goes into effect?

Kind of everything, to be honest. I’m the kind of teacher who seeks these things out on my own, but I could go to my campus tomorrow and say, “Does anyone know what ESSA is going to do for us?” and I can guarantee 90 percent of people there are going to say, “What’s ESSA?” Information is out there, but it has to be sought out. I tried to read the law myself, and it’s politi-speak and I’m a classroom teacher. I’m trying to wrap my head around it, trying to understand what this is going to mean for classrooms, what this is going to mean for my students and where I teach, how different states are going to handle this, and what’s it going to look like—just all of that. I still have a lot of questions.

—Madeline Will

Voices: Principal

New Opportunities, Unsettling Changes In New Law’s Wake

Jennifer E. Nauman is the principal of Shields Elementary School in Lewes, Del.

What do you think will be the most helpful part of the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

Jennifer Nauman

I love the idea that they are actually setting aside 3 percent [of Title II funds] for principal professional development or principal support. A lot of times, when you get into the principalship or the assistant principalship, you have to go outside of your district, even your state, to be professionally developed. But when the states are required or given the opportunity to allow for principal professional development, I think it will trickle down. [In addition] Title I funds will be more flexible, which will help me as a principal to have a little bit more flexibility with what my students need, what my teachers need, and to base my spending on that.

What are you most concerned about with the new law?

I am worried that things can get lost in translation when you start regulating the law. ... Everybody interprets the law a little differently, and when we start making too many regulations, it could quickly go back to what we had. I’m also concerned about the accountability piece. ... I want to make sure it’s fair to all schools, no matter what their demographics are, ... and make sure that whatever measures are put in place to help schools that are struggling are fair and are actually helpful.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge under ESSA?

We’ll have a change in our national secretary of education. We will have a new governor [in Delaware] as well. Seeing how the new administration interprets everything and how it is rolled out, both nationally and at the state level with the change in administration, [are concerns]. I just want to make sure that we remain student-focused.

—Denisa R. Superville

Voices: District Leader

Despite Capacity Issue, Eagerness to Embrace Personalized Learning

Gail Pletnick is the superintendent of the 25,000-student Dysart Unified School District in Arizona.

What do you think will be the most helpful part of the Every Student Succeeds Act?

Gail Pletnick

Students are now being prepared for an innovation and networking age, not an industrial age. Although ESSA isn’t perfect, there’s talk about multiple measures. ... ESSA is going to provide us with the opportunity to move in a direction that is more comprehensive and integrated and allows us to focus on personalized learning.

What are you most concerned about when it comes to the new law?

We have been under a compliance atmosphere for so long. ... There was such limited freedom to individualize under the old system. I worry that some of the components of ESSA can still be translated at the state level to one the one-test-score-tells-us-all approach.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge under ESSA?

I worry about the ability of [states] to create accountability systems that meet the mandates under ESSA but really take advantage of the opportunity we have to do things differently. ... We’ve had a number of cuts to educational funding and a number of challenges because of limited resources.

—Alyson Klein

Voices: State Chiefs

Hoping to Maximize Big State Investments As New Law Rolls Out

Brenda Cassellius is the Minnesota commissioner of education.

What do you think will be the most helpful part of the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

Brenda Cassellius

This will allow us as a state to focus attention on our “World’s Best Workforce” initiative sparked in 2013. The state invests such a larger portion of money into public education than the federal government does, but No Child Left Behind allowed people to forget that. ESSA lets us get back to that work.

What are you most concerned about with the new law?

Considering [President-elect Donald Trump’s] rhetoric during the campaign, it’ll be interesting to see if the president-elect can shift his dialogue from campaign rhetoric to governing rhetoric and that he advocates for better equity for all students.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge under ESSA?

I don’t know about challenges. I hope the federal government maintains the value they have for state and local control.

—Daarel Burnette II

Voices: Civil Rights

Hope, Concerns, for Students Often Left Out of Spotlight

Liz King is the senior policy analyst and director of education policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

What do you think will be the most helpful part of the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

Liz King

I would say the continued focus on student achievement—both in the aggregate for a school as a whole but then also for individual groups of students—and the attention that will be brought to the opportunities available to historically marginalized students. I think that’s probably tied with requirements around parent and family engagement and consultation. We know that this has been an area of weakness in education policy over the past 20 years.

What are you most concerned about with the new law?

Certainly the piece that we are most concerned about is the reduction in the federal role and the amount of discretion given to states to design accountability systems and decide where and when and why to intervene in schools where groups of students aren’t receiving the support that they need. This causes us considerable concern because there is not a good track record of states and districts when left to their own devices focusing on the needs of historically marginalized students. We’re hoping to be wrong. We’re hoping that the states and districts and schools will rise to the challenge and improve the quality of education for those students, but we are definitely concerned.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge under ESSA?

The biggest challenge will continue to be that so many of our education policy conversations sound completely foreign to the most important stakeholders, which are students and parents and families and communities. We need to find ways to talk about these policy questions in a way that resonates with the concerns that communities have for improving education.

—Evie Blad

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