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Standards Opinion

ESSA: The Pendulum Swings Back

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — December 13, 2015 4 min read
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Excitement about the reauthorization of ESEA and the demise of No Child Left Behind is accompanied by a collective sigh of relief. Another sigh of relief came from New Yorkers this week as well. They received news of the recommendations from group of education officials, teachers, parents, and state representatives who are serving as Governor Cuomo’s task force for changes to the Common Core Standards and the use of standardized tests. The New York Times reported:

It is unclear how different the new standards will be from the Common Core. The task force’s report calls for enlisting educators and parents to help create them, and it recommends modifying the standards for kindergarten, first grade and second grade so that they are more age-appropriate...The group was not originally charged with looking at the use of scores in teacher evaluations, but it tackled that subject anyway.

There may be a collective sigh of relief across the field, but will these steps back make a difference? Did the legislation generate commitment among educators to help students graduate from high school with a high quality education, with interventions when indicated, in preparation for their adult lives? Or did the combination of the legislation and the complex and challenging needs of our students in each school community make a difference? We think both have mattered, but if we were to speculate about which mattered most, we would fall on the side of locally generated options.

Opportunity Resides in the Conversation Locally
If the reauthorization of ESEA and the changes in the Common Core Standards and its use as a standardized measure of performance brings a sense of relief, it also creates a space. The pendulum may be swinging back to us. Certainly, educational leaders were vocal about the need to rethink those burdensome and ill-conceived policies that had been thrust upon us. But, what happens now? Within this moment, opportunity resides. As a field too many educators have become compliant and risk averse. Now, add to that the frustration and discouragement of the last few years and we see a monumental task ahead of us. Why? Because though the policies are changing, the societal demand for schools and students to perform better and the need for us to rethink the teaching and learning demanded by this century are not diminishing.

In the resistance, many educators found new voices. Now, those and others’ voices must identify what we do next. Hopefully, some have been giving that their best thought all along. This is an opportunity to reveal the beliefs that may be limiting the progress of the students, not because of any malevolent intent, but because beliefs, held deeply and silently, can play tricks and have unintended consequences. For example, this can be a time to begin to express truths differently, moving language from “I don’t believe these students can meet these standard” to “I don’t know how to help these students meet these standards.” Continuing to serve some well and to let others slip away is not the high ground of our calling to be educators. ESSA is returning the mantle of responsibility to the states. And, what will we do?

Perhaps, we begin with holding local conversations with teachers and all stakeholders. Perhaps these 5 questions will help begin those conversations.

  • What do we mean by high quality 21st century education?
  • How can we determine whether we are providing a high quality education to each of our students?
  • How do we expand and allocate our resources and engage partners so that we can create learning opportunities that result in every child’s success?
  • What are the most effective ways we can hold students, teachers, principals, district administrators, the superintendent and the board accountable for their part in student success?
  • Which efforts of the educators and of leaders result in improved results for students?

After decades of trying an approach to reform, the federal government has awakened to the realization that schools are local communities and that they belong to those communities and to the states. Regardless of the powerful interest the nation has in the success of those local centers of learning, change hasn’t come by federal legislation. As that reversal of direction occurs, the pendulum swings the locus of policy control and the responsibility for student success back to us. If we now will have greater input and maybe even control, we’d better have some answers and solutions ready. We have children in the system for whom this is their only chance, their 13 years with us. We cannot allow another wrong path. For their sake, we need to be ready and right. We need to be innovative and courageous. And, it would be easier, if this time, we harnessed our energies in coalition because we have spent years deeply thinking about what was the wrong direction and what would be possible if we had control. Let’s take the reins...for the sake of the children who need us to be our professional and personal best so that they can do their best.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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