How the Every Student Succeeds Act Will Impact Educators and Education as We Know It

By Dr. Lisa Andrejko
PeopleAdmin Strategic Advisor,
Former superintendent, principal, teacher

After surviving conference committee meetings throughout the summer and fall, and passing the House and Senate, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA/ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama yesterday.

This is the first rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in more than a dozen years. It is being viewed by most educational and political organizations as a success due to the compromise from both sides of the aisle. It removes the influence of Washington on K-12 Education delegating accountability measures to the states. It also consolidates nearly 50 programs into a giant block grant.

What is important for school administrators to understand regarding teacher evaluation as well as recruiting and hiring?

The intent of ESEA
Let’s first look at how the Whitehouse summarizes some of the key reforms and tenets in the law:

  • Holding all students to high academic standards that prepare them for success in college and careers.
  • Ensuring accountability by guaranteeing that when students fall behind, states redirect resources into what works to help them and their schools improve, with a particular focus on the very lowest performing schools, high schools with high dropout rates, and schools with achievement gaps.
  • Empowering state and local decision-makers to develop their own strong systems for school improvement based upon evidence, rather than imposing cookie-cutter federal solutions like the No Child Left Behind Act did.
  • Reducing the often onerous burden of testing on students and teachers, making sure tests don’t crowd out teaching and learning or sacrifice the clear, annual information parents and educators need to make sure our children are learning.
  • Providing more children access to high-quality preschool.
  • Establishing new resources for proven strategies that will spur reform and drive opportunity and better outcomes for America’s students.

Under ESSA, states will have the authority to continue to use student achievement data in teacher evaluation, currently in place in 42 states and the District of Columbia. ESSA maintains annual tests. States may reduce the role those assessments play in school ratings and accountability in favor of other factors, such as school climate, teacher engagement, and access to advanced coursework.

However, it is my belief that states have invested an inordinate amount of time, energy, and funding into creating teacher accountability systems that include student achievement data in one form or another. It would not be “politically” popular for state legislators to say that teachers are no longer “accountable” after having publicly declared the importance of these systems just a few years ago. The teacher evaluation software you choose will be critical, as modifications will surely be needed. Flexibility in the creation of forms and processes will be key, as well as having the ability to make modifications in a timely manner.

How will ESSA affect recruiting and hiring?
Since the “highly qualified” status is now replaced with effectiveness, I predict some leeway in certification requirements and alternative pathways to teaching made easier at the state level. This will have an impact on teacher shortages.


The bottom line
The ESSA is 1061 pages, if you would like to know the intimate details. Otherwise, here is my summary of the key parts of the bill and the bottom line of each.

Bottom line: No national standards like Common Core. These decisions will be determined at the state level.

Bottom line: The bill maintains statewide testing every year in third through eighth grade and once in high school. The bill encourages a smarter approach to testing by moving away from a sole focus on standardized tests by allowing for the use of multiple measures of student learning and progress to make school accountability decisions.

Bottom line: No mention of grading teachers on student scores. Teacher evaluations systems will be determined at the state level.

School Improvement
Bottom line: Interventions for the bottom 5 percent of schools as measured on the statewide testing. There are no consequences or punishments for schools not meeting targets as there were in NCLB.

Bottom line: The multiple grant programs that were part of ESEA in both NCLB and Race to the Top have been consolidated into a $1.6 billion block grant for almost anything. No changes to Title I are included. However, there is language referring to rural poverty. Title II does have language in support of teacher quality.

Well-rounded/whole child
Bottom line: Emphasis and funding for preschool, innovation, and vague school choice language in the form of pilot programs. Details to come as the law is implemented.

Teacher Evaluation
Bottom line: No mandated teacher evaluation or ͞Highly Qualified͟ provisions are referred to in the law. Discussion on teacher quality reference effectiveness rather than qualifications include Higher Ed and professional development. There is mention of alternative routes to certification, but again, these are state-level decisions.

More to come
PeopleAdmin will keep you up to date and well informed as ESSA is implemented. It won’t be fully in place until the 2017-18 school year. Which, in reality, relegates the monitoring and implementation to the next administration … whoever’s administration that may be.

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