“So what does this mean? Two of the biggest potential change levers of NCLB were never fully utilized. Whatever lens we use to look back on the No Child Left Behind and judge its relative success or failure, it’s important to consider not just what the law attempted to prescribe but how that was actually carried out in local schools, districts and states.” — From an Education Writers Association blog post
This blog post is an extension of the one linked above, and an exploration of what the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will look like in the classroom in the context of a post-No Child Left Behind education system.
ESSA has been given both praise and criticism by educators, policymakers, and parents alike, but across the board, the tone of discussion is fairly optimistic; this is primarily because ESSA has given much of the control that NCLB had back to the states and districts. Specifically speaking, states and districts control whether or not they use standards, what those standards will be, measures of student and school achievement, and have much more flexibility as far as how much funding states and districts receive and where it is spent on.
This kind of state and district control is widely regarded as a rare opportunity to totally change what has been considered a problematic system. It allows districts to improve low income schools and close the achievement gap in a way that rejects the one-size-fits-all policies in NCLB while still holding states, districts, and schools accountable.
This optimism, however, must be met in equal measure with action. While NCLB was not perfect by any means, it did offer support for low income families and students of color in low income schools — like the tutoring and transfer policies listed in the quote above — but schools failed to take advantage of the programs or they were presented to the families in a bias way.
The same will happen with the freedom offered in ESSA if we are not careful; if we don’t take this opportunity that has been offered and work hard to use it to transform the way we run our schools and the way we work to close the achievement gap, we will spend the next 10 years failing our students and blaming poor education reform.
It is the teacher’s responsibility, in the classroom, to know the programs that are in place to help their disadvantaged or underserved students. If a student needs specific help or resources, the teacher will be the first connection to getting the funding or the program the students needs.
So what does ESSA mean for teachers in the classroom?
- Teacher Responsibility: Knowing what programs are available, knowing the systems in place under current education policies to help underserved students, knowing the best way to help your students by using the resources available to you. You can’t offer your students the best if you don’t know what’s out there.
- Teacher Flexibility: Because so much more freedom has been given to states and districts, teachers have an unprecedented opportunity to transform K-12 education in the United States, whether that be through NextGen or digital learning, project based assessments or Standards Based Grading, this is the time for teachers to take risks with the latest and greatest teaching techniques. This means being brave and vulnerable, something teachers under NCLB rarely had the opportunity to do. Take advantage of these opportunities, learn from your mistakes, and press on.
- Teacher Advocacy: Though ESSA makes considerable improvements for underserved students, teachers must continue to be their #1 advocates. You are the connection between the student and their family and all the resources that are put in place to help them; it is your responsibility to see the need and make those connections, otherwise low income students will continue to fall through the cracks and the achievement gap will continue to widen.
While the freedom granted to states and districts under ESSA is encouraging, policies are only as strong as the educators who implement them.
In the ESSA-era, educators must be brave, bold, and vulnerable, and work to truly transform our current system into one that works for all students, regardless of zip code or school district.