Turning a Cruise Ship

President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10, 2015.  According to the government’s webpage, the reauthorization of NCLB represents “good news for our nation’s schools.”

The bipartisan law proclaims to:

  • Advance equity by upholding critical protections for disadvantaged and high-need students.
  • Require—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.
  • Ensure that vital information is provided to educators, families, students, and communities through annual statewide assessments that measure students’ progress toward those high standards.
  • Help support and grow local innovations—including evidence-based and place-based interventions developed by local leaders and educators.
  • Sustain and expand historic investments in increasing access to high-quality preschool.
  • Maintain accountability and action to effect positive change in our lowest-performing schools.

Edweek recently noted that ESSA will continue to hold states accountable to the Education Department.  States will have to submit accountability plans starting in the 2017-18 school year.  States will be allowed to pick their own accountability goals, both long-term goals and smaller, interim goals. These goals must address proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates.  Interestingly, states will no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes as they did under NCLB waivers.

What does all of this mean for teachers and school administrators?  It means that they go to work tomorrow and the next day knowing that change is coming, but also knowing that the implications of ESSA will take a while to be seen.  Fortunately, most of us won’t be sitting around waiting for direction.  We will continue to work passionately and persistently for all students.

Watching education reform lead to measurable change is like watching a cruise ship turn.  The average cruise ship speeds across the ocean at around 27 miles per hour.  At an average weight of over 150,000 gross tons, it can take a long time to turn one around.  It’s a maneuver that requires the collaboration and teamwork of many people.  From the captain on the bridge to the mechanics in the engine room, everyone needs to do their job.

ESSA holds the promise of great things for our children.  Much like ESEA in 1965, NCLB in 2002, and Obama’s Race to the Top initiatives, ESSA has the potential to make a difference for American students.  Whether that potential is realized depends on a “crew” of politicians and education officials working together to turn the education reform ship in the right direction.  As 2016 begins, let’s watch and remain hopeful that the journey and destination will be worth the wait.

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