| pixabay, the commons

Fed Ed act needs public input

As they did in St. Louis on Wednesday, community members have been gathering across the country to map the future of American education.
The Missouri meeting was the eighth of nine held statewide to gather feedback from educators, school boards, parents, students and state policymakers on how best to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). States around the country are hosting similar listening sessions on the law, which must be implemented by every public school nationwide for the 2017-18 school year.
The law replaces the No Child Left Behind Act. Like its forerunner, ESSA retains standardized testing requirements, but shifts accountability provisions to individual states. This includes the ability of states and local school boards to determine which standardized testing methods to use. 
At the same time, Missouri is pursuing its “Top 10 By 20 Plan,” which aims to place the state among the top 10 rankings for student performance by 2020. The education department intends to incorporate feedback from the statewide meetings into Missouri’s ESSA plan.
“ESSA comes along at a time when we need to, and want to, get this kind of public feedback for what comes after Top 10 by 20,” said Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for Missouri’s Department of Education. “We are looking at these meetings to provide big-picture visioning of the future. We're looking for the common themes in the responses, and we will try to incorporate those in our planning and advocacy efforts.”
Nationally, several groups have said they support the new federal law. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a nationwide nonprofit comprising state education department officials, said it supports the law because it “creates a long-term, stable federal policy that gives states additional flexibility and encourages states and schools to innovate.” 
CCSSO, along with numerous other national education organizations, also developed a public engagement guide and other resources to assist state education departments as they work toward fulfilling the requirements.
"ESSA holds great promise for giving states the flexibility needed to best meet the needs of their students,” CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich said regarding the regulations established this summer for states to follow in implementing ESSA. “An initial review of the assessment pilot regulations indicates that the U.S. Department of Education has sought to balance the need to ensure that any pilot would give all kids the same opportunities, while leaving room for states to innovate."
The Heritage Foundation, a think tank, has come out against the law because, among other things, it will increase spending and does not allow parents greater school choice options. Heritage's "Solutions 2016 for Education" platform says:

“Because many states still operate school systems on a residential assignment model, most parents expect that their children will be required to attend the brick-and-mortar school closest to where they live. Although 59 school choice programs operate in 28 states and the District of Columbia — representing tremendous progress on the advancement of school choice over the past decade — nearly 90 percent of children attend public schools, many of which were assigned to them based on their zip code.”

Heritage also said that per-pupil expenditures have nearly tripled over the past 50 years with little movement on improved outcomes, stating that reading-proficiency rates among 17-year-olds have remained unchanged since the early 1970s.

“Achievement gaps between low-income students and their more-affluent peers still persist, as do gaps between white and minority children,” reads Heritage's unsigned position paper. “Graduation rates for disadvantaged children have not improved. These lackluster academic outcomes mean that millions of children pass through America’s schools without receiving a quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, compete in the increasingly competitive global economy and maintain the blessings and responsibilities of a free society.”

Margie Vandeven, Ph.D., Missouri’s commissioner of education, said she is looking to go beyond just testing to measure student success in the state. She referred to the fabled African tribe Masai’s greeting, “and how are the children?” — to which the desired response is “all the children are well” — as a benchmark for assessing the state’s academic achievements.
“It’s our job to ensure that all of our children are well,” Vandeven said. “Every child matters. Whether they come from poverty, have an individualized education plan (IEP) for special needs or English isn’t their first language. A child’s start does not determine their destination. Strong schools create a better Missouri and country. Strong schools create a better economy, bring companies to the state to hire students after they graduate and prepare students for those jobs. We have to ask, how are our children doing in the global economy?”
Vandeven said that Missouri is “about average” when examining data from test scores (found here).

“We typically end up in the middle,” Vandeven said. “We need to close the gap and we also have to move those who are (higher up on the education scale) even higher. We shouldn’t just focus on proficiency; proficiency is just the minimum bar. When we look at the data, we see all positive indicators. But we are a long way from saying all children are well.”