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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.”

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