Oregon’s State Board of Education just unanimously approved the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. The plan now heads to the U.S. Department of Education for review.
What is The Every Student Succeeds Act?
In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became law, replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the cornerstone of federal K-12 education policy.
The new law requires all states to make sure that schools and districts are eliminating inequities in resources and improving outcomes for all students – and provides more than $14 billion to school districts to work towards those goals. ESSA also requires states to engage multiple stakeholders, including families, educators, community-based organizations and education advocates in the decision-making process.
ESSA returns considerable authority to states. When President Obama signed it into law, we embraced the much-needed rewrite; however, we also recognized that this additional flexibility also gave states a great responsibility in ensuring that all children in Oregon -- especially kids of color, English learners, kids navigating poverty, and kids with special needs -- are on track to graduate from high school prepared for college, work, and life.
And now, given the new administration, we see our work as advocates is more important than ever.
Community organizations band together to push for equity
To ensure the state’s plan truly would address the needs of historically marginalized and underserved students, Stand for Children coordinated a joint advocacy campaign with Latino Network, Unite Oregon, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, Children’s Institute and Chalkboard Project.
Our message: Raise the bar for underserved students and support educators so our kids get the support they need.
Our coalition focused on four things:
- Higher expectations for cohorts of students who are behind in reading, writing or math, and higher expectations for schools when any group of students is consistently underperforming. The Woodburn school district has one of the state’s highest graduation rates despite one of the highest percentage of English Language Learners, underscoring that high expectations and a good plan can ensure underserved kids achieve. Too many students of color don’t get those same expectations elsewhere in the state. We want districts to set high goals for underserved students with achievable interim goals.
- Clear public information on both academic outcomes and opportunities for all groups of students at every school, so that families and communities can see how our schools are doing in addressing systemic inequities and helping all children achieve, especially students who are historically marginalized.
- Better training and ongoing support for teachers and school leaders who work with underserved students from early childhood through 12th grade.
- Alignment of the plan with our state’s ongoing initiatives around early learning and equity (HB 3499 English Language Learners, EL Strategic Plan, HB 2016 African American Student Success Plan, and American Indian/Alaska Native Education State Plan).
State plan initially fell short, comes through in the clutch
The state’s initial draft plan, released in February, failed to address these criteria.
For example, the draft plan called for the same levels of progress in reading, math and other subjects for all students. This approach would ensure that the most furthest behind students remain far behind.
I will explain it using the analogy of a 10-lap race, in which different groups of runners start from different starting lines. Some groups start 200 yards behind other groups, some 300 yards. When the race starts, it is unrealistic to expect these runners to catch up to the leaders in only a few laps.
But if they run steadily faster than the groups ahead of them, they will narrow the gap with each lap until eventually catching up.
To set Oregon on a better track to forever close the achievement gap and boost learning for all kids, our ESSA plan and our state goals must expect more, and faster, progress from schools on behalf of the students who start out the farthest behind.
How do we achieve that? First, schools need clear, ambitious and achievable benchmarks to help illustrate the urgency in closing gaps. Teachers and principals must be given the resources and supports to provide kids that have extra challenges with a supportive, engaging and nurturing learning environment, and high quality instruction.
Our coalition pushed back on the state and, to state officials’ credit, they addressed this and every other issue in the final draft.
From now until the end of the year, the Oregon Department of Education is convening meetings with family and community members to discuss redesigning the annual Report Card that each school district publishes.
This will be a great opportunity to give your input on what the new report card should look like – and what information is most important for families and the community to know about their local schools.