ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act significantly improves upon No Child Left Behind by, among other things, giving more power back to states and local schools. We’re working to help policymakers and educators take advantage of the law’s new flexibility, especially when it comes to creating smarter school accountability systems, prioritizing the needs of high-achieving low-income students, and encouraging the adoption of content-rich curricula.

Resources:

Our many ESSA-related blog posts are listed below.


Fordham's ESSA experts:


An increasing number of headline-grabbing graduation scandals have renewed the public’s interest in how students earn a high school diploma. A recent paper from the Center for American Progress adds to the discussion by examining high school graduation requirements in all fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to determine whether they are aligned with college admissions requirements and a variety of quality indicators.

To complete their state-by-state comparisons, the authors reviewed the state-level high school coursework needed to earn a standard diploma, as well as the admissions requirements for each state’s public university system.[1] These requirements were divided into two categories: years of study within each subject area and the course type and sequence within each subject.

The authors used Carnegie units to measure the years of study required by both high school graduation and college admissions standards; one Carnegie unit is equivalent to 120 hours of class time. States were placed into one of three categories based on their coursework requirements for math, English, science, social studies, foreign language, fine arts, physical education/health, and electives.[2] In states where both the high school and public...

 
 
Stacey Childress

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.

—William Pollard

Which forces and trends will drive the next twenty years of K–12 education innovation? We’re asking this question at NewSchools Venture Fund as we celebrate our twentieth anniversary this year.

In this spirit, here are three big, important questions for 2018, the answers to which have implications not only for the coming year, but for the next decade and beyond.

Is education technology poised for a new wave of innovation?

Several years ago, I often frustrated ed tech entrepreneurs and investors by pointing out that the last thing teachers wanted was another online gradebook. I’d say, “We already have a bunch of those.” Nonetheless, it was the most frequent pitch I heard from 2009–2011.

Fortunately, this imitative drought gave way to a flood of innovation. Investment in K–12 ed tech increased fourfold from 2010 to 2015. The sheer volume of instructional content and tools produced during this period resulted in many high-quality digital offerings in segments such as math, classroom management, and school communications.

But over the last...

 
 
Kate Kreamer and Ryan Reyna

The movement to expand career readiness is growing across the country. After reviewing all fifty-one state Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans for our new joint brief, “Mapping Career Readiness in State ESSA Plans,” we found that almost all include at least one strategy to advance this work. Much more so than in the past, states are simultaneously creating more of these opportunities and holding schools accountable for their number of career-ready students. This is a significant shift in state policymaking that, if implemented in equitable and high quality ways, has the potential to benefit millions of learners.

Unfortunately, it is too soon to declare victory because most states failed to fully leverage ESSA’s flexibility to advance career readiness. For example, few states aligned their long-term goals to their vision for success, leaving many states’ overall strategy for supporting learners’ college-and-career readiness little more than rhetoric. And very few states leveraged ESSA to promote the integration of academic and technical instruction into their professional development or standards.

Seven findings—some good, some bad—are particularly noteworthy:

  • Forty-nine states’ ESSA plans included at least one strategy to expand career readiness.
  • Thirty-five plans included a career-focused metric in their high school accountability
  • ...
 
 

Last week, Bellwether Education Partners (in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success) released its review of Ohio’s plan to comply with the federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This was part of a larger project gauging the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s ESSA plan. Ohio policymakers should give careful thought to their feedback; but what should they take away from this evaluation? Let me offer three points of strong agreement with their Ohio review—and one different viewpoint. Note: I participated in this project as a peer reviewer but did not evaluate Ohio’s plan.

The areas in which the reviewers’ opinions were spot-on are as follows.

  • Ohio’s accountability system is too complex. Under its summary of weaknesses, Bellwether writes: “The sheer number of measures included creates a complicated system and tends to dilute the value of many individual measures as a result.” Amen. Ohio now includes up to fifteen district or school ratings, including an overall rating, six component ratings, and eight subcomponent ratings (i.e., ratings within a larger component). This creates a noisy, cluttered report card that can lead to confusion rather than clarity on school and student performance. State legislators
  • ...
 
 

Advocates for gifted and talented education will always face an uphill struggle. Garnering support for policies that, by definition, benefit a small subset of students is hard—and harder when so many people assume that these kids will do fine regardless.

The inevitable—but foreseeable—result is the emaciated condition of programs designed to serve such children in U.S. public schools: scarce, often thin, and frequently staffed by ill-trained educators.

Weakness in gifted education undermines the country’s long-term prosperity. It’s also inequitable and bad for social mobility. The students most harmed are able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who depend far more than upper-middle-class students on the public education system to support them.

One partial remedy for this neglect is to ensure that policies that focus on all students truly benefit high achievers, too. Properly crafted, such policies can be significant boons for bright, motivated pupils, while sidestepping the “elitist” label that too often gets applied to gifted-centric initiatives.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) presents just such an opportunity for broad-gauged policy improvement at the state level—and it’s heartening that most of the new state accountability plans for schools under that statute are likely to do some good for...

 
 

When Congress enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), shifting much education decision-making back to the states, many reformers, especially on the left, voiced concern that states would give up on rigorous accountability systems. “Federal pressure is a hard thing for people to swallow,” said Conor Williams, a senior researcher at New America, “but this law doesn’t give enough federal pressure for enough schools and doesn’t define the guardrails we need.”

That worry wasn’t unreasonable. Conventional wisdom indicated that opponents of results-based accountability—the teachers unions, superintendents, and other establishment groups, especially—wield enormous power in the states. With many of the “guardrails” of No Child Left Behind removed, nothing would keep vested interests in the education status quo from dismantling consequential accountability. In correcting NCLB’s flaws, states might throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We’re pleased to report that such fears turn out to be mostly unfounded. So we find and document in Fordham’s new study, Rating the Ratings: An Analysis of the 51 ESSA Accountability Plans. While there’s still plenty about the accountability systems of many states to criticize—and implementation challenges lie ahead for all of them—the school ratings at least represent more of...

 
 

On September 15, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) submitted its ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Education. Ohio’s current accountability system meets most of the stipulations of the new federal law. As a result, Ohio’s federal plan doesn’t make that many changes to state practice.

But there is one under-the-radar ESSA provision that could have a significant impact on Ohio. ESSA explicitly says that when calculating four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, states can only use the percentage of students who earn a regular high school diploma. This diploma is defined as “the standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in the State that is fully aligned with State standards.” While there’s nothing stopping states from awarding multiple diplomas, the four-year graduation rate that they report to the feds can only be based on a single diploma—whichever one the majority of students earn.

This could have implications for how the state handles graduation for students with special needs, who represent about 15 percent of Ohio students. In a recent presentation to the State Board, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) put it this way:

...

 
 

A recent article in Education Week highlighted how an under-the-radar ESSA provision could spell trouble for states with multiple high school diplomas. The provision outlines the definition of a regular high school diploma, which must be used to calculate a state’s four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. Specifically, the definition of a regular high school diploma is: “the standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in the State that is fully aligned with State standards.”

The trouble that several states are running into is with the phrase “the preponderance of students in the State.” Preponderance, by definition, means a majority. In the past, some states offering multiple diplomas have calculated their graduation rates by adding up the percentage of students who earn each of the different diplomas. Under ESSA, states will only be permitted to count one of those diplomas—a move that could significantly lower graduation rates.

According to the EdWeek article, the provision was intended to ensure that the diplomas states award are adequately preparing all students. “Advocates for lower-income and minority students, and those with disabilities, were key voices at the table when that section of the bill was being drafted,” EdWeek journalist...

 
 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) grants states more authority over their school accountability systems than did No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—meaning that states now have a greater opportunity to design improved school ratings. In Fordham’s new report, Rating the Ratings: Analyzing the First 17 ESSA Accountability Plans, we examine whether states are making the most of the moment.

In our view, three of the most important improvements that states can make are to ensure that their accountability systems:

  1. Assign annual ratings to schools that are clear and intuitive for parents, educators, and the public;
  2. Encourage schools to focus on all students, not just their low performers; and
  3. Fairly measure and judge all schools, including those with high rates of poverty.

Based on these three objectives, we rate states’ planned accountability systems using the most recent publicly available information. States can earn grades of strong, medium, or weak in each.

Table 1 shows the results for the seventeen plans that have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, sixteen of which have enough information for us to rate.

Table 1. Results for states that have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education

 
 

Confusion abounds as the U.S. Department of Education continues to send mixed signals to states regarding their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), especially when it comes to school accountability. One question is what’s allowed—and what’s required—with respect to the “academic achievement indicator.” Herewith is an explanation of what’s permitted, what’s smart policy, and how states can avoid triggering federal pushback.

Proficiency rates: Allowed but to be avoided

ESSA Section 1111(c) plainly says that state accountability systems must gauge students’ “academic achievement,” and that this must be measured, at least in part, “by proficiency on...annual assessments.” The simplest—but worst—way to do this is to keep using No Child Left Behind–era proficiency rates. Yet eight of the first seventeen ESSA plans submitted to the Department of Education did just that. Yes, it’s undoubtedly permitted and won’t elicit any pushback from the feds. But it’s also unwise and inequitable.

Measuring school quality via proficiency rates encourages educators to focus on “bubble kids,” those just below or above the proficiency cutoff, to the detriment of other students. But they aren’t the only children who should matter to states. Among those neglected when proficiency...

 
 

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