By Pam Taylor (NNPA/ESSA Contributor)
As the first deadline to submit state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act rapidly approaches, community stakeholders in Washington, D.C., voice their support and concerns for how city administrators will implement the new law.
Last November, the Department of Education (DOE) issued two firm deadlines for the submission of ESSA state plans—April 3, 2017 and September 18, 2017. The Education Department will conduct a peer review process of the submitted state plans after each of the deadlines.
Following years of the increasingly cumbersome requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the bipartisan-approved ESSA allows state-level programs to continue, and even expand, on the progress that educators, parents, and students have made across the nation in recent years.
Today, high school graduation rates are at all-time highs, dropout rates are at historic lows, and more students are going to college than ever before.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas, the project manager for the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) new ESSA grant, is among those touting the strengths of ESSA.
The NNPA/ESSA Media Grant, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is focused on raising awareness about the education law in the Black community.
“I am excited about the promise of ESSA to effect positive change in our lowest-performing schools, where children have been underserved, undereducated, and for all intent and purposes, forgotten about,” said Primas. “I don’t want to see ESSA derailed by politics before it even gets underway.”
ESSA not only removes many of the federal restrictions regarding K-12 education, returning the authority to states and local school districts, it also requires states to include strategies and innovations in their plans for the nation’s most vulnerable students in the nation’s lowest performing schools.
According Hanseul Kang, the superintendent of the district’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), “only about a quarter of D.C. students are prepared for college and career readiness, and there are serious and persistent gaps among our lowest income students.”
The district’s draft plan states that only “17 percent of its economically disadvantaged students are on track for college and career readiness in mathematics, compared with 54 percent of their peers who are not economically disadvantaged,” said Kang.
Washington, D.C. is one of the 20-plus jurisdictions planning to submit plans by the April 3 deadline. The majority of states are opting for the later submission date.
Although OSSE has complied with the federal requirement for a minimum 30-day comment period, many stakeholders feel that the current plan has issues that should be addressed before the comment period ends at midnight on March 3 and before OSSE’s scheduled submission date of April 3.
At a February 23 community engagement meeting in Washington’s Ward 5, many stakeholders supported waiting until September to allow more input into the plan from the community.
Jeff Schmidt, a D.C. resident and alumna of the University of California at Irvine, is convinced that the district’s plan will harm minority children with its “lower math and proficiency goals for Black and Latino children than for White children for the next 22 years—until 2039. D.C. could easily come up with an education plan that is free of racial pre-judgment,” he said.
David Tansey, a math teacher at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C., is not happy with OSSE’s decision not to include a “well-designed school survey” of high school students as part of its plan.
“McKinley Tech’s typical student grows more than 70 percent [compared to their] peers citywide, the highest level of any DCPS high school,” said Tansey. “OSSE’s plan should not be approved until there is a plan to design and roll out a statistically valid school survey.”
Gary Ratner agreed.
Ratner, the founder and executive director of Citizens for Effective Schools, suggested that, “DCPS should administer the School Climate Assessment Instrument (SCAI) to all DCPS students, teachers and parents. SCAI would be an invaluable tool for identifying each school’s strengths and weaknesses.”
The SCAI can vary in scope from district to district; according to the National Center for Community Schools, the SCAI measures physical, social, affective/emotional, learning and moral indicators when assessing the quality of a school’s climate.
OSSE reported that they met with more than 100 organizations at 50 hosted meetings, before they released their draft on January 30. The ward-based community meetings in Washington, D.C., began February 7 and will end with the last meeting scheduled for February 28. For details, visit the OSSE website at www.osse.dc.gov/essa.
Primas also urged stakeholders to join the NNPA for an ESSA community awareness breakfast on March 24 in Washington, D.C. For details about the breakfast, contact Elizabeth Primas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.