.                        The Every Student Succeeds Act & Lessons Learned
By Stephanie Leigh Robinson 
  
The Every Student Succeeds Act & Lessons Learned
(A living document)

Winter 2016 (Updated June 2017) 
 
If President Jimmy Carter was right when he said: “We need a full-time commitment to education at every level of government— Federal, State, and Local” then the final version of ESSA has just pulled the rug out from under the federal commitment and its much needed oversight duties.  This change (seen as biblical in nature with God foreseeing the Trump win, at least, in the minds of Democrats)  is now being hailed, by many, as a blessing in disguise --- especially for groups that oppose school choice as the remedy for inequitable school practices.

(Note: At the same time, civil rights   in our nation's schools have been weakened under Trump and DeVos. Secretary DeVos even demonstrates that she has not even bothered to review U.S. civil rights issues by stating that she doesn't know of any civil rights concerns. Her response indicates disinterest at best --- showing  that the cvil rights of  U.S. students  are a low priority for her, a fact  that should be a cause for alarm for all Americans. Civil rights, of course, are the "basic ingredients of a democracy."  U.S. parents and community stakeholders should, therefore, call upon their state and political representatives   to bring attention to this concern --- or to ensure that their children's civil rights are, indeed, being protected.    

Starting with Trump's major educational goal in which school choice is touted as the civil rights issue of
our time ---  all parents and community stakeholders should review lessons learned first before making any decisions about school choice (with all due respect to the POTUS and Secretary DeVos) to place it in context or to  verify whether or not  school choice works. They should also consider statements  by politicians at the May 24th budget hearing whose questions highlighted additional concerns about school choice, including statements and questions to Secretary of Education Betsey  DeVos  from representative  Mark Pocan  who has focused on this subject for at least 14 years.

While parents and community stakeholders, of course,  state that they are familiar with school choice in all of its current forms --- and, to date, tend to favor it when it comes to their own children, these ESSA provisions remain a gamble for far too many parents and community stakeholders. To contribute to discussions about governance analysis plans, parents and community stakeholders must always underscore the importance of high-quality, easy to understand and timely transparency and accountability goals tied to any provision, especially school choice . They must also support and review leadership and teacher evaluations aligned with the actual student (state) test results of each subgroup ---  including determining if all subgroups are taught by productive, effective teachers and/or receive the same resources, an ESSA mandate. In other words, they must always discuss or ask how equity and excellence are being supported and/or if all of the interventions that are being implemented (for all subgroups) are based on best practices or the gold standard in research. That some parents and community members will choose to overlook the need for accountability in spite of lessons learned (consider the opt out of testing movement) and  will see its absence as an expression of their own value systems and/or idiosyncratic preferences --- these interpretations of accountability weaken school choice. They also serve as a telltale sign that  all parties need to weigh their options more thoroughly in order to determine if the transparency and accountability mechanisms (in use) are effective in responding to the information needs of parents and community stakeholders.  

They should, therefore, ask:

               What are the problems posed by the realities of unaccountable governance, unproven                                             accountability programming and uncertain evidence of impact?  McGee, R. and Gaventa, J.,                                      Shifting Power? Assessing the Impact of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives, (2011)
               IDS Working Paper. 

To be clear, (in spite of parent preferences for school choice), Its purpose, on the face of it, and in theory, shows that it  still desperately needs to expand into:  school choice based on school effectiveness. . .
Note: Secretary Betsey DeVos, head of the department of education, who has very little power to act will push school choice, nonetheless. 

To  a wide range of diverse citizens, however, school choice represents a clear example of "giving up" on traditional public schools ---   a type of defeatism, if you will,  based on a direct response to the teachers' unions and their negative impact on the  public school system.   This response has a lot to do with the original intent of ESEA 1965 and the unions' ongoing use of excuses to define the majority of poor children of color ---  a role in which the unions contradict the whole purpose of the law. That they must resort to political myths against children to defend their  own ineffectiveness --- without holding themselves or school leaders responsible for strong accountability in schools will always be a failing strategy that will, in the process, always turn the  public  school system into   mere employment factories for their ineffective members (page 1665) --- at the expense of children.       In fact, in spite  of the history of the civil rights movement,  the unions (in the last election) stood along side racially insensitive political groups and, boldly, fought against enforceable mandates for effective accountability standards, effective (objective) state assessments,  effective teacher evaluations  --- and (believe it or not) fought against any distinctions between effective and ineffective teachers,  and/or school sanctions and penalties for ineffectiveness in schools.

Given these facts, teachers unions (in the United States of America) have no problem doing what they have  done for years or decade after decade, including but not limited to overlooking ​the need for transparency and accountability  in schools but also remaining insensitive to the importance of the fair distribution of teachers --- as if poor children of color are a means to an end --- whose education can be forfeited based on excuses or a deficit model that serves their collective bargaining "bread and butter" issues.   As National Education Association (NEA) General Counsel Bob Chanin’s once said:

        It is not because we care about children; and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school           for every child… the NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

This lost battle then to the unions is what gave rise to school choice... this giving  up (by running away from union controlled schools) --- this defeat of fair and egalitarian practices for all students  (that could only be fought on American soil where a certain type of racism in any guise still reigns in certain political communities) is disruptive to democracy or social equality, along with racial integration --- and leaves far too many parents of color turning to school choice out of necessity (they say).    

Parents and community stakeholders then are facing a dilemma. Two difficult choices have been placed before them at the state and local levels. Their first choice requires supporting special interest groups such as teachers' unions (not to be confused with individual teachers) who have been able to orchestrate the weakening of the federal imprint  as the way, in turn, to weaken strong accountability measures  for the benefit  of their members. Their second choice requires giving in to Trump's idea of school choice without fulling understanding how Trump/DeVos define it or if it is a scheme to use a public entity built on  equality for the sole purpose of turning it into a capitalistic venture (i.e.,  White Hat? ).  

With all of these ideas in mind, for some,  "a free public education was a “Negro idea,” the contention of W.E.B. DuBois (referenced in Eugene F. Provenzo’s edited 2002 volume. . . Du Bois on Education, p. 158)." In this sense, the operative word is free --- without financial profit or gain  in which all public schools are required to promote democratic ideas or equality without the need for market-based school choice .   ​ For others, school choice continues to be the original response to school ineffectiveness (Consider No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan effort  in which Ted Kennedy and other progressives took a stand against the gaming of the system in all its forms --- an effort  that proved black children could succeed. These efforts included understanding the importance of transparency and accountability in school governance, discourse and decision-making tied to annual testing, targeted interventions based on student test results, teacher evaluations, highly qualified teachers, supplemental services --- all  wiith timelines and penalties in place to address school official sloth, etc. even though  capacity development for parents in this area still needed cooperation from or with school leaders, especially in regard to NCLB supplemental services that were never really implemented effectively throughout the U.S.. Consider my response to this problem(s) years ago.) 

(Note: So what will it mean for public school children when ESSA, as a national law, does not even have any enforceable timelines or sanctions, penalties and consequences for ineffectiveness, etc.? Some educators and educational journalists have already rendered it as simply a bad case of "theatre" with both conservatives and liberals serving as the actors.  It also " does not require states to evaluate teachers" in any meaningful way. And, this is not a joke. Surprisingly, the unions and conservative policians joined forces and fought to omit this ESSA federal mandate in which public schools must bear some resemblance to public schools or guarantee that students have access to class ready teachers.) From this standpoint, it is clear that ESEA/ESSA's problems are due to the very well known historical habit of  "elite capture of the public school system" by both racially insenstive politicians and teachers' unions (How else could this have happened?) who have forgotten  the true purpose of the U.S. public school system --- or even their own roles as public servants if their actions are tracked.

But wait --- there is a third solution to be found in all of this if the public's input is added to these discussions.  Why is this a critical need? With the “power and authority” of all ESSA accountability systems exclusively back in the hands of state and local education systems (even though this provision is clearly a current legalized, if not historical, conflict of interest since they will be holding themselves accountable for their own plans. . . Peer pressure or peer reviews are not solutions to this problem without enforceability provisions.), it is, therefore, an opportunity for parents and community stakeholders  to take up the fight for strong school accountability and teacher evaluation plans and win. (Note --- They must first recognize that accountability involves two distinct stages: answerability and enforcement --- without these two key stages attached to accountability, it (accountability)  has no effect
. . . But, will state officials or better yet the public refer to the ESSA flexibility provisions when it comes to these issues? 

While it would be an unexpected battle for the unions who automatically count on or are use to parent and community stakeholder acquiescence to exist at the state and local levels --- (everywhere across the nation), parents and community stakeholders only need to show up and speak for themselves about their local school system's need for accountability. For instance, the super group data must be fought against since it hides the critical ESSA requirement for targeted interventions for all children. This means parents and community stakeholders must fight for disaggregated data for all students . Teacher evaluations tied to student results must be supported as well. (Many teachers' unions are overlooking the importance of the effectiveness of classroom teachers(?). When the unions  continue to fight this provision they are really taking it upon themselves to define  the identity of  their students before they even enter public school classrooms. It is strange, if not --- a terrifying insult that they expect parents and community stakeholders to support classism, racism and/or --- at best: the teachers' unions low expectations of children as overall acceptable U.S. school practices. That they remain silent about the input from civic rights groups or from parents and community stakeholders of color is an affront to democracy.  Parents of color (just like white parents)  want  and need school leaders and teachers to stay focused, without fanfare, on upholding or implementing best practices in public school classrooms by believing in equality.  School ratings must remain in place. (School leaders and teachers do not want parents to be able to distinguish between effective or ineffective schools --- which is just plain silly for obvious reasons if their goal is to really support school effectiveness with targeted interventions rather than to preserve their own reputations (by any means necessary) at the expense of their students' education.).  Indicators  (performance and context indicators)  must also be taken seriously and include: good governance or leadership governance analyses (from the school climate to school resources, i.e. high-quality textbooks tied to high-quality standards for all students, effective teachers who can teach high-quality content on any given day with proof, AP classes, high-quality facilities, effectiveness in following through on the dissemination of timely information (at least before school starts) about a school's accomplishments in supporting opportunities to learn, quality classroom instruction or life chances of all students through education, etc.. The indicators then, in this political climate, are an essential part of school accountability plans --- which should support the effective use of data focusing on transparency and accountability mechanisms tied to  the ESSA reporting requirements.). 

​Clearly, parents and community stakeholders must be bold in contributing agenda items  to state and local meetings. They should also take part in the design of any surveys that the states are using to determine their goals, including developing the questions and in evaluating the  survey results (cross-referenced). ( Note: W ithout their input and involvement the surveys are not valid or reliable.)  They must discuss, define and interpret the meaning of the goals --- or the prerequisites for their buy-in and/or the legitimacy of state and local goals tied to student achievement. These goal(s) include  any discussion about the implementation timelines and how and in what ways the items or goals will be tracked, analyzed, monitored and supported in promoting strong  equity and excellence  plans  for states, districts and schools. These are important overall steps to take, especially since Randi Weingarten, the current  AFT president,  even concedes  that the " states haven’t done the right thing by kids for a very long time while suggesting that the federal government should step in --- (but only?)  in draconian situations."

Original Document 
 
Is ESSA worth the fight?  If so, what should parents and community know about it and how is it defined? According to Connor Williams from The 74 Million : i t (Every Student Succeeds Act) is a "clear system that serves the political needs of most members of Congress and protects a variety of special interest groups. It combines a thin veneer of civil rights equity with excruciating complexity and uncertain accountability. It takes a relatively simple federal accountability system, removes the teeth, and layers on a bunch of vague responsibilities for states."
 
In the past (as we all know) --- even when federal oversight mechanisms were in place --- state and local public school officials were not always cooperative in respecting federal mandates. For instance, the 
Brown vs. the Board of Education legislation was ignored by many southern political leaders.  They claimed
Brown --- as a historical desegregation decision "violated the rights of states to manage their systems of public education, they, therefore, responded with defiance, legal challenges, delays or token compliance . " History --- as a tool for needed change, of course,  requires public school communities to keep their eyes on the prize and remember lessons learned, especially pertaining to racist practices. And yet, even with these  civil rights goals in mind, by the end of the 1950's "less than 10 percent of black children in the South were attending integrated schools.”
 
Drawing on these previous lessons then, parents and community stakeholders should find it  puzzling to learn that ESSA’s public school accountability systems will operate without the need for  federal sanctions and fines as well as incentives or enforceable standards of performance for all schools, a policy decision 
that goes against accountability research. Public school officials, to date,  seem to have   forgotten  or
have chosen to undermine the importance of strong accountability mechanisms and why they were
needed in the first place. For instance, surely they know that Adam Clayton Powell established the Powell Amendment that sought to "withhold federal funds from any school district that refused to obey the Supreme Court decision prohibiting segregation in public schools."(Please note that  the NEA tried to ignore the Powell Amendment.) George Bush fined states when they failed to develop high, quality standards for their students. Furthermore, according to Richard Elmore and Susan Fuhrman, when districts, in the past, were at risk of state sanctions (page 1680):  "districts responded   constructively to state accountability policies by improving their evaluation, professional development, and curricular capacities."
 
It is also important to note that Robert Kennedy refused to support the Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965 without strong  accountability provisions since he did not trust school officials or teachers to respond to the educational needs of underserved children. Most importantly, he wanted the accountability provisions to support parents in holding schools and teachers accountable for positive student results.
 
And still  (unbelievably), the latest reauthorization of ESEA or ESSA has ended federal mandates tied to teacher evaluations. They have ended these mandates knowing that history shows: public school 
teachers --- “99% of them --- were considered effective regardless of student achievement” or in spite of  the need for improved instruction tied to actual student learning. To address current public trust and buy-in concerns or the legitimacy of the law, how will states “require and implement measures that correlate with student achievement and not allow teacher evaluation systems to become a watered-down process?" 
 
There are precedents for underscoring the importance of this need to support accurate, objective
information (based on the original intent of ESEA). First of all, evaluation systems produce the data that parents and community stakeholders need “to negotiate from a position of strength, a goal that increases their influence on matters important to student achievement.” Teacher evaluation systems also help school officials remain accountable to the public by tying teacher performance to student results.  (Please refer to the Tempo study findings  to understand how things have changed over the years and/or why this goal is still important.) Moreover, the evaluations help teachers improve their instructional practices.
 
As recent as 2013 , however, research studies continue to prove that most states have not "connected the dots" when it comes to teacher evaluations systems tied to positive student outcomes . At the same time,
the teachers unions and conservative elected officials have ignored best practices and decided that teacher evaluations should not be aligned to objective student test results. They have forgotten that the U.S. public 
school system does not exist  as "employment or political regimes" only --- but serves as a system that, at  the least, expects -- on moral and logical grounds -- something more from their public servants in return for their salaries, which includes holding school officials and teachers accountable for student achievement.  Parents and community stakeholders, therefore, must demand accurate, timely objective data tied to student achievement.  

With ESSA, this means they must take an active role in the creation of the state accountability plans. Clearly, it is a conflict of interest for state officials and teachers alone to create these plans or to hold themselves accountable for school effectiveness or teacher quality.  This goal should begin and end with parents and community stakeholders serving as equal partners in the decision-making process on behalf of children, first and foremost based on transparency, accountability and responsiveness measures and goals across the board (with specific timelines rather than mere  progress toward a goal). 
 
Why is community organizing   important? While a review of lessons learned shows that there  is barely any evidence to prove that states and local education systems are equipped to provide all public school students with a high quality education, there are many well-documented examples of the gaming of the system --- at the state and local levels. Evidence points to a wide accountability gap across the nation with high numbers of segregated schools,  student pushouts,  ineffective teachers, resource inequality  as well as disproportionality in special education, suspensions, and expulsions for children of color. The misuse of Title One funds is commonplace, too and the use of block grants has  made it hard to track the implementation of program effectiveness at the local level, etc. 
 
Allowing states across the nation to create their own standards and assessments is another example of the gaming of the system since  it allows far too many state officials to hide behind low standards to support grade confusion. "This variation has created a challenge in understanding the ability levels of students across the United States because there is no means to compare the proficiency levels established by one state against the others directly." For example, an "A" in one state may be a "D" in another one, a practice (supported by conservative politicians who want local control of schools but who also tend to represent the states with the worst scores) that will continue under ESSA. To combat this gaming of the system parents and community stakeholders must demand uniform, high quality standards such as the Common Core (Please refer to my  blog for more on this topic.) or more specifically: uniform, high quality standards aligned with high quality tests  for the sake of U.S. policy coherence across the nation. Again, these goals do not appear to be important to teachers unions and conservative politicians in spite of lessons learned . As a result,  parents, (especially military parents) community stakeholders and the public, in general will 
continue to be confused about the "vastly different standards" in different states.
 
In spite of this confusion, politicians who want to limit the power of the federal government also want the public to believe that the answers  to the public education system can only be found and addressed at the local level. They make these statements even as they overlook the fact that local school systems have a history of failing to implement research-based best practices or programming tied to school effectiveness.
With these facts in mind, most citizens know that none of us are  geographically bound by the ideas of any one area. The power of the Internet as well as comparing and contrasting PISA, TIMSS and NAEP scores across states and/or nations will continue to assist parents in better understanding  school reform efforts, including their need to understand the timely, effective implementation of best practices or research-based programs at the state and local  levels.  
 
Questions also continue to center on why states and districts will be "required" to use locally developed, evidenced based interventions” for the bottom 5 percent of schools and in schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate. What if the very best interventions are gold standard (scientific-based research, randomized controlled trials, peer reviewed, etc.) evaluated interventions and what if they are not locally developed? Furthermore, why does this law only focus on the lowest 5 percent of schools for interventions?

Since accountability systems require sanctions, fines, incentives, etc. and ESSA is, instead, depending on
the good faith efforts of states for 95% of the schools how will the accountability needs of parents and community stakeholders be met for the schools that are not at the bottom 5%? How will states provide stakeholders with timely, accurate information about school effectiveness or the data that they must have to make meaningful decisions about school administrators and teacher effectiveness connected to overall student achievement? Rishawn Biddle references Anne Hyslop's study on this subject and states:  
 
                    73 percent of 6,058 failure mills in 16 states identified under No Child in 2011-2012 were allowed                          to escape scrutiny under this formula. Altogether, 4,458 schools were allowed to provide shoddy                        curricula and instruction to 2.4 million children; this included 578 failure mills serving 319,000                                children that would have been forced to overhaul their operations after six years of failure.                                      Because the five percent limit would now apply to every state (and not just to those currently                                under the waiver gambit), the futures of millions more children will be ignored. 
 
In response to this concern, we are led to believe that ESSA resources for states will support school turnarounds. Please note: presently, 80% of states have already admitted that they do not know how to
turn around low performing schools. What paradigm shift will have to occur for states  to meet the
accountability concerns of parents and community stakeholders for children in school turnarounds? 
In other words, contrary to what politicians are saying, state and local systems are not ready to operate
on their own or have not yet earned the right to exclude the federal government from ensuring student success in public schools
 
Moreover, state flexibility concerns in the law will can weaken or strengthen ESSA accountability systems (refer to page 644 ), especially in regard to Title One aid depending on how this provision is used. It is, therefore, of critical importance for parents and community stakeholders to contact their state educational and political representatives to participate in the decision-making process centering on state flexibility
 
ESSA indicators are also in question and should be linked to school accountability, including but not limited to graduation and truancy rates. Indicators focusing on governance analysis and its results are critically important to compare and contrast schools in regard to school resources, i.e. effective teachers, research-based textbooks tied to high-quality research-based standards,  including information on leadership and teacher professional development are critically needed for parents to compare and contrast schools. While student engagement is important it is contingent or dependent on the educational foundation of  any school or what the school is actually offering its students. It, therefore, makes sense for parents and community stakeholders to know if school quality is aligned to (uniform) high quality, research-based standards, a high quality, research-based curriculum as well as assessment(s), professional development, instructional leadership, teacher effectiveness, and high quality classroom instruction (on any given day), etc.   School ratings support this purpose as well. 

They should also have access to information about each subgroup ( rather than super data groups , a concern that was addressed by Senator Harkin and Representative Miller who brought attention to this matter in 2012 by stating that this strategy was actually masking the individual differencs of distinct subgroups. ). Subgroups then help parents and community stakeholders to better understand how each subgroup is served or what particular targeted interventions are used to support student achievement for each group.
 
Then there's the U.S. Secretary of Education role, which has been weakened and is no longer apparently important from the point of view of unions and conservative politicians (as mentioned). This decision leaves public school students without a chief spokesperson who is charged with  listening to the parents or overall public or acting in their  best interest at the federal level.  As a NEA website post (celebrating the passage of ESSA) put it : the secretary can no longer "dictate specific mandates on standards and assessments, how much elements of the accountability plans should count for or even the criteria themselves, parameters of the accountability system, additional data collection, exit requirements, teacher evaluation, and the definition of teacher effectiveness." 
 
The Secretary of Education's diminished role, however, is not a cause of celebration for parents of  color.
Clearly, this law ignores  the fact that the public school system is now 51% children of color. It also ignores
the reasons why  parents of color tend to trust the federal government's oversight abilities and direction
in supporting equity and excellence in schools, a belief originating from  its critical involvement and responsibility in U.S. race relations, including its role in strengthening  transparency and accountability in schools.  How will states address these concerns if this belief, at its root,  has not been fully recognized by state and local public education systems?
 
So --- after signing ESSA, President Obama said: "Now the hard work begins. Laws are only as good as
the implementation." As a former community organizer, perhaps, he knows something  that many of
us do not know -- some lesson we have overlooked. Based on his experience with communities, he ---
of course, would be one of the very first individuals to know how real change occurs. He would know 
that if a public school education is, indeed, a  civil right --- then based on lessons learned, ESSA will
always need the constant involvement of the public to track  its progress and support its effectiveness. 
From this perspective, the public is the missing link in school reform efforts that everyone talks about but underestimates. 
 
Parents and community stakeholders must, therefore, accept and share the challenge and  commitment
to operate at a deeper level, on the ground, in support  of the Every Student Succeeds Act --- from focusing
on the development of its state accountability systems to its teacher evaluations systems at the state and local levels. As Arne Duncan, former Secretary of Education once said, parents and community stakeholders "must be the ones who remain committed in making on-going demands on schools, school officials and teachers to ensure public school effectiveness." This commitment must not be reactionary but decidedly proactive in determining the best possible solutions tied to a world class public education system for all children. If there was ever a law calling on the involvement of everyone in meeting this task (parents and community stakeholders across races/ethnicities, gender, religious affiliations, geographical regions, socioeconomic status and age groups), it is this one --- for with it the door is wide open for real change --- stakeholders must only show up and walk through it.