The social innovation organizations that make up the America Forward Education Task Force understand what it takes to educate students, particularly those from challenging backgrounds, whether they attend traditional public schools, charter schools, or are educated in other settings. We understand why too many schools in under-resourced communities fail the students they serve – and have done so for many years in spite of historic reform efforts. Students from under-resourced communities often face challenges outside of school that they carry with them into the classroom. Yet too many of the schools that serve students from under-resourced communities are neither resourced nor designed to adequately respond to student needs, and operate in systems that make it difficult, despite the best efforts of educators, to assemble the kind of skilled educators, provide the academic rigor and comprehensive supports, and positive school culture that students need to learn and succeed.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress and signed into law in December 2015, makes explicit progress in a number of areas – including the elevation of effective external partnerships, an emphasis on investing in what works, the support of learner-centered systems, and strong accountability and transparency – and opens the door to innovation and improvement in other areas.
The new law gives States, districts, and schools a strong foundation from which to build public education systems that are responsive to the needs of their individual students, and authorizes the resources necessary to empower educators, families, and local officials to take advantage of the law’s flexibilities in exciting and innovative ways.
Passage, however, is only the first step in ensuring that ESSA realizes its promise for students in under-resourced communities.
Effective implementation of the law necessary funding for ESSA – including additional guidance, policy letters, and grant priorities– as well as through other legislation related to K-12 education will be equally, if not even more, critical.
Advancing these priorities also requires that States and local districts – especially those serving high percentages of students from under-resourced communities and other high-need students – work to take advantage of the new law to make needed improvements to improve outcomes for students- and have the resources necessary to succeed.
America Forward Policy Priorities for ESSA Implementation
We believe that the principles detailed in our ESSA Policy Platform and outlined below must be addressed as the implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act continues. As the focus turns to implementation of the new law, America Forward believes specific, clear regulations, guidance, and application language can help cement and build on the progress embodied in the statute.
America Forward strongly supports the provisions in ESSA that promote high-quality partnerships – including between state educational agencies, local educational agencies, non-profits, institutions of higher education, and other community-based organizations – and urges the Department to clarify for states and districts what resources they have at their disposal to support such partnerships.
Reward Results and Invest in What Works
America Forward supports the provisions in ESSA that reward results and support and expand innovation, including the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority, which will allow up to seven states to pilot innovative assessment systems, including competency-based assessment; and, the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program, which establishes a multi-tiered system of evidence for awarding grants to support innovation. We encourage the Department – through regulation and guidance – to emphasize the program’s focus on evidence, and assist states in developing interventions, collecting data, and scaling-up best practices. We urge the Department to provide support to States, districts, and schools in identifying and implementing evidence-based practices.
Promote Innovative Solutions
America Forward supports the provisions in ESSA that provides states and districts with the flexibility to pursue innovative approaches to instruction, assessment, accountability, and professional development that more closely reflect the needs of students and educators, including the use of innovative technology, personalized learning, early childhood opportunities, early college opportunities, and competency-based approaches. We believe Federal policies should continue to lift up and support the expansion of high-quality innovative practices.
Advancing on Accountability and Transparency
America Forward supports ESSA’s efforts to provide greater flexibility to states and districts to make decisions regarding educational policies and practices while maintaining Federal accountability guidelines that we believe are essential to ensuring every student has the best possible chance to succeed. We urge Congress and the Department of Education to continue to support strong accountability for all schools and ensure students, parents, and educators have access to the data and information they need to make informed education decisions, particularly in schools identified as needing improvement.America Forward believes that personalized learning approaches can transform outcomes for students by pacing and targeting instruction based on the needs of individual students. Provisions throughout ESSA can be used to support personalized learning strategies, and the Department should urge the inclusion of personalized learning in state and local plans and school improvement efforts. Specifically, the Department can further advance personalized learning by clarifying for states that the allowable 3% state set-aside for direct student services may be used to cover the costs associated with offering expanded learning opportunities, including academic tutoring, mentoring, apprenticeships, and career exploration.
Ensuring Students Have Effective Teachers and Leaders
America Forward knows, first-hand, that effective teachers and school leaders play an outsized role in students’ ability to succeed in school and that it is necessary to ensure they have the resources, such as professional development and federal funding, necessary to succeed.
Accountability, Transparency, Civil Rights, and Achievement Standards Within Public School Choice
Although America Forward supports high-quality public charter schools that ensure high achievement for all students, including students with disabilities and other disadvantaged students, break the mold of the status quo, and create new solutions to meet critical needs, we oppose any and all efforts to divert federal funding to non-public entities that are not subject to the same accountability, transparency, civil rights and achievement standards.