We know what it takes to educate students, particularly those from challenging backgrounds, whether they attend traditional public schools, public 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 not adequately prepared to respond to their needs, and operate in systems that make it difficult, if not impossible, to assemble the kind of skilled educators, comprehensive supports, and positive school culture that students need to learn and succeed.
Over the last several decades, different theories of change have influenced federal education policy. Some have suggested that if only more financial resources were available — if teachers were better paid or classes were smaller — results would follow. If we started earlier, with high
quality early childhood education, all children could succeed. If parents had school choices and competition played a role in resource allocation, schools would improve. If we addressed barriers to learning, children would thrive. Or if we set high academic standards, schools would get better.
Too many of the schools that serve students from under-resourced communities are not adequately prepared to respond to their needs
On their own, none of these theories have proven sufficient, but they each hold a part of the solution. In short, reform efforts must do it all – from a place of political will that empowers, incentivizes, and resources the kind of comprehensive, locally based systematic change that is needed. America Forward is strongly supportive of the provisions included in the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that elevate effective external partnerships, emphasize investing in what works, support learner-centered systems, and ensure strong accountability and transparency.
America Forward Policy Priorities for ESSA Implementation
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.
Indicators and State Accountability
America Forward believes it is important that indicators of school quality or student success required under the new, statewide accountability systems remain flexible – so that they may be leveraged to measure social-emotional or other metrics – and receive meaningful weight, while not overtaking the weight attributed to specific academic indicators.
In order to help students and their families better understand how well high schools are preparing students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education, we believe it is important that states clearly and accurately report the postsecondary enrollment statistics of high school seniors, and be encouraged to report additional data about post-secondary access and persistence.
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.
America Forward supports the provisions in ESSA that 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.
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.
The Department can also clarify that states and districts can leverage the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program created by ESSA (section 4101) to develop and scale-up personalized learning strategies, including in partnership with effective external partners.