In her latest column appearing in the New York Times, AFT President Randi Weingarten writes about the potential of the new Every Student Succeeds Act to bring positive change to our public education system.
Weingarten summarizes some of the law's new features: High-stakes testing and sanctions are no longer the be-all and end-all in education. States still will administer standardized tests, but they can now limit the consequences of these tests and the time students spend taking them, and eliminate unnecessary or poor-quality tests. States have an explicit obligation to help struggling schools succeed, not simply close them. And they are obliged to build an accountability system grounded in what students need to know and be able to do—for example, by allowing project-based assessments, which can replace regular state standardized assessments in seven pilot states. ESSA focuses on populations of students who need the most, providing funds that can be used for early childhood programs, class-size reduction and community schools. It maintains high certification requirements for paraprofessionals, and it gets the federal government out of the business of teacher evaluation.
The law obviously won't solve all our problems, but it's a big step in the right direction. Now, Weingarten writes, it's up to states to make it work. "The people closest to our kids have shined a light on harmful education policies and practices," she writes. "Responsibility now moves to the states, and officials must use this opportunity to get this reset right. I call on them to work with educators, parents, unions and other partners to help bring back the joy of teaching and learning, and to empower teachers to stoke students’ curiosity and help them pursue their interests, work in teams, and wrestle with and master concepts."