03/15/2016

Union, state school officers talk ESSA implementation

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It took a broad coalition to win enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and organizations at the center of that effort continue to explore opportunities to work together as the law now moves into states and the make-or-break arena of implementation. That ongoing dialogue was highlighted March 9, when AFT Teachers divisional leaders gathered for their regularly scheduled meeting in Washington, D.C., and carved out time for a conversation with Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Chris Minnich speaking to AFT leadersThe AFT and CCSSO were at the core of an unprecedented alliance of education, parent, community and civil rights groups that secured enactment of ESSA last December—an achievement many longtime observers have labeled Washington's "Christmas miracle" at a time of partisan gridlock. The March meeting between the two organizations suggested the possibility of that work continuing, based on a shared dissatisfaction with the No Child Left Behind status quo and a shared belief that states need to give the grass roots a real say in the rollout of the replacement law.

"I think we can do better than we've done in the past five years on testing and accountability, and we see this as an opportunity to shift the conversation," Minnich told AFT leaders. With testing, we've focused on one type of assessment to the point where other vital concerns are crowded out. With teacher evaluation and improvement, "we think the dialogue has gone too far toward punitive" and the conversation "should be about people getting better" in their work, he added.

Several AFT leaders warned that school accountability under NCLB was deeply flawed because states ignored the pernicious effects of poverty on students, schools and communities. "We have the opportunity in states to help schools do more," said Donna Chiera, chair of the AFT Teachers program and policy council, adding that one area of renewed focus should be preparing students to be career-ready and doing so with the same resource-supported rigor as college-ready preparation.

AFT leaders also said that when it comes to retaining and improving teachers, states should emphasize peer-to-peer interaction. And state policymakers need to understand that the goal has more to do with treating "teachers as leaders" than with merely identifying "teacher leaders."

Minnich acknowledged that high-quality input would ultimately be a key to ESSA's success or failure. CCSSO is advising its members that they must have an in-state coalition of stakeholders working on accountability, he said. And states are being told that these voices must have the opportunity to engage before decisions are made.

[Mike Rose]