Taking action on the promise of ESSA

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Delegates overwhelmingly approved a major AFT resolution on July 19 that is designed to help turn the promise of the Every Student Succeeds Act into a constructive reality for schools—one that resets the test-and-punish climate which for too long has burdened students, educators and schools under ESSA's predecessor law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

The resolution, "Taking Action on the Promise of the Every Student Succeeds Act," is a rallying cry for immediate engagement of rank-and-file members and affiliates in the fight to implement ESSA wisely. That means support for safe, welcoming neighborhood schools, including strong prekindergarten connections, and wraparound services that meet students' social, emotional and health needs. It also means continuing the fight to elevate the voice of teachers and paraprofessionals in schools, and the meaningful involvement of frontline educators in decisions surrounding the rollout of ESSA.

Karen McGee speaks on ESSA resolution

The policy statement also points to the keystone federal elementary and secondary education law as a chance to win outstanding and meaningful professional development, along with trust-based evaluation systems that are primarily designed both to engage teachers in discussions of their practice and to feature supportive and timely feedback.

Strong parent and community partnerships also factor into the resolution's call to action, along with an accountability framework that includes support, engagement and opportunities to learn as indicators of success. Wise ESSA implementation also means continuing the "fight for fewer and better assessments of student learning" and new opportunities for performance-based assessments, authentic student tasks, and competency-based assessments, including teacher-developed formative assessments. And the resolution stresses that ESSA, done well, means the "development and implementation of intervention strategies, in partnership with educators, that provide flexibility to address the particular needs of schools and their students." These measures should be designed to improve teaching and learning through such vehicles as community schools.

This resolution is a valuable extension of AFT policy dealing with school accountability, noted New York State United Teachers President and AFT Vice President Karen Magee (pictured above), who urged delegates to support it. In education, "support-and-improve is where we need to go," and the strategies detailed in the policy statement can help get us there.

ESSA "gets us out of the blame-and-shame game," said Florida Education Association Vice President and AFT Vice President Federick Ingram, who voiced support from the convention floor. Implemented wisely, the law "gets us one step closer to where we need to go" in public education.

[Mike Rose/photo by Michael Campbell]