Weingarten: ESSA implementation requires light touch

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The U.S. Department of Education will have enormous sway when it comes to implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor law to No Child Left Behind; AFT President Randi Weingarten this month urged the department to use this power wisely and in ways that heed the overwhelmingly bipartisan message behind the new law.

"I strongly encourage the Department of Education to follow the framework of the members of Congress who overwhelmingly passed ESSA, and to ensure that any guidance or regulations are workable in America's classrooms and reflect the voice of educators," Weingarten wrote in a Jan. 21 letter to acting Education Secretary John King. The department should focus on providing guidance and elevating practices that work—involving educators and parents in this process, rather than promulgating prescriptive and restrictive regulations.

"The promise of ESSA is the opportunity to create a new accountability system that focuses on meaningful learning that prepares children for the complex world they are entering, provided by educators who know how to meet the needs of the whole child and who are supported by adequate resources that address significant poverty and its effects," Weingarten stressed. "Such a system needs to consider multiple pathways to high school graduation; support student-centered approaches to learning, such as community schools and early childhood education, which level the playing field; and ensure educators have the tools, time and trust to do their jobs.

"If we continue to make school accountability all about high-stakes testing, we will replicate the problems of schools that currently cannot meet students' needs because they are too narrowly focused on test scores, to the detriment of the whole child."

The letter also addresses such implementation topics as educator evaluation, identification and remedies for schools requiring intervention, testing, data collection and more.

[Mike Rose, Beth Antunez]