COMMENTARY: What More Can Be Done Under ESSA to Support Highly Qualified Teachers

COMMENTARY: What More Can Be Done Under ESSA to Support Highly Qualified Teachers

By Akil Wilson

As of Monday January 14th, the country’s 2nd largest public school system was being paralyzed by a teachers strike. The Los Angeles Sentinel reported that the walkout was followed by a plunge in student attendance, with about 144,000 students out of more than 600,000 students. On Tuesday that number grew to 159,000 students without instruction. This work stoppage was the latest in what has become a wave of similar protests in our nation’s public school systems.

Teacher concerns transformed into organized protests when, in early 2018, the West Virginia teacher’s strike made headlines, lasting over 2 weeks. Local education activists and teacher advocates forced the state legislature to address many of their concerns through the statewide strike. Afterwards, teachers returned to their classrooms with a 5 percent pay raise.

The strike lead to similar actions in several other school districts across the country including Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and North Carolina.

Teacher grievances in Los Angeles echo the concerns of teachers in many school districts nationwide. Among their demands are smaller class sizes, an increase in support staff and higher pay.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is overwhelmingly comprised of low-income students, with over 80% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.

Within this immense school system of 900 schools and roughly 30,000 teachers, classroom sizes can often exceed 32 students per teacher at the elementary level and up to 39 students per teacher for middle and high school. This student-to-teacher ratio greatly exceeds the 16 to 28 students per teacher national averages in urban school districts, according to the National Teacher and Principal Survey of 2015-16.

One of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) primary mandates involves building systems of support for educators through the use of additional funding and initiatives provided in Title II.

Title II funds purpose to support class size reduction, encourage performance-based pay for effective educators and develop opportunities to improve overall school conditions. In addition to funding, ESSA will enable school systems to attempt to address the shortage in classroom instructors by shifting the emphasis for teacher evaluations away from student standardized test performance — a point of stress for many educators.

Thus far, the Los Angeles Unified School District has offered a 6% pay increase as well as a classroom cap size of 35 for elementary schools and 39 for high school English and Math courses. However, in a school district as massive as Los Angeles, support staff is also vital.

Teachers in Los Angeles are also demanding that something is done to address the current state of affairs, which allows a workload of over 500 students per guidance counselor and over 2,000 students per nurse in the county. The school district has promised to address these concerns by offering one additional academic counselor per high school in the district and ensuring that each elementary school has daily nursing services.

If you are in Los Angeles or a similarly affected school district, learn more about ESSA’s impact on Title II and find out how your State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agency (LEA) can support the extremely important work our educators are doing to advance our students’ success.

Akil Wilson is a Washington, DC-based podcaster and parent. He is a contributing writer for the Washington Informer in addition to providing broadcast commentary for a variety of media outlets.

COMMENTARY: For Black Children, Attending School Is an Act of Racial Justice

COMMENTARY: For Black Children, Attending School Is an Act of Racial Justice

By Kayla Patrick, The Education Trust

As a seemingly twisted way to ring in 2019, the Trump administration has sent a loud and clear message that it’s okay for educators and school leaders to keep Black children out of school buildings and exclude them from opportunities to learn. It may sound extreme, but that’s exactly what it means to rescind school discipline guidance that was put in place explicitly to ensure that Black children were not treated this way and discriminated against.

The current administration, however, wants us to believe that discrimination against Black children is a myth. It is not. It is the lived experience of too many, if not all Black children. In the 2015-16 school year, Black boys made up 8 percent of public school enrollment, but they were 25 percent of the boys suspended out of school. Black girls were 8 percent of enrollment, but 14 percent of the girls suspended out of school. While Black children are overrepresented in practices that exclude or remove students from school, White children are underrepresented. Such data are clear evidence that racism and bias often drive exclusionary practices. To ignore this is to preserve the status quo.

If the numbers aren’t enough to show that discrimination exists in American classrooms, studies have shown that Black children do not misbehave more than their White peers, rather they are punished more. In fact, Black students are more likely than their White peers to receive a disciplinary action for a discretionary offense like talking back, violating a dress code, or being defiant. Black children are also more likely to be suspended out of school for their first offense. Clear, appropriate, and consistent consequences and educator training — as the guidance calls for — helps to eliminate the discrimination and bias that fuel the disproportionate punishment of Black children.

This administration would also have us believe that discipline disparities are a result of poverty, arguing that experiencing childhood trauma and living in distressed communities are to blame. But poverty cannot explain away the discipline disparities: Studies have shown that when taking a student’s economic background into account, Black children are still more likely to be suspended than students of other races. And let’s not forget that poverty, too, is a result of deliberate policy choices that leave Black children isolated in neighborhoods with little resources — including the longstanding impact of discriminatory housing policies such as redlining. These are choices that this administration has done nothing to address.

What many (including this administration) fail to realize is that there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Suspensions and expulsions don’t teach. They punish. And far too often, adults decide that Black children are not worthy of teaching and second chances. Excluding students from classrooms does not help them to correct the mistakes that children inevitably make. It also has negative long-term consequences. These negative outcomes include poor academic performance, lower levels of engagement, leaving school, and increased likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, attempts to exclude Black children from educational opportunities are not new. America has a rich history of locking Black children out of the classroom. This list includes anti-literacy laws, past and current resistance to school desegregation, lack of access to well-resourced schools, school based arrests, poor course access, enormous higher education costs, and unjust exclusionary policies. Every barrier and trick in the book has been used to limit the education of Black children. The removal of the discipline guidance is just the latest.

Rescinding the guidance is a reminder to those fighting for educational equity: For Black children, simply attending school is an act of protest, and learning and excelling while there is an act of racial justice. Every time a Black child is sent home for a minor offense, they are sent the message that they are unwanted or don’t belong. But Black children do belong, and they deserve to be safe, included, and to have access to a quality education. Despite the current administration’s actions, this is the message that advocates must make clear at the beginning of 2019 — and every year hereafter.

It’s up to us as advocates for educational justice to ensure that schools do not illegally discriminate against Black children. Encourage school leaders to commit to ongoing racial bias training; require culturally sustaining classroom management strategies; examine their school and district data to help determine if race and bias are driving who gets punished; adopt clear, fair, and transparent consequences; and eliminate school exclusion for discretionary non-violent offenses.

For more, watch John B. King Jr. break down how we can break the school-to-prison pipeline.

COMMENTARY: A Dream Deferred — Is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Just Another Elusive Dream?

COMMENTARY: A Dream Deferred — Is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Just Another Elusive Dream?

By Dr. Elizabeth V. Primas, Program Manager, NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

In 1951, Langston Hughes laid bare the anxious aspirations of millions of Black people in America with his poem, “A Dream Deferred.” In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded America of the promissory note written to its citizens guaranteeing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson attempted to make good on that promise by signing the Civil Rights Act into law. And in 1965, President Johnson sought to ensure equitable access to these unalienable rights by signing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law.

As a part of Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” ESEA was supposed to assist students of color in receiving a quality education, thereby helping lift them from poverty.

To date, ESEA remains one of the most impactful education laws ever ratified. ESEA established education funding formulas, guided academic standards, and outlined state accountability.

Since Johnson, presidents have re-authorized and/or launched new initiatives safeguarding the intentions of ESEA. Some of the most notable re-authorizations have been “No Child Left Behind” (2001, George W. Bush) and “Race to the Top” (2009, Barack Obama). The most recent re-authorization, the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama in 2015.

In previous re-authorizations of ESEA, emphasis was placed on students’ ability to pass rigorous standards in order to proceed from one grade to the next. However, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that a measurable achievement gap has persisted.

As education leaders review the individual state plans that have been developed and approved in keeping with the Every Student Succeeds Act, it is obvious that many states are making an attempt prioritize equity over performance. Some states have set timelines for their accountability measures, signifying the urgency of the problem, while other states continue to miss the mark by setting goals that are too distant, including the proposal of a twenty-year timetable to close the achievement gap.

I am concerned about ESSA State plans such as these, that pass the buck to future generations of educators and set the bar too low for vulnerable student populations.

In several states, schools that perform in the bottom 5% will receive funding to assist in closing the achievement gap. But, again, I wonder if we are setting the bar too low. I am not convinced that assisting schools in the bottom underperforming 5% will make a significant impact on closing the achievement gap in any city.

Still, I find hope in the new reporting guidelines outlined in ESSA. ESSA requires State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to develop school report cards so parents can compare which school is the best fit for their children.

District report cards must include the professional qualifications of educators, including the number and percentage of novice personnel, teachers with emergency credentials, and teachers teaching outside their area of expertise.

States must also report per-pupil spending for school districts and individual schools. Expenditures must be reported by funding source and must include actual personnel salaries, not district or state averages.

Parents must get engaged to hold legislators and educators accountable for their ESSA State Plans. Parents must also hold themselves accountable in prioritizing the education of our children. Research shows that just one year with a bad teacher can put a child three years behind. Now, think about what happens after years of neglect and lack of advocacy.

So, what happens to a dream deferred?

Parents hold tight to your dreams for your children’s futures. Be present in the school, be the squeaky wheel and don’t be afraid to demand the best for your children. Don’t stop at the classroom or schoolhouse door if you aren’t satisfied with the education your children are receiving. The race for educational advocacy is a run for your child’s quality of life.

Be the Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA) president. Be the neighborhood advisory commissioner. Be the next school board member. Be the next mayor of your city. Be on the City Council. Run for Congress. Be all that you want your children to be. Be the example.

Be Engaged.

For more information on how you can get engaged, go to

Elizabeth Primas is an educator who spent more than 40 years working to improve education for children. She is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethprimas.

How Zip Codes Relate to Achievement Gaps

How Zip Codes Relate to Achievement Gaps

By: Akil Wilson

There’s no question that education quality has an extraordinary impact on the future lives of students. As a parent of a new middle school student, I can personally attest to the importance of dedicated teachers, early childhood education and a focused, personalized approach to education. In numerous studies it has been shown that the quality of education, especially within the country’s public school system, varies widely by location.

There are several factors that contribute to success in adulthood. However, routinely we find that early childhood education and the empowerment of excellent teachers plays a pivotal role.

Students from economically-disadvantaged areas of inner-city school districts have a plethora of obstacles to overcome, including but not limited to: lack of economic mobility, reduced health care options, and exposure to crime.

Where schools should provide some relief from these challenges, they often serve as a grim reminder of how difficult it can be to escape difficult circumstances.

Harvard University Economist Raj Chetti has researched this topic extensively, compiling data from millions of Americans, he found that education quality relates to economic and social mobility. According to Mr. Chetti’s research, on average, “only about 7.5% of children from the bottom 1/5th of incomes will reach the top 1/5th of incomes nationwide. However, those odds tend to rise to 14-15% in rural areas and places with higher social capital. They sometimes decrease to below 5% in impoverished or socioeconomically-disadvantaged places.”

Children in lower income brackets disproportionately tend to be the recipients of sub-par educational resources. As Mr. Chetti points out on NPR’s ‘Hidden Brain’ Podcast, larger class sizes and less experienced teachers are all indicators that students are much less likely to obtain the cognitive and social skills necessary to advance themselves and their families.

The fact that these lower-performing public schools tend to be found in more impoverished or socially/culturally isolated areas is not a coincidence.

Prior to the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the 2017-2018 school year, education standards were largely determined by federal standards outlined in No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This structure did very little to address the specific needs of the most disadvantaged communities.

ESSA seeks to improve students’ chances at success by encouraging a more personalized approach to students’ needs, strengths and interests as well as improving and decreasing the emphasis on standardized testing. Much of the research suggests this approach will do more to advance specific, individual state school system goals and impact students’ lives.

It’s very important that parents, teachers, administrators and community members take strategic steps to address factors contributing to the educational shortcomings in some of our schools while working with policy makers to equitably utilize all the tools and resources available.

The future is now, and if our community ever hopes to eliminate the disparities that are at the root of many of the issues we are often confronted with (i.e. poverty, mass incarceration, chronic unemployment) we have to begin with education.

By requiring states to identify and intervene with their lowest-performing schools and take a more tailored approach to their improvement, ESSA is poised to have a significant and measurable impact on the state of public education in America.

There is a very real correlation between underperforming schools and generational poverty. If we wish to eliminate the latter, we must tackle education with a focus and energy that is specifically tailored to the needs of our communities.

Akil Wilson is a native Washington, DC-based, podcaster, and parent. He is a contributing writer for the Washington Informer in addition to providing broadcast commentary for a variety of media outlets.

5 Reasons Why Every Policymaker Should Fight To Save Title IIA – Learning Forward’s PD Watch – Education Week Teacher

5 Reasons Why Every Policymaker Should Fight To Save Title IIA – Learning Forward’s PD Watch – Education Week Teacher

Education Week logoBy Stephanie Hirsh

As most readers know, I live in Texas. My elected representatives are quite conservative on issues related to federal involvement in education.

Their point of view is grounded in the U.S. Constitution, which places control over education firmly in the hands of states. It also finds expression in the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reversed what many saw as the No Child Left Behind Act’s efforts to assert federal control over everything in K-12 education, from school accountability measures to definitions of highly qualified teachers.

However, elected representatives on both sides of the aisle recognize that the federal government can and should help improve K-12 education by providing funding to ensure that all students receive an appropriate education.

Title IIA, a program that supports educator recruitment, training, mentoring, and induction via poverty-weighted formula grants, represents one serious effort by the federal government to ensure that every student has access to well-trained teachers every day. All of us at Learning Forward believe that Title IIA’s annual investment in teachers is vital, and we are working hard to make sure that Congress and the Administration understand this program’s value and support funding it adequately. From my perspective, proposals to deeply cut or eliminate Title IIA, which Congress is currently mulling, would be devastating.

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.


ESSA Pushes State Schools Chiefs to Scrap Business as Usual – Education Week

ESSA Pushes State Schools Chiefs to Scrap Business as Usual – Education Week

St. Louis — State education chiefs are scrambling staff duties and outsourcing tasks such as data collection and school improvement efforts as they prepare for new responsibilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act—at the same time they cope with continued funding and staffing pressures.

ESSA, which goes into effect for accountability purposes next fall, is a mixed blessing in the view of state superintendents who have long asked for more flexibility to figure out on their own how best to improve student outcomes.

One big challenge: Budget cuts in recent years have left large swaths of state education departments squeezed on the capacity to carry out the training, data collecting, and innovation necessary to fully exploit that flexibility.

That tension was top of mind this month as the Council of Chief State School Officers gathered here for its annual policy forum.

With all their ESSA accountability plans now submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for approval, state education agencies in the coming months move into the implementation phase, which has the potential to be more arduous and politically contentious than the planning phase that took place over the previous two years…

Read the full story here:

States’ ESSA Plans Fall Short on Educator Equity, NCTQ Analysis Finds – Teacher Beat – Education Week

States’ ESSA Plans Fall Short on Educator Equity, NCTQ Analysis Finds – Teacher Beat – Education Week

Most states are not planning to do enough to prevent low-income students and students of color from being disproportionately taught by ineffective or inexperienced teachers, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The Every Student Succeed Acts requires that states define “ineffective” and “inexperienced” teachers in their federally required plans, and describe ways they’ll ensure that low-income and nonwhite students aren’t being taught by these teachers at higher rates than their peers.

NCTQ, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, today released new analyses of 34 states’ plans, following its analyses of 16 states and the District of Columbia, which was released in June. In that earlier round, the group found a few bright spots, including New Mexico and Tennessee.

NCTQ looked at these metrics in its analyses:

  • How do states define inexperienced and ineffective teachers? NCTQ recommends that states define an inexperienced teacher as someone with two or fewer years of experience. An ineffective teacher should be defined by using “objective measures of student learning and growth” (like student test scores).
  • What data are states using? NCTQ advises states to report student-level data, and consider whether there are additional student subgroups that might have educator equity gaps.
  • When will states eliminate identified educator equity gaps? NCTQ calls for states to make publicly available timelines and interim targets for eliminating the gaps.
  • What are states’ strategies to target identified equity gaps? NCTQ says that specific strategies should be developed with stakeholder input and be evaluated over time.

(It’s important to note that these are not specified by the federal law; they are NCTQ’s interpretation of what states should be doing under ESSA.)…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.


Every Student Succeeds Act in Episode 84 of Transition Tuesday

Every Student Succeeds Act in Episode 84 of Transition Tuesday

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been revised by Congress several times. In 1965, Congress created the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was later reauthorized as The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and was most recently reauthorized in 2015 as The Every Student Succeeds Act. This act is important because it means that States and school districts are responsible to ensure that every child achieves.

According to the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), this bill is important for Special Education because it “…goes even further than the original NCLB in many ways to assist these students to successfully graduate and become college and/or career ready.” The ESSA ensures three important things for students with special needs including ensuring:

  • Access to the general education curriculum
  • Access to accommodations on assessments
  • Concepts of the Universal Design for Learning will be used The Every Child Succeeds Act includes provisions that require schools to provide evidence of interventions in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups. The ESSA also requires states to address things like how they will improve conditions for learning, reduce harassment and bullying, and prevent overuse of discipline practices including restraints and seclusion.

The ESSA does other important things to help students in Special Education including:

  • Takes a proactive role in making sure students with learning and attention issues have access to general education curriculum and are not off track from being able to receive a high school diploma
  • Maintains annual reporting of assessment data disaggregated by subgroups of students including students with special needs
  • Maintains a 1% cap (with some modification provisions) of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who can take alternative assessments that are aligned to alternative academic achievement standards
  • Requires disaggregation of key data about student progress to ensure that students with disabilities receive the supports they need The Every Student Succeeds Act also recognized that the IEP team (including parents) is in the best position to make important decisions related to a student’s academic, assessment, and social emotional needs.

The Every Student Succeeds Act also recognized that the IEP team (including parents) is in the best position to make important decisions related to a student’s academic, assessment, and social emotional needs. The ESSA also mentions Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISPs) which are able to implement early intervention programs for students who need specific support and help them to transition into a general classroom. For states that allow parents or guardians to do, the ESSA acknowledges the rights of parents and guardians to opt their children out of statewide academic assessments.

As part of each episode of Transition Tuesday, we provide additional tips, teacher tools, and resources related to the topics we cover. For this week’s bonus, we are providing a PDF with three great resources regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act, which can be accessed by clicking this link –

To learn more about Ten Sigma’s educational resources for teachers or parents, please visit our website and you can also connect with us on social media at:

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If you know anyone else who would benefit from the information we share in these videos, please share this video and invite them to visit We hope you enjoyed this episode and that the information we shared about the Every Student Succeeds Act is helpful to you.

Gates Ends Investment in Teacher Evaluation: What That Means for the Field – Teacher Beat – Education Week

Gates Ends Investment in Teacher Evaluation: What That Means for the Field – Teacher Beat – Education Week

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it was changing course in its K-12 education investments, including by ending funding for initiatives related to teacher evaluations.

The group, co-founded by billionaire entrepreneur Bill Gates, has been undeniably influential in shifting how states and districts have approached teacher quality over the last decade.

Between about 2008 and 2013, the group spent $700 million in grantmaking toward its teacher agenda. (Its total education grantmaking budget was about $2 billion.) That included about $45 million for its Measures of Effective Teaching study, which looked at different ways of gauging teacher effectiveness, including by using student test scores.

(Education Week receives financial support from the Gates Foundation for coverage of continuous improvement strategies in education. Education Week retains sole editorial control of its content.)

Early results from the teacher evaluation research showed that a mixture of classroom observations, student input, and measures of student growth could provide an accurate picture of teacher performance.

So if Gates has been so influential here, what does it mean that the foundation is pulling out of this teacher evaluation work?

Well, in the immediate sense, probably not too much. The majority of states currently have laws on the books requiring the sorts of teacher evaluation reforms that Gates was championing.

But other factors—mainly, the new federal education law—may soon cause real changes in this space.

Federal Incentives Push State Change

Here’s a bit of back story: While Gates’ MET research fueled interest in using student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation, states were already headed in that direction for several other reasons.

Back in 2009, TNTP (formerly called the New Teacher Project) published “The Widget Effect“—a seminal report finding that 99 percent of teachers were being rated as satisfactory. Many began to question the validity of these evaluation systems. At the end of that year, the federal Race to the Top program began offering states incentives to rework their evaluation systems, including by incorporating student test data. (The multiyear MET study got going at right about the same time.)

A couple years later, the federal government strengthened its push for including student achievement measures in teacher evaluations through its waiver system. In order to get relief from some of the mandates in No Child Left Behind, which was then the main federal education law, states had to commit to linking student outcomes to their teacher evaluation systems. Most states got those waivers.

As of right now, 39 states are using objective student measures (including test scores) in their teacher evaluation systems. That’s up from 15 states in 2009, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Many teachers and their unions have been sharply critical of using student achievement measures to rate teachers, claiming doing so is an inexact science and causes too much emphasis on testing.

The latest federal education law, the Every Student Succeds Act, passed in December 2015, allows states to back off on using student growth measures to gauge teacher effectiveness.

Over the last two years, six states—Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—have moved away from including student growth measures, according to NCTQ. (And a couple of other states have strengthened their commitment to it.)

Whether more states will back off remains to be seen. But if they do, it’s probably a consequence of the federal education law—and not so much a result of the end of the Gates funding stream.

And an important side note in any conversation about teacher evaluation: Research shows that even in states that have significantly overhauled their evaluation systems, nearly all teachers continue to be rated as effective