Allendale County’s school district sits in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, in an impoverished, rural region near the coast known as the “corridor of shame” for the chronic poor quality of its education system. Until recently, three of the district’s four schools were considered among the lowest performing in the state.
But after an assist beginning more than a year ago from the state—which is working to rebrand the area as the “corridor of opportunity”—two of those schools made it off the state’s list of the lowest performers….
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Seventeen months ago, and eight months after I became the secretary of education in Puerto Rico, the worst hurricane in over a century decimated much of the island, dislocating thousands of families and bringing daily life here to a halt. Our school buildings were no exception; those that weren’t destroyed suffered damage ranging from power outages to missing roofs. We continue to wait for approval from FEMA to address most of our physical infrastructure needs and are hopeful that the federal government will honor its promise to ensure all students have access to a safe, healthy, and engaging learning environment.
The storm created an opportunity for the world to see the challenges confronting Puerto Rico’s schools. Hurricane Maria and its economic repercussions exposed the negative impacts of poor decision-making and the politicization of the public education system. The operation of the public schools was largely ineffective and inefficient and characterized by a mass exodus of students and teachers. Over the years, the system neglected to prioritize the provision of basic resources, such as books and technology, or allow for the development of innovative and more effective instructional practices.
Since then, Puerto Rico has made dramatic improvements in the quality of its public education system. Dedicated families, communities, teachers, and students have made it possible for great things to take place since the hurricane left our shores.
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If the Every Student Succeeds Act were a schoolchild, it would be a preschooler—not much more than 3 years old, making steady progress, but still stumbling a bit along the way.
The first major rewrite of the nation’s main K-12 law in more than a decade, ESSA was signed into law at the end of 2015, replacing and updating the groundbreaking—but problematic—No Child Left Behind Act.
In theory, the last couple of school years should have been enough time for states and districts to begin making good on ESSA’s promises. Chief among them: a loosening of the federal reins in favor of greater local and state leeway over setting K-12 policy and satisfying the law’s demands for strict accountability, school improvement, and public transparency.
In reality, it’s not so simple. The practical and political challenges of ESSA’s shifts are playing out in stages as the law is phased in and as local and state education leaders start to face tough choices about federal compliance, poorly performing schools, vulnerable students, and more.
This latest Education Week special report recaps what’s been achieved by states and districts…
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For the past several years, students at Dulce Elementary School, on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation in New Mexico, faced the threat of school closure. The only elementary school in the district, if it closed students would have to rise before dawn for a long bus ride over bumpy, dusty roads to the closest schools, more than 30 or 40 miles away.
But rather than punishing the students and their tribal community by closing the only elementary school for miles, New Mexico’s new governor and secretary of education will amend the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), scrap the A-F school grading system and replace the policy of labeling schools as ‘failing’ in favor of actually supporting schools in need and celebrating successes of schools doing well or making progress.
“The proposed changes to New Mexico’s ESSA plan will ensure that the state and local school districts are measuring things that are important and highlight what is good about a school as well as what needs improvement,” Parr-Sanchez says. “Before, the state ESSA plan merely highlighted shortcomings of schools, with no offer of how to support.
All three schools in the Dulce Independent Public School District on the Jicarilla Apache Nation will finally receive the funding they so desperately need, have applied for, and have been denied under the punitive measures of the previous education secretary, which focused on test scores. Now the district will receive support on things like family engagement and attendance and the emphasis on test scores will be reduced.
Don’t Flunk Schools, Support Them
Beyond the Apache reservation, support will extend throughout the state to the many schools who need assistance. Last year, more than two thirds of the New Mexico’s schools received Ds or Fs; in Santa Fe, 56 percent of schools received the lowest grades.
NEA-New Mexico and other public education advocates called for legislators to recognize that slapping bad grades on a school and threatening them with closure or privatization was not the solution; students at these schools needed better supports.
The new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, ran on making big revisions to the ESSA plan put in place by her predecessor. Those included getting rid of teacher evaluation through test scores, the A through F system for grading schools, and PARCC tests.
NEA-New Mexico members overwhelmingly supported Grisham in the election and from “Day One,” says Parr-Sanchez, “Grisham has worked to change the bad and harmful practices of her predecessor. From Day One, she ended PARCC testing and the grading and labeling of schools in need,” Sanchez says. “This is why elections are so important for educators.”
Accountability to Come Through New Indicators
The shift does not mean that “there are no consequences for underperformance,” said Karen Trujillo, New Mexico’s new secretary of education. “With high levels of support must come high levels of accountability.”
The state is planning to launch a “New Mexico Spotlight Dashboard” in fall 2019, will celebrate the success of the highest performing schools, identify schools that the department will support with federal grant money, and provide families with an opportunity to learn more about their local schools.
“We believe that when schools struggle academically, the system is failing the school, not the other way around,” says education secretary Trujillo.
Based on indicators of academic performance and school climate rather than test score data alone, the New Mexico Education Department will collaborate with districts, schools, and communities to determine what resources are needed to support schools on their path to student success.
Trujillo says the dashboard will give more nuanced information about schools not offered with a simple A-F grade.
Recognizing that there is much more to a school’s story than test scores, the proposed amendments shift points for elementary and middle schools from test scores to educational climate. For high schools, the amendments increase the points for improvements in graduation rates to emphasize an improvement-oriented approach.
“This shift in philosophy will allow the education department to allocate federal resources where they can make the most impact and help every student succeed,” says Trujillo.
During a wide-ranging hearing held by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified on a wide range of Education Department priorities.
Federal Flash covers the controversial exchanges during the hearing, including one question that DeVos struggled to answer.
The House Education and Labor Committee hearing this week examined the policies and priorities of the U.S. Department of Education. It was the first oversight hearing for Secretary DeVos to testify before the Committee since Democrats regained control of the House. While members asked questions on a variety of topics ranging from student loan debt to affirmative action to the rights of transgender students, many focused on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
In one heated exchange, Representative Jahana Hayes from Connecticut pressed Secretary DeVos about an Education Department memo she obtained citing that the Secretary does have sufficient authority to block states from using ESSA Title IV funds to buy guns for schools. Our viewers may recall that funding for Title IV, or the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, was hotly debated last year when Secretary DeVos said she did not have the power to block states from using Title IV funds to purchase firearms. The memo Representative Hayes presented, however, stated exactly the opposite.
While the exchange between Representative Gregorio Sablan from the Northern Mariana Islands and Secretary DeVos may not have received as much attention, Representative Sablan raised a very important issue regarding the Department’s approval of state ESSA plans that do not consider the performance of historically underserved students…
Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding because the state hasn’t followed the Every Students Succeeds Act’s rules for testing its students, Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the state in a recent letter.
This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level. ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.
For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test.
Arizona “hasn’t provided evidence that it has completed any of this work,” Brogan wrote.
The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote…
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By Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D.
Professor, Professional Education Consultant, Author
Once students reach middle school,
parents often become less engaged with their child’s academic environment. They
don’t walk them in the school’s doors anymore, they don’t communicate as often
with teachers, and they are less like to visit the school unless there is a special
program or sporting event after hours. This is especially true for African
As a former classroom teacher in
an urban, predominantly Black school, I have first-hand knowledge of this.
During middle school, school becomes more or less a mystery to parents. However,
under Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a push for parents to be more
involved with academic environment of their child.
Studies show that when parents are
more actively involved in their child’s schools, the child tends to perform
better academically. Therefore, parental engagement is an important concept of
discussion in terms of African American children’s performance.
Although parental engagement has a
strong correlation to student academic performance and achievement, why is it that
African American parents appear disproportionately less engaged than parents of
Studies have shown that there are
many factors that may hinder Black parents from being active in their child’s
schooling. Factors include lacking confidence when speaking to education
professionals or fear of seeming incompetent, being the sole provider in the
household with work hours that conflict with school hours, and not knowing how
to approach school officials with proper questions specific to individual child
These and many other nuisances
keep Black parents from approaching schools to be more active in their child’s
academic career. Nevertheless, for the sake of maximum student success and
potential, it is important that parents are actively engaged in their child’s
It is imperative that Black
parents are not only involved but also engaged in their child’s schools. Parents
must not only be involved through participating in school-planned functions,
but they must also create their own spaces and opportunities for active
engagement to demystify student performance. There are many ways to do so,
Use school system provided platforms to keep up with grades. The school system may provide
this service for free, and it may be associated with a special code or password
for log in. Parents should check with the school secretary for information on
this. Frequently checking student grades and holding them accountable for their
grades can send strong messages to students in terms of performance.
Know when reports cards are due. School systems may send home a calendar with this
information, they may provide automated calls as a reminder, and the dates may
be readily accessible on the school system website. It is ultimately up to the
parents to stay abreast of report cards and not wait until the last grading
quarter to show concern over grades. It’s too late then.
Email teachers. Email is a quick form of communication that most people use directly
from their phones. Most teachers use emails frequently. Make use of this to
maintain constant contact and communication with your child’s teacher. Most
teachers prefer to hear from parents with concerns of student progress and would
happily engage to inform parents concerning their children.
Check teacher webpages. Many teachers have webpages that they frequently update
with pertinent information pertaining to their classroom. This information may
include due dates, skills and concepts to be covered, and materials needed for
upcoming projects and assignments.
Create a parent network. Many parents may not have the time or resources to be
involved with the formal PTA (Parent Teacher Association). They may decide to
create social media groups that keep all parents abreast of current happenings
within the school. This could be a simple, easy way to connect to other parents
of students within same educational setting for accurate, current information
concerning the child’s school.
Regardless, of the age or grade of
a parent’s child, parents have a right to know about the current happenings of
the classroom and school. However, the school and parent relationship shouldn’t
be one-sided with school doing all of the work in terms of providing the
opportunities for parents to become engaged. Parents must understand the
importance of their involvement in their child’s educational trajectory, take
the reins, and create their opportunities for being actively involved.
Although, middle school is the
time when most parents become less engaged in the child’s school, it should be
a time when parents maintain engagement. To demystify further, parent
involvement weighs heavily on children’s performance. And simply put, children
need to see parents in their academic spaces for better performance, even in
middle school and beyond.
By Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League
New Year’s resolutions are underway across the state of New York, and I’m one of those who are trying hard to keep the promises I made to myself. I’m focused on finding an exercise I like and can maintain, journaling more, and eliminating debt, but I am quickly learning that mapping out a clear plan with how to accomplish these will make my success much more likely. New York state officials are engaging in a similar exercise as they lay out our state’s priorities for 2019. As Governor Cuomo reflects on how our state is succeeding and where there is still room for growth, we must ensure that education and school improvement remain top priorities for New York.
In his recent budget address, the Governor made a commitment to support an education system that distributes funding based on schools’ needs and fairness. Further, he also took the first steps to follow through on that commitment by allocating increased aid for our highest-need schools in his 2019 budget. While this can be considered encouraging progress, these priorities must remain at the forefront of Governor Cuomo and his administration’s to-do list for the upcoming year for the success of our state and our students.
As President and CEO of the New York Urban League and a lifelong advocate for young people, I know that closing achievement gaps between our highest- and lowest-performing schools is one of the most pressing equity issues of our time. If we want to improve education outcomes and strengthen our state, we need to improve our schools and assure that every child has access to a high-quality education, no matter their zip code or the color of their skin. Especially as companies like Amazon bring more tech jobs to New York City, we must ensure that all schools promote skills like math, science, problem-solving, and innovation so that children across our city and state are qualified for such positions.
Under the most recent education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), our state has an opportunity to make the bold and innovative changes necessary to improve the trajectory of all New York students. A recent review of New York’s plan to improve low-performing schools by education experts and civil rights leaders found that New York has laid a strong foundation but can still improve the sustainability of its plan. Overall, New York’s plan focuses on equity in schools and ending segregation inequities. It also builds on proven, successful school improvement strategies and emphasizes school improvement at the local level, so that tools and techniques are tailored to local and diverse communities. However, while New York empowers local communities to lead turnaround efforts for low-performing schools, the state could take additional steps and use its authority to help ensure schools and districts make progress on their improvement goals.
As the Governor works with lawmakers on our state budget and embarks on 2019, I urge them all to put actions behind words and assure that our schools have sufficient support to increase equity and give every child a high-quality education. I also urge educators, parents, and community members to make your voices heard and advocate for the changes you want to see in your local school. We all play an important role in helping our students learn, and their success is our most important resolution for the new year.
Arva Rice is President and CEO of the New York Urban League.
The 74 and award-winning journalist Roland S. Martin will host their second education town hall event in their national tour, “Is School Choice the Black Choice?” on February 22nd, 2019 from 6-8pm at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center on Morehouse College’s campus.
The event will feature a dynamic panel discussion moderated by Martin and comprised of a variety of educators, advocates and opponents of educational reform who will discuss the controversial issue of the school choice movement within the Black community. Among those on the panel:
Local Partners include Better Outcomes for Our Kids (BOOK), EdConnect, Genesis Innovation Academy, GeorgiaCAN, Georgia Charter School Association, Ivy Preparatory Academy, State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia, Teach for America- Metro Atlanta, and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta. National partners include: American Federation for Children, EdChoice, ExcelinEd, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, United Negro College Fund, and the Walton Family Foundation
This event series will bring Roland Martin and The 74 to African-American communities in 10 cities across the country over the next two years. In each city, working in close partnership with local education reform, faith and civic groups, Roland Martin and The 74 will host a live event to discuss high-quality school options for black families with an expected ~400 parents and community leaders in attendance.
The goal of each event is to stimulate more genuine, fact-based conversation about the tough education issues impacting communities of color. They will also debunk myths about school choice and empower participants with resources to take the necessary steps to create change within their respective communities. Additionally, each event will be livestreamed to ensure the widest possible reach. Their first joint effort launched in Indianapolis, Indiana in December 2018.