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Etching details into ESSA education plans

States proceed to meet Obama's Every Student Succeeds Act as Trump's education policy remains unannounced

Changes in federal education policy that will come under the Trump administration are still unclear, but many states are nevertheless proceeding with plans to meet requirements of the Obama administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act.

Under the ESSA law, accountability has shifted from the federal government to individual states.

“You won’t see a ton of federal intervention around accountability or school improvement, but I think you will see interest in school choice, and we will still have conversations about what that means on the federal level,” says Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Minnich encourages administrators to get involved at the state level to help formulate ESSA plans—developing accountability measures beyond just test scores and creating support structures to help turn around lower-performing schools. And success will be defined differently in many states, Minnich adds.

Success could also be based, at least in part, on absentee rates or a school climate survey or the number of career or technical education certifications a high school might offer students.

Late in 2016, the Obama administration set two 2017 deadlines—one next month and the other in September—for states to submit ESSA plans. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos indicated in her confirmation hearing she plans to stick with the timeline.

At least 39 states have hosted community meetings or town halls to gather public feedback on what they want to see in ESSA plans, the CCSSO says.

Some states are working to incorporate measures of career readiness into their ESSA plans. And Louisiana is among 10 that are using a New Skills for Youth initiative, which CCSSO created a year ago, as part of its ESSA plan.

The program puts middle school students on a path toward postsecondary degrees or credentials in high-demand professions and high-skill jobs.

For example, Louisiana’s Jump Start skills initiative program will:

  • expand support and access in rural districts through mentoring and financial assistance
  • ensure students with significant disabilities are prepared and have access to workplace experience
  • develop pathways for university-bound students—such as entrepreneurship, pre-engineering and IT/coding—that include postsecondary courses, certificates and degrees.

In a more traditional example of an ESSA plan, Maryland wants to increase proficiency among its students and improve high school graduation rates—from 86 percent in 2016 to 88 percent in 2020.

Overall, ESSA benefits students in part because it offers more opportunities for them to succeed after high school, Minnich says. “The challenge will be balancing the flexibility with having enough accountability,” he says. “It’s definitely more freedom to innovate and actually serve all kids, but that comes with great responsibility for states.”