Can ESSA Positively Impact Teachers’ Work Lives?


The back-to-school edition of The New York Times Magazine (September 9, 2018) focused on teachers. The cover included the declaration that: 


...And then continued with a but statement: 


Certainly, there are unprecedented challenges facing today’s teachers. But (there’s that word again) there's also a sense of optimism about the shift in ESSA from a focus on teacher evaluations to one on teacher development. Titles I, II, III, and IV provide funds for professional development. Let's take a look at "Title IV: 21st-Century Schools (Part A)," which specifies that funds may be used for professional development, utilizing data and technology to improve instruction.

We just completed a teacher ethnographic study with the research consultancy Kelton Global. This process provided rich detail on how teachers use technology and uncovered opportunities to extend the use of digital resources to improve the work lives of teachers.

The study was conducted in 2018 over three phases:

  1. Smart community: Explored a range of topics with 41 teachers, from why teach to a detailed timeline of tech they use throughout the day.
  2. In-depth video interviews: These interviews went deeper on a wide range of topics.
  3. “Dawn to Dusk” ethnographics: We spent a day with eight teachers observing their practice and even went home with two of the participants.

Across all participants, the following were areas of focus for technology in the classroom:

  1. Workflow: This use case was in service of technology for tasks such as taking attendance, grading, and creating lessons. One of the teachers interviewed said that while it was an advantage to have access to all assignments anywhere with an internet connection, there was no infrastructure to set it all up. Solving this problem can be an opportunity for investing Title IV funds.
  2. Communication: Teachers use the social media tools we are all familiar with to connect with other teachers, administrators, students, and families. They recognize the positive benefits of networking and mentorship. Teachers are also improving and enhancing their relationships with colleagues and families. Mentoring is a bright spot in the research, and family engagement receives more emphasis in the new ESSA legislation. That's two more opportunities for investment.
  3. Instruction: In our study, all teachers interviewed used digital resources to meet instructional purposes. The majority use digital resources to replace pens and pencils and fit digital resources within lessons to make them more interactive. There's a lot more that could be done to improve lesson planning and delivery, and additional resources could help make that happen.
  4. Data: Teachers reported having more data than ever about the performance of their students. That said, they are experiencing what some call “DRIP,” which stands for Data Rich and Information Poor. Doing a better job with data analytics that lead to data insights can serve all of the goals of ESSA. 

This is a challenging time to be a teacher and also an exciting one. Directing ESSA resources to professional development and the digital environment in support of teaching and learning should be a high priority.

I was somewhat dismayed when a recent survey said that parents were less inclined to want their children to teach. It brought me great joy that my preschool age granddaughter wants to be a teacher among other things like being brave and saving lives.


Francie Alexander, chief research officer at HMH, and Sue Gendron, ICLE president, will explore the ESSA provisions that focus on teacher and leadership development in an Education Week webinar on Oct. 10, 2018 at 2 p.m. ET. You can register today for the webinar, titled "How ESSA Affects YOU: Shifting Focus to Support Today's Educators." 

Related Reading

Students in a classroom looking at an iPad tablet

Zoe Del Mar

Shaped Executive Editor

Adult teachers sitting at a round table talking

Christopher Price, EdD
Associate Partner, The Center for Model Schools

WF1933153 hero

Shaddoe Lambert

Former Teacher; HMH Product Manager