With the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), district leaders are now in a position to capitalize on a new autonomy and flexibility for providing a high-quality education in their schools. But preparation will be the key to fully realizing the big potential afforded by this legislation. The opportunities are rooted in the increased programmatic and fiscal flexibility that permits leaders to design a strategic direction focused on “a well-rounded education” that benefits the “whole student” and mitigates achievement gaps. This is a major shift in the law, which will require leaders to build a Theory of Action that integrates literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, arts, gifted education, world languages, college and career counseling, social and emotional development and other key content areas that truly enhance the development of the “whole student.” ESSA moves away from the compliance focus of NCLB to recognizing the power of analyzing a broad variety of data sources to define an innovative instructional program that immerses the students in real-world experiences.
Planning, collaboration, and ongoing professional learning will be key
My advice to school leaders is not to be timid about shifting your thinking from the old compliance mode to this right and freedom the law gives us to design and implement a new direction that will ensure every student has access to a high-quality education. And I encourage every leader to seize this opportunity to be creative in engaging your staff and communities in thoughtful discussions about the future of the education, knowledge, and skills our students will need to be effective in a rapidly changing global workplace. Build upon this exploration to develop a comprehensive plan of action that stems from a careful analysis of your curriculum, state standards, instructional best practices, and digital resources to ensure you have a blended approach to support learning and innovative environments for your students.
The breadth of this opportunity will require each leader to develop a comprehensive plan of professional learning and coaching for themselves and teachers. The law is explicit in defining professional development as sustained, intensive, collaborative, data-driven, and classroom-focused. Shoulder-to-shoulder coaching will build the capacity of our educators to truly transform their instructional repertoire to meet the needs of every student by creating a well-rounded education that is built upon real-world experiences. I encourage you to explore the Rigor Relevance Framework as an instructional framework that enables a common language of what rigor involves and provides the necessary planning tools to create real-world application of knowledge and skills in predictable and unpredictable solutions.
ESSA’s Three Overarching Themes: Equity, Evidence, and Efficacy
There are three key themes in the law that must be part of your planning and implementation: Equity, Evidence, and Efficacy. The law’s historical purpose was to provide disadvantaged students with increased opportunity to learn. Your plan must advance learning for disadvantaged students with a renewed focus on “well-rounded.” It’s important to be diligent in identifying at-risk students, employing careful data analysis, and documenting how you are ensuring equity of access. The law specifies that evidence must drive the decisions about your program investments and direction. There is also the need to have sufficient information to monitor the progression of the program you design. It follows that the evidence should clarify whether a program is effectively causing the desired results from both educators and students. Efficacy certainly includes academic outcomes, but should also address the programs you have selected and the practices that are effective for the organization.
To truly achieve equity in our schools we must not let family income, race/ethnicity, English-language proficiency and/or disability status predict education opportunities or outcomes. To use ESSA to close the achievement and opportunity gaps for students there are eight equity priorities that school districts must address—closing funding gaps, increased focus and support for low-performing schools, increased access to high-quality teachers and leaders, supporting English language learners, providing greater access to advance coursework, addressing social-emotional learning, addressing the disproportionate discipline practices, and improved access to high-quality instructional programs and resources.
What’s Your Action Plan?
Are you ready to embrace this call to action? If so, are you in the process of developing a Theory of Action to address the three “E’s” I’ve described: Equity, Evidence and Efficacy? Next week, I’ll share best practices on developing a Theory of Action.