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Congressional K-12 Leaders Urge Ed. Dept. to Ensure 'Full Participation' in ESSA Shift

The top Democrats on education committees in Congress are telling the U.S. Department of Education to help states gather an appropriately diverse level of feedback from civil rights advocates, teachers, and others, as states consider life under the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

The Wednesday letter from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and the ranking member of the Senate education committee, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who holds the same position on the House education committee, also expressed concern that there are roadblocks in the way of gathering important input from these groups. They said the Education Department must provide clear guidance as well as technical assistance to states and districts to help them get a full range of views about how to approach ESSA.

The letter to Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. fits into a broader pattern of Democrats urging the Education Department to take a proactive role in ESSA implementation, even as congressional Republicans have expressed concerns about the department's role in the new law, which shifts key aspects of education policy decisionmaking to states. For example, last week, several Democratic senators told the department not to lose its spine over pending spending regulations covering Title I funds. 

In their letter, Murray and Scott said that there must be "robust and multiple opportunities" for people to tell states how they should think about the new federal education law. 

"Unfortunately, as states embark on plan development, there are early reports of systemic barriers impeding the participation of teachers, paraprofessionals, specialized instructional support personnel, parents, and other stakeholders in state and local plan development," Murray and Scott wrote to King. "For example, lack of consideration for working parents and community members in scheduling meetings with stakeholders or the inability of teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school personnel to secure release time to enable full participation in plan development." 

This is not just an academic issue for states. Our colleague Daarel Burnette II recently chronicled the meetings the Colorado education department has been holding to gather various viewpoints as it ponders the shift to ESSA, which President Barack Obama signed into law last December. And Chris Minnich, the director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said something at least roughly similar to what Murray and Scott are arguing, telling Daarel that, "The broadness of this conversation is critical ... The more transparent we can be about the decisionmaking process, the better."

Read the full letter below:

As implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues, we write to ask that the Department of Education take demonstrable steps to ensure that both states and local educational agencies develop and implement processes to facilitate meaningful stakeholder collaboration and active participation in the implementation of this new law. State and school district decision-making now will shape teaching and learning for years to come. Hearing from teachers, school leaders, parents, community leaders, including local and state civil rights leaders and child advocates, and others will be essential in making sure the law works in the coming months and years.  

Congress deliberately included multiple provisions within ESSA to ensure a collaborative consultation processes with a wide range of stakeholders in development and submission of state and local implementation program plans, as required under the ESSA. Unfortunately, as states embark on plan development, there are early reports of systemic barriers impeding the participation of teachers, paraprofessionals, specialized instructional support personnel, parents, and other stakeholders in state and local plan development. For example, lack of consideration for working parents and community members in scheduling meetings with stakeholders or the inability of teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school personnel to secure release time to enable full participation in plan development. Further, guidance should make clear that all stakeholder groups should be engaged and allowed to nominate their own representatives in state and local processes and that there should also be robust and multiple opportunities to provide input in the process.

Our nation's parents, civil rights leaders, and school personnel, including classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, will provide a critical voice to ensure that new state and local plans under ESSA are developed to meet the needs of our nation's students. We ask that the Department quickly provide guidance and technical assistance to States and local educational agencies regarding the successful elimination of systemic barriers, including the barrier of lack of release time, to stakeholder collaboration to ensure plan development is informed by those charged with the daily work of implementation to truly support and improve teaching and learning.

Meaningful and effective stakeholder collaboration is essential to the successful implementation of the ESSA. We expect that the Department of Education to use every available opportunity to assist states and school districts to make consultation processes truly meaningful, including by breaking down barriers to ensure full participation of all stakeholders in consultation processes.

We look forward to working with you on continued implementation of this law over the coming weeks and months. 


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