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NEA Wants States to Go For Bold Changes Under ESSA, Listen to Teachers

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The National Education Association wants to see states and school districts make serious changes under the Every Student Succeeds Act, not just put in a few tweaks to the accountability plans that were already on the books under the No Child Left Behind Act and its waivers.

The union is especially concerned about places where leaders "believe that not much change needs to happen," said Donna Harris-Aikens, the union's director of policy and practice in a call with reporters Thursday.

Some states, she said, might be "looking to add one or two more things to their state plans and calling it done. Our members are working so hard to make sure that's not the case and not happening. "

NEA hasn't written off any state yet, she added. "[We] presume at this point that every state is still an opportunity," because every state must submit a plan by next summer for implementing the law to the U.S. Department of Education, which will be under new management starting in January.

ESSA_button.jpgOnce states get their plans approved, it could be tough to make changes, said Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the NEA.  

"It's very hard to undo something that's been done poorly," she said. "That's why we're pulling out all the stops on this."

The NEA has model legislation, regulations, and even school board resolutions for its affiliates to promote in their states. It's also held webinars for its members and will now be holding them for the general public.

California Dreamin' 

The union held up a couple of examples of places that its leaders see as embracing ESSA's potential, including California, which is developing an accountability system driven in large part by local districts.

The state's approach includes a "dashboard," which is aimed at giving parents and the public a sense of how a school is doing on a bunch of different measures—from school climate to college readiness—but has no overall score for a school.

It's not clear if California's proposed system will pass muster with the department, which wants to see every school be given an overall summative score. But the state's proposal doesn't include plans for a summative score Eric Heins, the California Teacher Association president, said that would only "drive up housing prices."

The NEA also spotlighted Mesa, Colo., which is seeking flexibility to create its own formative and summative assessments, possibly through a pilot program in ESSA, according to Heather O'Brien, the president of the Mesa Valley Education Association.

And the union is dismayed that not every state seems to be taking seriously the law's requirements to reach out to educators when crafting their plans, Harris-Aikens said. She singled out Alabama as one place where educators haven't been given a prominent seat at the table. 

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