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Districts Are Supposed to Use Evidence to Improve Schools Under ESSA. Will They?

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The Every Student Succeeds Act is supposed to bring about a big change in school improvement. The law says states and districts can use any kind of interventions they want in low-performing schools, as long as they have evidence to back at least part of the improvement plan.

But the provision has some experts worried. They're concerned that there just aren't enough strategies with a big research base behind them for schools to choose from. These experts also worried that district officials may not have the capacity or expertise to figure out which interventions will actually work.

Districts, they've said, may end up doing the same things they have before, and may end up getting the same results.

"My guess is, you'll see a lot of people doing the things they were already doing," said Terra Wallin, who worked as a career staffer at the federal Education Department on school turnaround issues and is now a consultant with Education First, a policy organization that is working with states on ESSA implementation. "You'll see a lot of providers approaching schools or districts to say, 'Look, we meet the evidence standard,'" Wallin said.

She added that districts may not be able to easily check those claims: "They won't be doing an independent scan of what's available."

Some states are trying to help districts find strategies, coming up with lists of possible turnaround partners. Those include Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Washington state, according to an analysis by Results for America's Evidence in Education Lab, a nonprofit that helps policymakers use research to inform decisions.

Image: Getty Images

Want more? Check out this story on school turnarounds under ESSA, which was part of Edweek's broader package on the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:


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