Education Secretary Urges State Chiefs to Seize ESSA's 'Opportunity'
In a far-ranging talk, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. told an audience of state superintendents Monday to move swiftly and methodically to build new school accountability systems under the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for us to think differently about how we define educational excellence," he said at the annual legislative conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
For an hour at the Capital Hilton, King fielded questions from state chiefs about how to prepare for the transition to the next presidential administration, the testing opt-out movement, and the ESSA regulation and approval process.
The moderated discussion was part of a conference in which state chiefs will spend part of the week hearing from civil rights activists, attending workshops on accountability plans, and meeting with members of Congress.
King encouraged states to start convening task forces to identify and intervene in struggling schools and provide supports for poor and minority students, English-language learners, and those with disabilities.
"Make sure parents, civil rights communities, employers, higher education people are at the table on decisionmaking," King said. Among the questions to ask, he said: "How do we ensure accountability systems are broadened, but still focused on equity?"
In response to a question from CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich, who moderated the discussion, about the opt-out movement, King said states have to look at the types and amount of assessments they're giving students to make sure they're useful and not duplicative.
"I think the core issue is that we want teachers and parents to have good information about schools," King said. "That's the purpose of the assessment system, to inform decisionmaking at schools. At the same time, we have to acknowledge there are places around the country where assessment has gone beyond that role and is crowding out good instruction, and that is a problem."
And in response to several questions from chiefs about the transition to the next U.S. president's administration, which will be tasked with approving states' ESSA plans, King said he's working with his staff to make sure the transition goes smoothly.
"How we're thinking of ESSA implementation is that it's a shared project with state chiefs and boards and school districts," King said. "Part of what will bring continuity will be the folks in this room being a bridge. We won't be the folks doing the plan approval, but we will have regulations in place before that transition. So there will be continuity."