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States Move From ESSA Planning to ESSA Training

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This summer, 17 state education departments will hold training sessions for district administrators and teachers to explain what states' accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act means for them. 

As we learned with the Common Core State Standards, how district administrators receive and implement new accountability systems matters greatly. While a policy may look good on paper, whether teachers, principals, and superintendents have the right tools, staff, and training to collect the right data, fill out the right forms, and use school intervention methods as intended will determine whether state plans ultimately improve student outcomes. 

Earlier this month, I flew out to North Dakota, one of the first states to hold its own ESSA training summit, to get a feel for how district administrators were receiving the changes in store for that state (some of the biggest changes in the country).  

From my story

There will be new data-entry forms [district leaders will] have to fill out, new academic benchmarks they'll have to meet, and new sanctions they'll face if they fail to meet those benchmarks.

Whether or not practitioners buy in to those blueprints—which state officials are pitching to local educators as "for them, by them"—will largely determine ESSA's success.

I also spoke with New Mexico and Louisiana officials about their upcoming ESSA training for teachers and principals this summer. Both states' plans got fierce pushback from teachers' unions and administration associations for not changing much from their waiver plans under the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA's predecessor. 

Hanna Skandera, New Mexico's education secretary, said that despite the criticism from union officials, the state's plan is a product of all New Mexicans and will continue to push schools serving its most vulnerable students. 

"Our plan is New Mexico's plan," said Skandera, who has, in recent weeks, revisted many of the small towns where she and department officials spent two days engaging with stakeholders. Skandera said more than 2,000 people took part in the process, in addition to including leaders of several tribal communities.  

"We want to refine what we have in place," she said. "We want to equip and empower educators more, and we're rolling out 20 new teacher initiatives." 

The state is planning a teacher summit in the coming weeks that will be attended by 1,000 of the state's teacher leaders where, within 72 hours, the state officials will roll out the details of their new plan.  

"These teachers work in 849 schools, and they're the direct pipeline of communication and the voice of a larger community," she Skandera said. "Their voice matters. No one can do this work on their own.  The teachers are the game changers in the classroom."   

Similar to New Mexico, Louisiana will also roll out its ESSA plan at its annual "Teacher Leader Summit," which starts next weekend in New Orleans. 

The state's superintendents and principals protested Louisiana's ESSA accountability plan as being similar to its NCLB waiver, but "on steroids" and said the plan would further lower morale. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards unsuccessfully attempted to block the plan from being sent to the federal U.S. Department of Education.  

Rebecca Kockler, Louisiana's assistant superintendent of academic content, said the state plan "stays the path" that its NCLB waiver charted. 

"We've taken a foundation and we want to go deeper," she said. 

The state this year will tap into its network of 6,500 teacher leaders (around two to four teachers from each of the state's schools) to help roll out its training. The teachers hold monthly phone calls and gather quarterly to discuss new policy and teaching methods.  

"This allows us to get a coherent message out to the education community," Kockler said. "We've collectively built this plan, and now we're sending out the tools to implement it."  


Video: ESSA Explained in 3 Minutes

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