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State Chiefs at Conference Tout Equity Policies in ESSA Plans

Washington D.C. 

When the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 sent decisionmaking power back to states, advocates for special education students, students of color and English-language learners worried out loud that attention to their long-fought causes would fall to the wayside.  

While these students combined today make up the majority of America's students, their parents hold little voting sway in states and they've long depended on the federal government to protect their access to a quality education.  

Soon after the law was passed, state education chiefs went on the offensive, committing to a set of goals devised by the Council of Chief State School Officers to provide an equitable education to historically disadvantaged groups of students.

On Friday, several of those chiefs met as part of an Aspen Institute event here to discuss their progress on those goals. 

North Dakota's state chief Kirsten Baesler discussed resetting the state department's relationship with its large native American community.  

Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera discussed efforts to diversify his state's teaching force.  

And Illinois Superintendent Tony Smith, carrying with him a worn copy of the "Kerner Report" (a 1967 condemnation of America's race relations) discussed his efforts to more equitably distribute funds between the state's schools.  

Other chiefs touted in a CCSSO report released today how they reorganized their departments to place special emphasis on closing achievement gaps, set aggressive goals in boosting some groups of students' test scores, and required state department employees attend anti-bias training.  

"We know this journey will be long, and the inequities we face in education cannot be solved in a matter of one year," wrote CCSSO interim executive director Carissa Moffat Miller in an introduction to the report. "But these promising practices and the level of commitment from our state chiefs, our partners, our stakeholders, advocates, teachers, and state policymakers shows we are on the right path." 

But civil rights groups are still skeptical of state departments as they move from the creation phase into the implementation phase of their ESSA plans.  

The phrase "states' rights" and "local control" triggers for communities of color scenes of governors and angry parents blocking schoolway entrances during not-too-long-ago integration battles, several panelists said Friday.  

After states' ESSA plans were submitted to the federal government, a slew of advocacy groups came out attacking states' plans for what they called their lack of committment to equity between student groups. 

Civil rights groups have pointed out that few states have set up their accountability systems to specifically target schools with achievement gaps between student groups and that some states have indicated that they will not conduct assessments in students' native language or include in their accountability system ELL students' English Proficiency exam scores as the law now requires. 

Those advocacy groups were also present on Tuesday, and they spoke in great detail about the work ahead, especially as states work to define under the law chronic absenteeism, when students are college or career ready and how districts distribute money between schools. ESSA requires states to collect and report more data that communities of color anticipate can be used as a weapon to fix disparities in areas such as student discipline and student outcomes.  

 Read CCSSO's entire report here.

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