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Teachers Skeptical About ESSA, Want More Voice in Policy Development

A little less than half of teachers say that the new federal K-12 law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, won't actually result in positive change for schools—and that they want more input in state policy development.

The survey, which was commissioned by Educators for Higher Standards, a project of the Collaborative for Student Success (which has advocated on behalf of the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments), polled 800 teachers across the country. They also spoke to teacher leaders who are engaged in education advocacy work, and asked members of the general public to weigh in on certain questions. 

My colleague Andrew Ujifusa first reported the results over at Politics K-12. He noted that teachers have mixed views on whether states will ultimately make big changes—and whether educators will have improved conditions—because of the new federal K-12 law, and that 43 percent of teachers say ESSA is "just another initiative that will not result in positive change."

Here was an interesting, if depressing, result—59 percent of teachers say that the country's education system is going in the wrong direction. Half of teachers would give public schools a 'C' grade, while 23 percent would give a 'B' grade, and only 5 percent would give schools an 'A.' 

poll.pngSome other findings:

  • Teacher leaders were generally more optimistic about policy—and about the current state of U.S. public schools—with about half saying that ESSA is an opportunity to improve.
  • ESSA calls for professional development to be sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused. But only a third of teachers said ESSA would have a positive impact on professional development. (And a recent study found that a majority of PD doesn't align with ESSA's definition.) 
  • Teachers ranked mentorship programs for new teachers as the most important way federal money for teacher-training could be used under ESSA. However, that Title II money is facing big cuts under Trump's budget proposal. 
  • And despite 69 percent of teachers saying it was very important for teacher voice to influence education policy development and implementation, only 23 percent agreed that their state education agency has sought adequate teacher input in the development of the state ESSA plan. 

That last result is perhaps not surprising; many teachers have expressed frustration with feeling like their voices do not matter. A survey last year found that about 5 percent of teachers felt their opinions were heard at the state and national levels—and only 19 percent said their voices were heard at the district level. 

In his post, Ujifusa concluded that: 

Debates over the development of these ESSA plans have been contentious, as our colleague Daarel Burnette II reported late last year. 

The Council of Chief State School Officers announced grants earlier this year specifically designed to help states include more (and more diverse) teachers in crafting their state ESSA plans.

There's not much time for states to turn the tide on the specific issue of bolstering teacher engagement in ESSA plan development, however. State plans are due to the federal government either next month or in September. 

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