Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Twp. H.S. Dist. 214 supt. talks flexibility in Senate

Everybody testifying this morning at the Senate education committee’s oversight hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act seemed to agree on one point: The new flexibility for states and districts the law provides could lead to real progress, Education Week reports.

“Tight on goals and loose on means” is a well-researched philosophy that correlates positively to student achievement. Past conversations regarding innovation and inspiration always started, and usually stopped, with the construct of “Will this comply with our state waiver or NCLB?” Now, with those constraints lifted and ESSA the law of the land, states and districts can focus once again on truly meeting the needs of every student who walks through our schoolhouse doors on a daily basis …

So testified Dave Schuler, superintendent of schools for Township High School District 214, based in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Mr Schuler also serves as president of the AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and was the only actual school superintendent to testify.

Others who testified at the hearing were Governor Gary R Herbert of Utah, Wisconsin state Superintendent Tony Evers, Katy Haycock from the Education Trust, AFT union President Randi Weingarten, Delia Pompa from the Migration Policy Institute, and NEA Vice President Becky Pringle.

Questioning of Mr Schuler by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, suggested she agreed with him that data is critical when it comes to ensuring that federal education dollars are being spent properly. In fact, accountability, much of which has shifted to the states under ESSA, was in the forefront for much of the testimony.

In his testimony, Mr Schuler also emphasized how important it was for states and school districts to have the flexibility to use college admissions tests, like the ACT or SAT, to certify accountability for their students. It would change students’ lives, he said.

I would like to call out one area where I think ESSA is a pure work of genius. In allowing high schools to use a college admissions test in lieu of the high school state assessment, as long as the college admissions test is approved by the state, it is my belief that you will change lives. Taking a college admissions test can change the trajectory of a student’s dreams and aspirations. We have many students who don’t think college is an option until they receive the results of their college admissions test. You are putting a realistic dream of post-secondary education in front of students who may have thought that graduation was the end point. That is truly changing lives—one public school child at a time.

Testimony from Ms Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 1.6 million education professionals across the country, highlighted the idea of providing students with a well-rounded education. That has to include, she said, the arts, physical education, science, and music, and schools should be held accountable in a way appropriate to this “broader vision of learning”:

School districts and states now need to dive deeply into the new work, which includes building accountability systems that provide a framework for school and student success. Our public schools should be places where children are met where they are and have multiple pathways to realize their potential. They should offer an engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and that includes art, music, the sciences, physical education and project-based learning.

Accountability systems should measure and reflect this broader vision of learning by using a framework of indicators for school success centered on academic outcomes, opportunity to learn, and engagement and support.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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