The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the new hope and opportunity to ensure that every student — regardless of race, gender, income, language, origin or ability — receives a quality education. To ensure our education system is serving our students and families of color, this process must be slowed down and community voices must be authentically heard.
The Every Student Succeeds Act replaced No Child Left Behind on Dec. 10, 2015, as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). esea was signed into law in 1965 as a civil rights law and a testament to full educational opportunity being at the forefront of our nation. Under No Child Left Behind, schools in Washington state saw an increase in high-stakes testing and the linking of those tests to punishments that affected schools and students. Remember “failing schools”? Thanks, No Child Left Behind. How about “teaching to the test”? Again, No Child Left Behind.
ESSA was written as the promise to stop the overuse of punitive practices for failing schools, which disproportionately affect low-income students, students in rural communities and students of color; improve school climate and elevate community collaboration in schools; and recognize school-based mental health services as evidence-based, whole-school improvement.
Unfortunately, the process to gather community, parent and student input in Washington state right now is being hurried along to meet an artificial deadline and has created a culture of simply “checking the box” when it comes to community involvement.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has created an artificial deadline for recommendations around essa to satisfy Randy Dorn’s desire to have a swan song around education. Through OSPI’s rushed essa process, the voices of communities on both sides of the state are not being heard. This is especially concerning in a process that should be our opportunity to make a huge difference in providing an excellent education for our children.
ESSA was written intentionally to create deep ties to community and requires community input. There is a concerning lack of transparency with the public and even between the various workgroups. There has been little to no public input from the communities most affected. Even in workgroups that do have representation by community and advocacy members, most measures proposed by the community are voted down. In the Accountability System Workgroup, for example, OSPI employees and employees within the education system outnumbered community members by 3 to 1.
Some measures supported by community groups that have narrowly lost in workgroup votes included preventing disproportionality in discipline, student and family feedback on their education experience, such as school climate surveys and driving equitable placement of quality teachers.
OSPI has the opportunity to meaningfully engage with parents and families in writing recommendations for how schools and educators will interact with our children as well as the implementation of ESSA. The current leadership at OSPI has moved forward with this process, comfortably avoiding any real engagement with communities and families throughout Washington state. Families and advocates, however, must be given the opportunity to be involved to ensure that our children’s interests are protected.
The consolidated draft plan is slated to be released in early November. With the release, OSPI has 30 days to get community feedback and, therefore, will host only four review sessions across the state. This is the only chance communities will have to review the plan and ask questions.
● Nov. 14: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Highline Performing Arts Center, Burien
● Nov. 15: 6 – 8 p.m., Selah Performing Arts Center
● Nov. 16: 6 – 8 p.m., Spokane Convention Center
● Nov. 28: 6 – 8 p.m., Webinar, Online registration is required
Sharonne Navas is the cofounder and executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition, Washington state’s largest statewide coalition created and led by communities of color working to eliminate the opportunity gap.