To the casual observer, federal education law seems abstract and too far removed from Colorado classrooms to have any real impact on our students. That’s not the case with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), recently passed by Congress in December 2015 to replace the outdated No Child Left Behind.
ESSA returns much of the authority to states over how to measure schools, how to test students, how to spend federal funds, and how to present data on school performance. In fact, Congress recently voted to ensure the U.S. Department of Education has as little say in the law as possible.
This new law, therefore, requires those of us who work locally on school improvement efforts to play an even bigger role in ensuring our educational system works for all kids. This responsibility is paired with an incredible opportunity to reimagine the way we prepare kids for life.
ESSA’s potential impact on state education policy is so significant that national civil rights and business groups were the driving force for getting the law negotiated and passed.
Here in Colorado, our organizations, representing business and civil rights leaders, were actively involved in the stakeholder engagement process tasked with crafting Colorado’s plan for implementing the law. That plan, due to the U.S. Department of Education in May, was unanimously approved by the State Board of Education on April 14.
We commend the State Board of Education and Department staff for creating a robust stakeholder engagement process that resolved several important issues as the plan was being drafted. However, we would be remiss if we failed to mention where the plan missed the mark. Despite already submitting its plan, Colorado can still drive increased innovation and continuous improvement into our education system through strong implementation.
As advocates for all kids, we pushed for a plan that would detail how Colorado will address school accountability and ensure all students, regardless of zip code or background, are equipped to lead fulfilling, productive lives. And we’ll continue to push for solutions through implementation that we know will drive results.
As business and civic leaders, we know that a four-year college degree is not the only pathway to prosperity. Yet, the plan has a narrow definition of success, relying solely on measures such as graduation rates and SAT scores. In addition to those measures, Colorado should identify how our state will value other educational experiences such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, industry credentials, concurrent enrollment, and apprenticeships. Placing a value on these varied and rich educational experiences will increase the life opportunities for all students.
We are encouraged to see this issue being taken up immediately in the state legislature. Senate Bill 272 is currently under consideration as an opportunity to improve workforce readiness accountability measures. If the legislation passes, districts could choose from a menu of options to measure post-secondary and workforce readiness, such as Advanced Placement Incentives, International Baccalaureate, industry credentials, and concurrent enrollment.
Another area that missed the mark is the plan’s proposal for allocating federal dollars to schools who serve Colorado’s most vulnerable students. Instead of a formulaic approach that spreads resources thinly across all districts and schools, why not create a competitive process that rewards innovation? It would unleash the creative power of Colorado educators that we know exists. By maintaining a rigorous bar for investment, Colorado could direct more significant resources to the best ideas and the most capable leaders. The rest of the state would benefit from the promising practices they uncover. We already know what happens when money is allocated evenly in the same old practices. Colorado can and should be bolder.
Finally, the submitted plan fails to equip families with clear, easy-to-understand information about school performance. We know that information is critical to helping families choose the right school for their children and getting involved in school improvement efforts. The current SchoolView website overwhelms even the most data savvy among us. In the future, Colorado should commit to providing school report cards that are intuitive, easy-to-access, and actionable for parents.
Similar information exists in all other areas of our lives, from choosing a restaurant to selecting the family physician. There are few things more important than the quality of Colorado’s schools, and our state should take on the responsibility of supporting families in understanding how they stack up.
Our state is known nationwide for its entrepreneurial spirit. This should be reflected in Colorado’s education system. ESSA provides a once-in-a-decade opportunity to embrace innovation and rethink how we educate our students – such an opportunity cannot be wasted on maintaining the status quo.
Our organizations will remain active partners in helping Colorado create more opportunities for students and educators alike. We are committed to ensuring that the state maintains high expectations for all students, and we look forward to continuing to work with the State Board of Education and Colorado Department of Education to drive the innovation and improvements our students and families deserve.