Equity and ESSA: Conversation and Learning Highlights Important Opportunities for Colorado

The Sam Gary Branch Denver Public Library was full of energy Aug. 30, as education advocates, community organizers, educators, and parents gathered for a “Convening on Equity and ESSA in Colorado” hosted by the Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO), Climb Higher Colorado, NAACP Denver, Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, and other education and civic advocacy groups. The half-day meeting zeroed in on the issue of equity as it relates to the implementation of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

ESSA was signed into law in December 2015 and is intended to ensure that all students, no matter their race, gender, income, language, or origin have the same opportunities and access to a high-quality education. The law requires that each state create a statewide accountability plan, including ensuring schools are teaching rigorous academic standards to all students. The plan should create a statewide accountability system that measures school quality and allows the state to take action when students aren’t being served well academically. The federal government provides additional financial resources to schools identified through these plans, especially those that work with high-need populations.

The afternoon opened with remarks from Peter Groff, former Colorado State Senate President and official at the U.S. Department of Education. Groff shed light on the importance of this conversation and the state’s responsibility in ensuring all students “excel, lead, and succeed.”

“Our kids will live in the global marketplace economy. The question that we must ask and answer is, are we preparing our young people for that inevitability?”

The day centered around the importance of using educational equity as the lever for change across Colorado, especially for high-need students and students of color who often attend low-performing schools. Speakers throughout the day identified key ways in which the state’s plan could and should include a focus on equity:

  • Parent and family engagement and consultation
  • Easily accessible and user friendly data
  • Equitable access to educational resources
  • Accountability for the achievement of all students

ESSA requires schools, districts, and states to meaningfully consult and engage with parents and other stakeholders in the development and implementation of the law. Conversation throughout the day focused on what such engagement could and should look like and how diverse perspectives should be included.

“Civil rights originations must stand tall. The bottom line is, the majority of students we are talking about today, look like us. We must be the fighting champions for our kids, every single day,” said President and CEO at the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, Sean Bradley.

Lisa Berdie, policy director at A+ Colorado highlighted the attention being paid to the new law’s reporting requirements and ensuring that data collected by the state are accessible and useful, while respecting privacy laws.

“Information is only as useful as it is in the hands of people who can do something with it. We have to continue to talk about what accessibility looks like,” said Berdie. “This data can only inform solutions if we have it in time for making decisions.”

Speakers shared opportunities for Colorado to develop a state plan that includes robust supports and best practices for a range of student groups, including English language learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities.

“I challenge us all to really focus on what the possibilities are and not what we see are the deficiencies,” said Jorge Garcia, Executive Director at the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education.

After a day of listening and learning, interim Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes closed the conversation by remarking how important these type of convenings are to Department staff and participants, and the resources each organization could bring to future conversations.

“We are at a point where we can evolve. So what do you want to evolve to?”

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) intends to submit the state’s plan to the U.S. Department of Education in spring 2017. Draft components of the plan are being developed by various sub committees through the coordination of CDE. An appointed HUB Committee will provide oversight of the plan’s development. Colorado Succeeds’ Vice President of Policy, Luke Ragland is one of the 20 members serving on the committee. He and the committee will weigh in on important decision points during the drafting of the plan and provide final advisement to CDE before its approval with the State Board of Education and other education and government leaders in early 2017. Stay tuned for more updates and information on ESSA on our blog.

photo of https://coloradosucceeds.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/169A6057-Edit-5-1114x1536.jpg-e1700158596992-300x300.webp
Shannon Nicholas