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This Week’s ESSA News: Governors’ New Education Focus, Funding for Afterschool Programs, A New Way to Talk About Education Equity & More

By Ashley Inman Zanchelli | March 25, 2019

This update on the Every Student Succeeds Act and the education plans now being implemented by states and school districts is produced in partnership with ESSA Essentials, an ongoing series from the Collaborative for Student Success. It’s an offshoot of their ESSA Advance newsletter, which you can sign up for here! (See our recent ESSA updates from previous weeks right here.)

At last week’s SXSWedu Conference in Austin, Texas, the National Governors Association’s education policy director, Seth Gerson, discussed how the 39 newly elected governors across the country are “uniquely education-focused,” Ed Scoop reports. And because each state’s ESSA plan had been approved as of last fall, Gerson found that “governors didn’t apply the same focus on Common Core testing, standards or teacher evaluation as they might have in past campaigns” and “were free to tout other 21st century education strategies, like career or technical education.”

Gerson also noted that though the focus has switched from ESSA to a wider range of focus areas, “governors can help shape the story behind a state’s education policy not only via the pulpit, but by collaborating with their boards of education and K-12 administrators.”

During his session, he talked about how governors are uniquely positioned to be leaders in accountability work. “The governor oversees so many systems of governance — not only the K-12 system, but being able to bring into the conversation from the early childhood side, from the higher education, workforce development, family, communities. … You have a state education chief who really oversees that K-12 system, but being able to bring those multiple parties into the conversation. When a governor sends out an invitation, it likely is accepted.”

See below for more ESSA news.

124 evidence-based afterschool programs eligible for ESSA funds

A new report from the Wallace Foundation looks at afterschool programs in the U.S. that are eligible for funding under ESSA. “The law also encourages — and in some cases requires — that applicants for its various funding streams establish that their programs are backed by strong evidence of effectiveness.” The report reviews “research from 2000 to 2017” and “finds 124 afterschool programs with research that meets the research requirements of ESSA’s top three tiers, and of these, half — 62 — showed positive impacts on students.” The report also includes recommendations “for program providers, states, program evaluators and the federal government,” and it suggests that states “take a lead role in developing a learning agenda for afterschool programs funded under the 21st Century Community Learning Center program.”

New take on education equity

Ashley Jochim, senior research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, notes a growing shift in focus from traditional academics to non-achievement-based educational outcomes. She explains that ESSA “implicitly recognizes this shift with its requirement that assessment of a non-academic measure of student success be part of state accountability systems.” Jochim also argues that this can support low-income students and students of color because they are “more likely to attend schools defined as low-performing under conventional achievement tests and, as a result, more likely to face the unintended consequences of these assessments, such as a narrowing of the curriculum and an increased focus on test preparation.” She also cautions that a “shift away from achievement-based assessments could also muddy the waters by allowing more students to fall through the cracks,” due to the lack of evidence around how best to support the development of soft skills or reliable and valid ways of measuring them.

A bipartisan conversation between two governors

In an interview published here on The 74, former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam and former Delaware governor Jack Markell engaged in a one-on-one discussion on bipartisan education policy efforts. The two state leaders, one a Republican, one a Democrat, focused on college and career readiness, standards, testing and ESSA. When talking about ESSA, Haslam pointed out that accountability is now “up to state and local governments,” that “it’s made it more important than ever that states know what direction they want to go” and that “local school board races have never been more important.” The two governors also talked about the importance of having great leadership in their state’s lowest-performing schools to help ensure all students have opportunities for success. The full transcript and video of the interview are available here.

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