This Week’s ESSA News: How States Like West Virginia Can Strengthen Mental Health Supports Even Amid a Pandemic, How Districts Are Bracing for Budget Cuts, Why Arts Education Matters & More
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.)
Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies, recently issued a set of education recommendations for members of the business community, who the council says “can be part of the solution [to the opportunity gap] by investing further in programs that create equal access for people of color to high-quality education and training, both within educational institutions and at workplaces.”
The recommendations include urging members to call for robust funding for public schools, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, quality systems of assessment to measure student progress and school performance, disaggregated and easily accessible education data from states and districts as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, and business partnerships with nonprofit or community-serving organizations.
Here are some of the week’s top developments for how states are implementing (and innovating under) ESSA:
1 West Virginia and Other States Were Already Improving Mental Health Systems Before Covid. 4 Ways Schools Can Continue Improving Supports Even Amid a Pandemic
Amid a steep rise in mental health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, many educators, parents, and advocates are calling on states to find new ways to address students’ needs and build long-term, responsive health resources in schools. A set of recommendations from the Education Commission of the States takes a look at four ways states and schools were already improving mental health systems prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, including by amending their state ESSA plans to include mental health considerations in attendance policies and data tracking, amending state legislation to require specific ratios of health providers to students, and providing basic levels of training to teachers and school staff.
2 How Districts Can Begin Preparing for Looming Budget Cuts
Long term financial considerations are quickly becoming a top concern for district and school leaders as federal stimulus discussions falter and local budget projections increasingly show massive shortfalls in communities across the nation. In reviewing lessons learned from the 2008 Great Recession and the resulting impact on education budgets, Stephanie Spangler and Rebecca Gifford Goldberg of Bellwether Education Partners penned a piece discussing two financial levers that they recommend be used by districts and schools to brace for budget limitations now to identify the most effective and least harmful ways to adapt.
The levers focus on reducing ongoing spending and making adjustments to long term investments, but also provide intentional ways for leaders to identify and maintain commitments to long term goals. The authors conclude, “With care, districts can make plans that keep students’ short-term needs and long-term outcomes front and center.”
3 Inequities in Career and Technical Education Programs Revealed by New Analysis
An analysis of career and technical vocational (CTE) programs in middle and high schools by the Hechinger Report and Associated Press found deep inequities in the populations of students steered into various programs. Across 40 states, Black and Latino students were significantly less likely to enroll in CTE programs in the areas of science, technology, and engineering, while being disproportionately more likely to enroll in hospitality and human services programs.
The analysis details estimated incomes for careers in the various fields, noting that students of color largely were enrolled in programs with lower anticipated lifetime earnings.
While school leaders increasingly report progress being made in diversifying CTE programs – a goal made slightly easier by new, equity-focused reporting requirements included in the 2018 reauthorization of the Carl D Perkins Career and Technical Education Act – researchers stress that diversity in career fields, particularly in teaching and counseling, must be improved to combat implicit bias, stereotyping, and to provide role models for students of color from similar backgrounds and communities.
4 Missing or Inconsistent Arts Education Revealing Importance to Overall Student Achievement
Nothing in education has been untouched by the coronavirus pandemic, says a growing number of arts educators calling attention to the effects of limited or completely cancelled arts classes on student achievement, morale, and wellness. Jamie Kasper, director of the Arts Education Partnership, cited over 300 studies demonstrating that “Children raised in arts-rich environments, regardless of socioeconomic status, amount to human development squared. Arts accelerated all development: language, cognitive, reading.”
Delivering quality arts experiences to students virtually or in a socially-distanced way amid the pandemic has been difficult to say the least, says Richard Scaletta, superintendent of the General McLane School District in northwestern Pennsylvania. Under ESSA, the arts are considered a key part of a “well-rounded” education, and multiple levers are built into the law to incentivize the inclusion of arts education at the local level.
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