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This Week’s ESSA News: Texas Schools Turn to Career and Technical Education as Tool For Equity, Indiana Considers Rebooting State Accountability System, a Push to Preserve Special Ed During the Pandemic & More

By Joshua Parrish | February 23, 2021

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.)

“Data” doesn’t need to be a dirty word.

In a recent piece in Education Week, Columbia University political science and education professor Jeffrey Henig urges the administration of President Joe Biden to commit earnestly to building a “community-friendly national culture of data generation, dissemination, and use.” Henig adds: “A reimagined system of data could encourage a bottom-up use of information nationwide” and reverse the skepticism of data in education that has been cultivated in the U.S. since the inception of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

Henig describes some ways the administration might encourage states and districts to bolster their data collection efforts, noting that a “wide array of measures” could establish a shared focus and narrative for educators and advocates as they work to improve schools and increase student outcomes. Read the full piece.

Beyond issues of data and school improvement, here are five of the week’s top developments for how states are implementing (and innovating under) ESSA:

Using Career and Technical Education as a Tool for Equity

Though all students have lost ground due to school closures amid the pandemic, Dallas Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova says “there are bright spots illuminating a path to success for our high school students: giving them a genuine purpose for learning in high-quality career-technical education (CTE) programs.”

Cordova, citing experience rolling out innovative CTE initiatives in Colorado and Texas, says learning can carry new purpose and relevance when students are actively engaged in the “reasons for learning” and have accessible opportunities to carry what they learn into a trade, certification, or post-high school opportunity. This opportunity to rethink school programs that engage, motivate, and lead students to success, Cordova says, could serve as a means to increase racial equity at a time when Black and Latino students are widely experiencing the harshest of impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures.

Schools Find Proactive Ways to Remain IDEA Compliant During Pandemic

For many schools, ensuring that students who receive special education resources were able to continue receiving services during the pandemic proved to be one of the most difficult challenges resulting from school closures — one that has carried an uptick in “due process” litigation cases being brought by parents against their students’ schools for failing to meet services established in legally-backed Individual Education Plans, or IEPS.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools must provide a “free, appropriate public education” that meets the individualized needs of eligible students, something that has been difficult in the age of virtual learning and social distancing. However, reporter Kara Arundel describes some of the ways schools adapted to the challenges and found proactive approaches to meeting student needs, including by opening in-person only for students with the most intensive needs, launching teletherapy services, and purchasing and delivering new assistive technology to students’ homes.

Indiana Lawmakers Consider Accountability Overhaul

Continuing the national conversation around the role of state school accountability systems during the pandemic, Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would revamp the state’s approach to accountability by reconsidering state “takeovers” of the lowest performing schools, re-weighting A-F school grades, and developing a new school performance dashboard for parents and community members.

The discussion in Indiana comes as other states consider adapting or pausing their state accountability systems as they work out the details of administering spring state assessments this school year, the results on which most accountability measures at least partially rely. Under the new bill, changes to Indiana’s accountability structure would still hinge on results from annual student assessments.

Iowa School Voucher Bill Reignites Private School Funding Debate

A controversial bill in Iowa is sparking intense debate on the issue of school vouchers and funding for private education, as it would allow students who attend 34 schools rated as “low performing” under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to use “Student First Scholarships” to instead enroll in private or charter schools.

A number of Democratic lawmakers in the state say the scholarships would siphon money away from the very public schools needing investments and resources to improve, while Republican members supportive of the measure say the scholarships would increase parental choice and options. The bill has already passed in the state Senate and is being considered in the House with the support of Gov. Kim Reynolds.

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