A closer look at the new ESSA guidance for teachers
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
The U.S. Department of Education recently offered guidelines for the newest reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This blueprint focuses on helping teachers perform better, and in turn helping their students do the same. That means every student succeeds when their teachers succeed in their endeavors, too.
Known as Title II, the new federal funding for teacher support and teacher-quality grants totals more than $2 billion. The Department of Education plans to handhold the states and districts through the transition from the controversial No Child Left Behind Act to the ESSA.
The guidelines aim to help teachers in their educator training programs and in preparation for their teaching — whether it is the early years of training or helping experienced teachers transition to new standards, right up to their leadership positions. The goal is to facilitate a child's access to effective teachers and get the right kind of support and guidance students need in their formative years.
To do this, states and districts must train and support teachers to do their jobs well and affect students in the best positive way, especially in high-needs schools. Effective use of the Title II funding will see even distribution of funds and resources, of course, but also a deeper focus on districts that lack existing resources. This means it's not just the top-performing schools that will benefit from funding.
As the Department of Education outlined, some of the steps to be taken include mentorship programs for new teachers, preparation programs at traditional universities, teacher residency programs as well as alternative-preparation programs. Other proactive steps include cutting down on class size, co-teaching classrooms in high-needs schools, training principals and support them with "principal supervisors," as well as offering extra pay, bonuses and other perks like better teacher-evaluation systems.
What these mean is that it is not just academic growth and performance that will determine school's reputation and teacher evaluation. In fact, the new law does not require the teacher-evaluation systems to be based on students' test scores, a hangover of the No Child Left Behind Act, leading to much controversy and protest in the last few years.
Instead, the focus will be more on a combination of student population and poverty. There is a need to improve teacher evaluations, but the standards will be far less rigid than before.
Test scores aren't completely negated, but the evaluations will take into consideration continuous improvement and self-reflection, along with professional growth. This may turn out to be a boon for economically strapped districts and high-needs schools where test scores factor in many other variables, other than teacher performance.
While detractors worry that relaxed rules may hurt poor and minority students more, the reality may just be the opposite. Demographic data, financial situations and social issues play a big role in the negative scores of underperforming districts.
Holding teachers responsible is a skewed way to look at the picture. Hopefully, the new regulations will be successful in cutting through the red tape and paving the way for a positive and healthy teacher-student environment.
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