ESSA Organizing & Policy Toolkit

ESSA Organizing and Policy Toolkit

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has dramatically altered the education landscape across the country. Below are some key resources assembled by Education Justice Network members to assist communities and advocates navigating this new terrain.

The Education Justice Network is a collaboration of six nationally recognized research, advocacy, and policy scholars and organizations that work together to promote educational equity and opportunity for students of color and other traditionally underserved students. EJN asserts the value and necessity of a strong public education system as a fundamental public good. EJN’s activities aim to improve all children’s access to high-quality education by advancing evidence-based, community-oriented reform models that provide alternatives to market- and standards-based reform.

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What Organizers Need to Know About Supporting ESSA Implementation

In collaboration with our grantee Southern Echo, the Schott Foundation has begun sketching out opportunities in the Every Student Succeeds Act to elevate education justice and help ensure that schools and districts are held accountable to a more well-rounded and more comprehensive evaluation of their performance than before. This infographic, produced in March 2017, includes three key openings for organizers:

Read more and view the full infographic here. >


Making the Most of ESSA

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), together with the Research + Practice Collaboratory, created a three-part webinar series focused on the design and implementation of non-academic indicators of school quality and success under ESSA. Produced and aired January - March 2017, the series supports state and district leaders, as well as research-practice partnerships, who are deciding on which indicators to use and how to implement them in their states.

Webinar 1 - Making the Most of ESSA: Helping States Focus on School Equity, Quality, and Climate - The first webinar included a presentation of a new NEPC report, with authors Bill Penuel, Liz Meyer, and Michelle Renee Valladares. They detailed the requirements for indicators and possible types of indicators that keep a focus on indicators.



Webinar 2 - Examples of Indicators Focused on Equity, Quality, and Climate - This webinar provided the opportunity to hear from different states about the indicators they are considering for ESSA. The webinar includes both presentations from panelists and sharing from state educators about how they are taking up considerations of equity, quality, and climate in selecting their non-academic indicator.



Webinar 3 - A Continuous Improvement Approach to Indicator Development - Choosing an indicator and expecting it will work immediately is not a good approach to ensuring fairness and equity. In this webinar, we discuss the ways to set up a systematic process for adapting, studying the effects of, and revising indicators as part of a state plan.




Equity and ESSA: Leveraging Educational Opportunity Through the Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA contains a number of new provisions that can be used to advance equity and excellence throughout our nation’s schools for students of color, low-income students, English learners, students with disabilities, and those who are homeless or in foster care. This report by the Learning Policy Institute reviews these provisions in four major areas: (1) access to learning opportunities focused on higher-order thinking skills; (2) multiple measures of equity; (3) resource equity; and (4) evidence-based interventions. Each of the provisions can be leveraged by policymakers, educators, researchers, and advocates to advance equity in education for all students. Read the full report here >


Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schools

The Center for Popular Democracy, the Coalition for Community Schools and the Southern Education Foundation have released a report entitled Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schools.

Read the report here, and watch the related video:


ESSA on: Improving Low-Performing Schools

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform has prepared a fact sheet detailing how ESSA impacts efforts to improve low-performing schools and provides several ways to take action:

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) brings critical decision-making to our states and school districts. It offers an unprecedented opportunity to identify why some schools are struggling to meet student needs and what resources and supports they need to improve. State education departments and school districts are grappling now to understand and implement the new law. We must, too. ESSA provides opportunities for students, parents, and educators to have impact.

What the new law means:

  1. It’s in the hands of local districts to decide.
  2. Districts must engage stakeholders.
  3. Districts must conduct a "resource equity assessment."

Read the full fact sheet here >


Advancing Equity: A Student-Centered Approach Should Guide the “Every Student Succeeds Act"

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform's Warren Simmons recently published an op-ed urging the Department of Education to adopt ESSA regulations that further promote equity and democratic values in educational practices and outcomes

ESSA offers great promise for advancing education practices to meet 21st-century needs; however, equity must be central to all aspects of the law.

To underscore our endorsement for this K–12 student-centered approach to teaching and education, AISR was one of 26 signatories to a recent letter to Acting Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., urging the Department of Education (ED) to adopt regulations that further promote equity and democratic values in educational practices and outcomes and highlighting the central role that educators and communities play in strengthening the essential public good.

Read more >


ESSA's Success Requires Stakeholder Engagement

With the details for ESSA implementation still unfolding, it’s a key time to seek stakeholder input:

The Every Student Succeeds Act returns significant management authority over K-12 education to the state and local school district levels. While the details for implementing this new federal law, known as ESSA, are still falling into place, this is a time in which garnering input from everyone with a stake in the law is key.

ESSA does not explicitly reference stakeholder engagement, but it is crucial, in our view, to its successful implementation. We are pleased that the Council of Chief State School Officers is encouraging its members to craft processes to listen carefully and respond to the wide array of groups with a stake in our education system. Grassroots organizing entities and a wide range of advocacy groups and service organizations want their voices heard in the state, local, and school planning mandated by ESSA. There wasn't much widespread engagement in national education law when the law's predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, was adopted by Congress in 2001. So how do we increase the likelihood that we have genuine engagement this time around?

Read the rest at EdWeek >


NEPC's ESSA Policy Briefs

The National Education Policy Center, housed in the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, has recently released several publications related to ESSA.

Lessons from NCLB for the Every Student Succeeds Act
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced the No Child Left Behind Act with great fanfare and enthusiasm. Granting more power to states and curbing what was seen as federal overreach was well received. However, the new legislation maintains a predominately test-based accountability system with a federal mandate for interventions in well over five thousand public schools every year. In this policy brief, authors William J. Mathis and Tina Trujillo offer recommendations for state policymakers on both broad and focused ESSA implementation issues. Read the full brief here >

Making the Most of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – Helping States Focus on School Equity, Quality and Climate
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the latest reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the primary federal bill guiding K-12 education policy. As a democracy requires equity and adequate educational opportunities, this policy memo provides guidance to states for selecting more inclusive school quality and student success indicators for accountability systems. Authored by William R. Penuel, Elizabeth J. Meyer, and Michelle Renée Valladares, this memo recommends approaches for selecting indicators that address the importance of equity and of students’ perceptions of support, safety, and respect in the classroom. Read the full brief here >

Independent Teacher Education Programs: Apocryphal Claims, Illusory Evidence
Advocacy groups and self-proclaimed social entrepreneurs are working aggressively to deregulate the preparation of teachers and to expand independent, alternative routes into teaching. This policy brief surveys historical and contemporary trends in teacher preparation, and explores what is known about the quality of five of the most prominent independent teacher education programs in the U.S., including their impact on teacher quality and student learning. Author Kenneth M. Zeichner demonstrates that claims regarding the success of such programs are not substantiated by peer-reviewed research and program evaluations. Read the full brief here >

Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable: A Review of Claims and Evidence
Four major national initiatives intended to improve teacher quality by “holding teacher education accountable” for arrangements and outcomes are explored. This new policy brief scrutinizes each initiative in light of the research evidence. Read the full brief here >

Investing in Equal Opportunity: What Would it Take to Build the Balance Wheel?
In this policy brief, NEPC's Jennifer King Rice revisits Horace Mann's vision of education as the balance wheel of society. She describes the current school system with its own inequities, far from the needed counter-balance to the opportunity gaps that arise from poverty, discrimination and other outside-school forces. Professor Rice then considers the alternative: how the system would look if it were fully committed to the goal of equal opportunity. She identifies resources and supporting policies that would be required for such a system, extending to a range of socioeconomic and other factors. Recognizing that the opportunity gap goes well beyond school control, she explains how efforts to promote equity must include a broader set of services. Read the full brief here >


Lifting All Children Up

What will it take to ensure that all children have an opportunity to learn, regardless of their background or which school they attend? The Schott Foundation and NEPC produced an infographic detailing the two approaches communities and policymakers can take in order to help those schools and students burdened by the many structural, outside-of-school factors that impact their education.

Read more and view the full infographic here >


Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act

This report, produced by SCOPE and the Learning Policy Institute, provides critical information about the requirements and opportunities under the new federal education law. Drawing on promising examples from several states, as well as from New York City and Alberta, Canada, the authors offer alternative approaches to developing, presenting, and using a multiple-measure accountability system. Read the full report here >


Redesigning School Accountability And Support: Progress In Pioneering States

How might policymakers and educators utilize the work already being done as states redesign their accountability systems? This report, produced by SCOPE and the Learning Policy Institute, documents the progress made by the 10 states in the 51st State Working Group to transform their systems of accountability to support more meaningful learning opportunities for all students. The authors highlight state progress in the five key areas of the proposed framework:

  • Seamless pathways to college and career
  • Flexibility and strategies for innovation
  • Systems of assessment for and of learning
  • Professional capacity-building
  • Accountability systems that draw on multiple sources

Read the full report here >


Protecting an Opportunity to Learn Through ESSA State Accountability Plans

The Schott Foundation's President Dr. John H. Jackson hosted a webinar discussion between Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson and California State Board of Education President Dr. Michael Kirst, covering how schools can use ESSA as a tool to improve public education. Read a recap, and watch the full webinar here:


Learning from the Federal Market‐Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA

Over the past twenty years, educational policy has been characterized by top‐down, market‐focused policies combined with a push toward privatization and school choice. The new Every Student Succeeds Act continues along this path, though with decision‐making authority now shifted toward the states. The NEPC's latest book: Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA, edited by William Mathis and Tina Trujillo provides a critique of recent reforms followed by a series of proven, research-based reform strategies.

The weight of the evidence indisputably shows little success and no promise for these reforms. Thus, the authors counsel strongly against continuing these failed policies. The book concludes with a review of more promising avenues for educational reform, including the necessity of broader societal investments for combatting poverty and adverse social conditions. Read more and purchase the book >


Community Schools as an Effective Strategy for Reform

Research literature finds that community school models offering various agreed-upon features provide an excellent social return on investment and significant promise for providing opportunities for learning and promoting well-being in students and communities.

This brief by Julia Daniel, a doctoral student at the National Education Policy Center and Jon Snyder, Executive Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, summarizes the empirical basis for several features of community schools.

Compared with schools that do not follow the community school model, successful community schools across the United States have reported students achieving higher math and reading proficiency and increases in graduation and college going rates. Community schools that commit to a vision for developing comprehensive school–family–community collaborations have the greatest potential to address the needs of the whole child in ways that strengthen families, schools, and neighborhoods.

Read the research brief >

Coming Soon

EJN members and allies are continuing to produce new resources around ESSA, including:

  • A new issue of Annenberg Institute's Voices in Urban Education focusing on education policy and activism in response to the election
  • An infographic from the Schott Foundation detailing opportunities for organizers under ESSA
  • Materials and infographics from SCOPE on privatization and school reform
  • A summary compilation from Annenberg of education governance conference sessions referring to ESSA
  • EJN allies Learning Policy Institute (LPI) and Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) will be holding a free webinar on December 14, Equity and ESSA: Using the New ESSA Regulations to Advance Educational Opportunity. Register here >