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Preparing for Change: Navigating the ESSA Overhaul

The majority of provisions introduced by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) won’t take effect for another two years, but educators are already bracing for big change. And rightly so.

You know the broad strokes: More power to states to measure student and school performance; a clear emphasis on community engagement—specifically, better parent engagement; and a broader array of accountability measures beyond standardized tests.

Just saying all that is overwhelming. Implementing it? Let’s just say I’m glad I write about schools and don’t actually run them.

While officials continue to negotiate the finer points of the rollout, school leaders across the country are beginning to form pretty clear ideas about what the changes will mean for them professionally. A new survey from instructional services company Catapult Learning, Inc., first reported by eSchool News, reveals that half of all school leaders think ESSA will seriously change how they work.

Prepare for impact
Catapult Learning’s Annual Education Leadership Survey takes the temperature of superintendents, district department heads, and school building leaders in 40 states, with a focus on professional training and career development.

What you should know:

  1. School leaders think ESSA will affect their work significantly, and right away
    More than 50 percent of survey respondents expect ESSA to have a significant impact on systems in their schools in the 2016-2017 school year. Remember, that’s a year before the law even goes into effect. I’m no school leader, but it’s a safe bet the shift toward local decision-making and broader student performance measures have something to do with that.
  2. Early intervention can improve drop-out rates
    When asked the most effective way to increase graduation rates, most school leaders pointed to early interventions with middle-schoolers who are identified as at-risk. ESSA takes this approach to the school level by targeting resources and support at the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in each state.
  3. Student needs are priority No. 1 for schools
    As part of the survey, school leaders were asked to identify the most important reform that contributes to success in their districts. The top answer? Addressing student needs.

A quick thought: Given its emphasis on community engagement, ESSA is packed with new initiatives and ideas targeted specifically at students. School leaders say understanding those needs is critical to their success. But understanding and doing are not one in the same. The key for schools is finding a way to leverage the best parts of ESSA toward a strategy that results in measurable change.

New framework, new opportunities
As you await details about the execution of ESSA and other state and federal laws in your school or district, you no doubt see a lot of work in your future.

Don’t wait for it to hit all at once.

Get a head start on the changes by asking your community for feedback about your early-stage plans and ideas. Ask parents and staff what they think about the new law and how they see it impacting students.

Already talking to your school community about ESSA? What approaches are you taking? Tell us your story in the comments.

Looking for a better way to bring parents, teachers, and others into the planning process up front? Here’s three ways you can start a conversation today