Center on Reinventing Public Education: Knowledge is Power
March 17, 2017

ESSA accountability regulations were overturned. What now? We know reform advocates will continue their work to support ESSA engagement and implementation at the state level. At the same time, a complicated landscape just became even more murky for those on the front lines. To help navigate through the complexities, we’re tapping the expertise of eight PIE Network federal-facing partners. The Center on Reinventing Public Education weighs in below.

ESSA Requires States to Collect & Share a Wealth of Data

With the Senate’s passage of a resolution to abandon the Obama Administration’s accountability regulations, many reform-minded advocates have openly worried that states will backslide on key equity mandates.

But advocates have a secret weapon: the law’s detailed reporting requirements for states.

Information is power. And ESSA, as written, will require schools and districts to provide a treasure trove of information that policy makers and advocates can find a way to use to push for improvement and equity. ESSA requires SEAs to collect and publish in state report cards:

  • Details of the state accountability system, including schools identified for intervention.
  • Disaggregated results for various groups of students (eg, non-English speaking students, students with disabilities etc) on all accountability indicators, including state assessments and graduation rates.
  • Disaggregated assessment participation rates.
  • Disaggregated results on the indicators that the state and its districts must report to the Civil Rights Data Collection (including access to advanced coursework, disciplinary rates, and chronic absenteeism).
  • The professional qualifications of educators, including the number and percentage of inexperienced teachers, principals, teachers teaching with emergency credentials, and teachers who are out of field.
  • State, local, and federal per-pupil expenditures by funding source including actual personnel expenditures for each school. Few districts in the country report school level spending in ways that expose inequalities caused by more senior teachers self-selecting into certain schools.
  • The number and percentage of students taking alternative assessments.
  • State NAEP data and comparisons to national averages.
  • Disaggregated rates at which high school graduates enroll in higher education, if available.

For many states, these data will shine a bright light for the first time on certain schools and groups of students that have been underfunded or underserved. Even if SEAs do nothing with this information, or bury the data on their websites, advocacy groups could collect and publicize the data in parent-friendly ways and they could use them to convene stakeholders and generate demand for change.

This has the potential to mobilize underserved parents and local community groups to press for change in local districts, a place where they can have far more impact than in the statehouse.

By shining a light on inequitable funding, gaps in access to effective teachers, and disparate educational opportunities, ESSA, like its predecessor the No Child Left Behind Act, can force hard conversations in states and local communities. As James Madison said, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

The bare bones of ESSA provide the information to empower popular action. It will be up to all of us to use it.

Eight PIE Network federal-facing partners weighed in with advice for state advocates. Check out the complete list of responses. 

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    Robin Lake & Ashley Jochim

    Robin Lake is the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, and Ashley Jochim is a research analyst.  

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