Sign the Petition on ESSA Regulations

Secretary of Education John King

As members of the American Federation of Teachers who work in our nation’s public schools every day, we write to comment on the proposed regulations governing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The promise of ESSA is that it gives us the opportunity to advocate for our students to receive a high-quality, well-rounded education and be prepared to participate in a global society.  

While some of the proposed regulations reinforce the law’s flexibility for states around incorporating non-test measures into accountability systems and allowing schools and their communities to choose interventions for struggling schools, we have some major concerns and seek changes in the areas listed below before these rules become final.

Sponsored by
Washington, DC

To: Secretary of Education John King
From: [Your Name]

1. Timelines won’t allow for use of non-test measures: The proposed regulations require that all states begin identifying schools as in need of support and improvement in the 2017-18 school year, using data from the previous school year. Without enough time to put in place all of the measures in their accountability systems, states will revert back to what they already have—test-driven accountability systems.

This timeline will not allow my district to incorporate new measures other than tests, making me concerned that nothing will change and everything we do in the classroom will focus on preparing for, and taking, standardized tests.
Recommendation: Allow states to begin using their new accountability systems to identify schools in the 2017-18 school year.

2. Punishments for opting out of tests: The proposed regulations require states to take specific actions against schools that do not meet the 95 percent participation requirement. These actions are definitely not in the spirit of “supporting and improving” schools, and will not at all address the reasons parents choose to opt their children out of testing.

Parents in my school should be able to decide for themselves whether their kids take tests, and my school should not be punished because of the choices they make for their children.
Recommendation: Stick with what the law says—that states decide how to incorporate the 95 percent participation requirement into their systems. 

3. Equity requires more than narrow indicators: For schools identified for support and improvement, the law requires that schools do a review of resource inequities. The proposed regulations specify two things that must be reviewed: per-pupil expenditures, and disproportionate access to ineffective, out-of-field or inexperienced teachers. Thus, the only two required “resource inequities” to be examined go straight to teachers and their salaries, and do not take a broad look at other inequities like access to early childhood education, wraparound services, adequate facilities, etc.

There are so many factors that are related to inequities in schools. No one or two factors should be pulled out; communities should decide what is needed.
Recommendation: Require schools and districts to consider a range of equity indicators, not just those focused on teachers.

4. Eliminating graduation-rate flexibility: The law says a school must be identified for interventions if its graduation rate is below 67 percent, and it allows for this calculation to include more than four years for some students. The regulations would require all schools with a four-year graduation rate below 67 percent to be identified, without allowances for more time. This proposal ignores the law and the commonsense flexibility it offers to schools and students who need more time.

There are many valid reasons that students do not graduate in four years, and they should be given the time to complete their studies.
Recommendation: Allow schools to be identified for improvement based on an extended graduation rate, when appropriate.

5. Defining “ineffective” teachers: ESSA squarely rejects the federal government involving itself in the teacher evaluation process. Yet, the regulations would require states to submit a definition of ineffective teachers. Since most states have these definitions left over in their state laws because of recent federal mandates, they will likely just submit what they already have, making it more difficult for states to move away from old and punitive evaluation systems.

Recommendation: Consistent with the law, don’t require states to submit a definition of ineffective teachers to the U.S. Department of Education.

Thank you for considering our views. We are pleased to have an opportunity to comment, and we know that your attention to the views of stakeholders like us will strengthen this law.