Earlier this week, we brought together a group of stakeholders to start thinking about how we can create a strong state plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The energy in the room was impressive. It’s clear that education advocates want to harness this pivotal moment in education policy to ensure we’re giving teachers, schools and students a system that fosters success for all.

Since late last year when Congress replaced No Child Left Behind with ESSA, stakeholders have been focused on understanding what’s possible under the new law. Going forward, states will have greater flexibility and authority to oversee public education. In the coming months Minnesota must draft a plan for ESSA implementation. The Minnesota Department of Education will make major decisions about how we measure the success of our schools and how we ensure our schools serve each and every child effectively.

As we met earlier this week, community engagement emerged as central theme again and again. Minnesota is home to one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps. If we are truly going close these gaps and ensure that students of all backgrounds are getting the supports they need, students, parents and communities of color must have a meaningful say in our state plan. For schools to play a part in advancing educational and racial equity, impacted families must be at the table identifying priorities and serving as a partner in thinking through how they can be addressed under ESSA.

Clearly, engagement has to be step one. Step two is harnessing this process to inform the details of state policy. Minnesota has many important questions to answer before we can submit our state plan next year, as our decisions will guide how schools across the state operate. Advocates are calling for deep discussion on a range of issues such as accountability, equity and teacher diversity, among others.

Here are some of our takeaways from this week’s meeting:

  • We have major decisions to make about accountability. Education advocates are ready for real conversation about a number of questions:
    • What factors will we use to measure our schools?
    • Will results be transparent and understandable to families?
      • When we identify schools in which students are persistently struggling, how will we intervene? How can we learn from high-performing schools and offer appropriate supports?
      • How will we evaluate the success of all students, including English Learners and special education students?
  • An equity lens must be central to the state plan. A focus on the needs of underserved students should be woven throughout the plan:
    • How can our approach to school funding under ESSA advance equity?
    • How might we update our state teacher equity plan to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not taught at disproportionate rates by ineffective, inexperienced and out-of-field teachers? How will we maintain a strong teacher evaluation policy?
    • How can we capitalize on opportunities within ESSA to meaningfully move the needle on teacher diversity?

These questions only scratch the surface of the many issues MDE will be tackling in the coming months, and that all of us need to need to weigh in on as educators, parents and advocates invested in the future of Minnesota schools. We all need to find ways to stay informed and be at the table. The time to lean in is now. How can you play a role?

  1. Learn more about ESSA and MDE’s planning process at a public meeting next Wednesday.
  2. MDE plans to convene focus groups to dig deeper in the coming months. Watch their ESSA website, inform your networks and stay engaged.
  3. Stay tuned for future updates from MinnCAN and our partners. We’re committed to advancing the strongest state ESSA plan possible, and we hope you’ll be ready join us as an advocate.

Andrea Roethke is MinnCAN’s interim executive director.


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