The Every Student Succeeds Act opens doors for districts to purchase more education technology and other instructional services—and K-12 companies are lining up to help them do just that.
“ESSA permits us to move from a compliance mentality to an innovative one,” said Bob Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education on a panel he led at the EdNET 2016 conference held here on Tuesday.
The key is “to assure district leaders that it’s all right to think positively, to dare to be great—to be transformative.”
It’s also acceptable to fail when trying to break new ground, said Wise. “With ESSA, there do not necessarily have to be penalties for failures. There’s not the federal stick that there was under No Child Left Behind.”
For companies, making that sales pitch has its challenges, and about 250 people at the gathering of education business leaders learned more about the federal law signed last December and how it’s likely to be received by school leaders.
“When I speak to superintendents and districts, they’re still waiting for the directive [about ESSA] to come—and they’re not going to get it,” said David DeSchryver, a co-director of research at Whiteboard Advisors, which conducts education research and policy analysis
While ESSA offers the “ability to leverage new tools to drive change unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” DeSchryver said, it’s a “very nebulous time.” Many district leaders are “not even aware of the significance of the amount of data available to them, and how this can change their policy and programming,” he said.
For instance, district leaders “can take advantage of and deploy new instructional models…All institutional excuses are now being removed,” DeSchryver said.
But districts don’t have to wait for ESSA’s funds to flow through the states to access money for ed tech.
Joseph South, the director of the U.S. Office of Educational Technology, said one of his concerns is that education officials “will think [ESSA money] is the only place you can go to fund your technology transformation,” he said. “We’ve had state coordinators say, ‘No, you can’t do that’ [with funding under the law’s various titles,] so we put out a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter” to clarify what federal funding sources can be applied to ed tech.
But the big question will be the degree to which companies convince district leaders to take a risk, wherever the money comes from, and to use the funding to try new ways to approach teaching and learning.
Each of the speakers on the panel conveyed reservations about to what extent educators will feel confident about making change, and be ready to do so. Right now, district leaders are primarily are focused on the beginning of school and largely see ESSA as a 2017-18 priority.
Still, the federal law requires that “50 states and 15,000 school districts now have a planning process to go through,” said Wise. “Is ESSA going to be a great opportunity, where we put our aspirations out there, or is it another ‘check-the-box’ exercise?”
To some extent, the speakers agreed, it will be up to companies to educate schools about the possibilities. And Wise, for one, is already in that mode.
“I like ESSA because it’s a great excuse to go in front of your board, if you’re a superintendent, and say, ‘The compliance rules are off,'” said Wise, whose organization runs the Future Ready Schools initiative, featuring leadership summits co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Education
“The federal government is out of our lives. And now we can really make a difference in our district for our students.”
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