Betsy DeVos outlines ESSA flexibilities in 'Dear Parent' letter
- During a roundtable with students, parents and educators in Mississippi last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a letter that guides parents through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), according to a department news release. The roundtable is part of DeVos's four-state "Rethink School" tour.
- States and districts have different levels of flexibility in meeting ESSA's requirements, and parents should be able to understand and have a role in helping their students succeed, DeVos said in a statement. The "Dear Parent" letter, rather than a 500-page legal document, makes it easier for parents to be advocates for and allies with their children and to understand the education policy decisions made at all levels, she added.
- While the department has approved all 50 states' ESSA plans, parents may have a voice in how the law gets implemented at a local level, Education Week notes.
When ESSA became law in 2015, it replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and was centered around the idea of increased flexibility. Whereas states were previously held to more uniform and rigid standards in measuring student performance, under ESSA, states were handed more decision-making power in the curricula, intervention strategie and assessments they give their students. That means rethinking one-size-fits all standardized tests in what subjects they cover, when they're given and how to consider individual student progress.
At the same time, ESSA requires states to hold schools accountable by rating them using a chosen set of indicator metrics. In doing that, states are also responsible for making sure parents can easily understand these ratings. But so far, the ways in which states are implementing accountability measures, as well as the way they're presented to parents, have been vastly different. This can make it difficult for parents to understand exactly how these new local decisions affect their school and their children. The "Dear Parent" letter was created to iron out some of these crucial questions: "We hope that this document empowers you with information that will help you advocate for better education for your child and every child in your state and district and help you make the right choices for your family," the letter says.
ESSA was intended to revamp the way educators think about student performance and success, and while its implementation might look very different across states or districts, one thing is the same: Parents make up a central piece of the puzzle, and they should have seats at the table in their child's learning. This means schools should be keeping parents up-to-date with what's going on inside the classroom, whether it's through paper mail, newsletters, emails or other forms of communication. Research shows that students are more likely to succeed when there's strong home-school communication and parents have the resources they need to help their children succeed. "We know that parents are the most important advocates for their children," the letter says. "Because states and school districts have significant flexibility in how they meet the requirements of the law, you have an opportunity to influence how they use that flexibility to best help your child."
- U.S. Department of Education Understanding the Every Student Succeeds Act