I had the chance to do something few folks will ever do. Representing NEA members, I peeked over the shoulder of the President of the United States of America and watched him take pen in hand to end the federal mandates on toxic testing, changing the lives of the 50 million boys and girls in America’s public schools.
I am still getting my head around how huge this is. It was surreal to hear the most powerful man in the world say that federal policies have resulted in an obsessive culture of testing and that we need to restore sanity to what it means to teach and what it means to learn.
It took 13 years to do it. And I know you’ll think I’m joking when I say that was the easy part. But it’s always easier to stop a bad thing than it is to create something better. Now we have to convince 50 state legislatures to replace that federal fiasco with something that works for students.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that replaces No Child Left Untested ended federal Test and Punish, but it does require states to report on a comprehensive “dashboard” of indicators to assess how our schools are doing. We have an opportunity on the state and local level to design what goes on that dashboard. We’re doing a full-court press to put our ideas out front, and there is no doubt in my mind that we will succeed.
Why do I have such confidence when it took 13 years to get to this point? Because I saw what you accomplished. When we had a window of opportunity to convince Congress, you made your voices heard. You called, sent emails, signed petitions, used social media, and had face-to-face meetings. You won them over.
You are the reason we have a fighting chance to make something better happen, but we must be heard in legislatures across America. That’s where laws and policies will be written that will determine how ESSA is implemented in school buildings, beginning with the 2017 – 2018 school year.
We must devote as much time and energy to ensuring ESSA’s success as we did to securing its passage. We can follow the examples of educators who are fighting for their students through NEA’s “Time to Learn, Time to Teach” campaign. (“Small-Town USA Rejects NCLB,” NEA Today, Fall 2015)
When the legislative committees in your state capitols convene on ESSA, you need to be there. When the bills are written that determine how student success will be measured, when school boards talk policy and funding, your voices need to be heard. We need strong coalitions with parents and student advocates in every community.
We won the battle. Now we must use the new law to provide all students, regardless of ZIP code, with a quality education. NEA members, the ball is in our court. We know what to do.
For more on Lily Eskelsen García’s perspectives and activities, visit her popular blog, Lily’s Blackboard.