Guide Designed to Help Parents Navigate ESSA

The U.S. Department of Education has released a parents' guide to understanding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). According to an introduction from Secretary Betsy DeVos, the 19-page digital document is intended to "empower" parents with the information they need to help "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 department has also released a "build-your-own-ESSA-explainer" template in PowerPoint that people can modify to develop their own presentations about the federal education law.

The guide provides explanations about testing, accountability, school support and improvement, student-focused activities, charter schools, funding flexibility and supporting local reform. There is no mention of some of the more contentious topics that have tended to split among political party lines: Common Core State Standards, school vouchers or data usage.

Accountability, which has been the source of a great deal of discussion in states trying to get ESSA plans approved by the feds, was described this way: "Every state is required to develop an accountability system for all public schools to improve student achievement and school success, but the state has broad discretion in designing its system." As an additional explanation, the guide explained, "Your state may select a number of measures to assess the performance of each public school. For example, in addition to performance on statewide tests and graduation rate, your state may select such measures as chronic absenteeism or student growth."

"This new, easy to understand packet of information from the U.S. Department of Education is exactly what we've been waiting for to engage parents and students," said Superintendent Jillian Balow of the Wyoming Department of Education, in a statement.

"Kentucky embraces finding new ways for parents to engage in their child's education and become part of the decision-making process at their school and at the state level. Such engagement can be intimidating to parents," added Commissioner Wayne Lewis of the Kentucky Department of Education. "That is why the package of parent- and community-friendly documents the U.S. Department of Education has created are so important. They cut through the jargon that is often found in education to give parents and community members a quick understanding of what the law requires, and what steps they can take to help improve student achievement at their schools."

The guide is openly available on ED's website, as is the PowerPoint template.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.