What Does ESSA Mean for You?

Everyone is abuzz about ESSA, but will these changes help students succeed or create more red tape with fewer solutions?

Since being signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been the fresh topic of interest for everyone from political pundits to parents. Reigniting the efforts first sought by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), ESSA’s proponents also intend to compensate for the areas in which 2001’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) allowed the federal government to monitor education, a task many believe should be addressed at state and local levels. As ESSA leads us into the second half of the school year, what can educators expect from this new legislation?

Local Responsibility for Assessing Competency

As STEM Jobs reported in 2014, NCLB was viewed by some in the STEM community as placing more emphasis on improving students’ reading ability, while math took a backseat. Partnerships with STEM organizations are a great help, but reliable plans to promote STEM education must begin in the classroom.

Through ESSA, states will work with smaller local school districts to establish methods to gauge student competency in reading/language arts, as well as mathematics and science. States must present a plan for assessing student proficiency in these subjects. In addition to strategies that fulfill the requirements for these subjects, states are also permitted to implement assessments in other areas, which could promote stronger STEM education.

Support, Not Criticism, For Educators

ESSAMany educators have felt pressured by rigid federally mandated testing that did not suit students from distinctively different school districts. By working together to improve the schools within their communities, educators bring an understanding of local students’ needs to cultivate strengths and fortify weaknesses.

Of particular note is an area of ESSA that specifically encourages educators to utilize funds for building a strong STEM foundation among faculty by developing and providing professional development and other comprehensive systems of support for teachers, principals, or other school leaders to promote high-quality instruction and instructional leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects, including computer science.” By arming teachers with a strong foundation in technology, ESSA promotes STEM education through the use of advanced technologies.

Funding Opportunities in STEM

Often, the public questions how the government decides to fund different services or programs, and education is one area that receives a lot of skepticism. Written within ESSA, states are granted funding to create enriching activities that encourage female, low-income, minority and English-as-a-second-language students, and those with disabilities to discover subjects, such as STEM, to which they might not have sufficient access.

ESSA also includes a provision to support low-income student involvement in non-profit STEM competitions. States are also permitted to plan the creation of STEM-focused specialty schools and curriculum that include field-based learning to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. Lawmakers paved a pathway to STEAM through ESSA, as the legislation calls for educators to integrate other subjects, including the arts, into STEM education to build more well-rounded professionals.

STEM Master Teacher Corps

One of ESSA’s most promising sections is dedicated to promoting STEM among students and ensuring educators are prepared to guide students into these fields. Not only does ESSA allow states to allocate funds to create student professional development programs in areas of study relevant to science, technology, engineering, and math, the legislation also makes provisions to prepare educators who teach these subjects, with special consideration for those who serve in rural and high-need school districts. Through assessment, exceptional STEM educators will be eligible to engage with peers to lead discussions in developing effective teaching strategies in these subjects.

Though there has been a lot of disparity in the government and passing legislation has been difficult, ESSA was approved by an overwhelming majority from both sides of Congress, which provides hope for a greater STEM future in the United States.

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