The Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA, is the newest federal legislation to improve national education systems. This act replaces the heavy-hand of NCLB and places more emphasis on states to do the heavy lifting. There was a lot of criticism of state implementation of NCLB (some of the weaknesses and frustrations around the law may have been more the fault of implementation than the law itself) and now the states will need to take on more responsibility over innovation in policy-creation, testing, and accountability along with the compliance role they have been doing for years.
The state and local education agencies will need to reflect on and improve their own staff and capacity to succeed in this important work. Education agencies have become increasingly political in recent years and the average tenure of state chiefs is only 3.2 years. This tenuous environment and rapid shifts in leadership make it more difficult for agencies to complete long-term goals and for staff to have a coherent sense of direction.
In addition to changing leadership, the recession lessened the staff numbers in most education departments, leaving less employees to monitor the same numbers of schools, students, and federal funds/programs. Despite the upturn in the economy, EdWeek reports that staff numbers have not increased and has led staff members to be overstretched and to work on programs where they have little experience.
The point of understanding these staffing problems is that they will be exacerbated as ESSA demands more of the states. States finally have the decision-making power that they have been longing for, but an important question is: do they have the capacity to follow through? We can hope that as states gain power, they will also be able to hire qualified employees who can devise policies that are best for their state. They need experts to transform their lowest performing schools and groups of students, to create or revise accountability systems for schools, create or adopt academic standards (Common Core is an option here but it not required), and update school performance measures to include a school quality characteristic. These initiatives all require experts to take the lead in creating and implementing the policies, as well as to evaluate their effectiveness.
Local education systems should be aware of coming changes and work with states and schools to bridge the gaps in implementation of new policies. The more state and local systems can cooperate and communicate, the better chance policies have of being honestly implemented and becoming a success. –Breanna Higgins