What’s Your State’s North Star? Making the Most of ESSA will help you chart the course ahead

Sailors for centuries have used the North Star to gauge their relative location to their ultimate destination. Its remarkable light and reliability as a celestial marker, even as the earth spins, means that no matter where ships sail, they can rely on the North Star to shine bright and inform them. It guides them.

As states work to finalize plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by the 2017-18 school year, what is your state’s North Star and how can you use ESSA to help you chart a course to reach it? When a state has an education North Star – a shared statewide vision and concrete set of goals that define what it means for each and every graduate to be prepared to succeed in careers, postsecondary education and life – stakeholders from across the state are better able to collectively determine how to reach it. Designing an ESSA plan unique to your state can assist in charting the course to the education North Star – and making the necessary adjustments along the way to ensure that your students – particularly low-income students, English language learners and students of color – are prepared for success in school and to achieve their dreams.

Our new resource, Making the Most of ESSA, is designed to assist state and local education policymakers, funders and advocates to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity ESSA represents. ESSA provides us with unprecedented flexibility, empowering us to select measures of academic, school and student success. We must maintain a fierce commitment to equity and excellence in every state and use this opportunity to have authentic statewide dialogues about what we want to accomplish together with and for our students.

But we don’t have a lot of time.  All state plans must be developed and approved by the U.S. Department of Education by the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.  That gives us all just a little over a year to have the tough but rewarding conversations about how we’re going to ensure that all of our students have equal access to great teachers and leaders, that our standards and assessments are world-class, and that we’re holding our schools accountable for student success in a way that makes sense for individual states.

This important work has already begun in places all across the country: from Delaware’s Student Success 2025 and vision to work groups in Washington State, from a listening tour in Colorado and town hall meetings in Kentucky, to a new webpage dedicated to ESSA and newsletter updates for stakeholders in Ohio. We encourage states to craft an ESSA plan that supports their North Star vision; do not limit your vision by simply complying with what ESSA requires. There is too much at stake to squander this opportunity. Make the most of it.

Read our resource carefully and share it with your partners. Use it to make a difference in your organization and with the students, educators, parents, communities and/or policymakers you serve. And let and my colleagues know if it was helpful. We welcome your feedback and look forward to hearing about how your state reaches its North Star.

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