States Should Focus on Students, Not Politics, in ESSA Plans


As states develop ESSA implementation plans in preparation to “take on new authority over K-12 policy, “skirmishes are breaking out… over who’s in charge.” Officials are “pointing to nebulous clauses buried in their states’ constitutions” to stake claims on decision-making power but not everyone is in agreement. Adding to the problem is a “rotating cast of characters” in state education agencies and legislatures as well as the fact that “more than a quarter of the nation’s state education chiefs have been in office for less than year.”

Instead of squabbling over politics, states would be better serving students by focusing on the opportunity to redesign their state accountability systems in ways that will benefit all students.

One way to accomplish this goal is to listen to stakeholders – those closest to students and who have important perspectives on how states can better prepare students for success. In fact, ESSA requires policymakers to engage with a wide range of stakeholders who would not normally be at the table when decisions about the direction of education are being made, despite the overwhelming importance of it to their daily lives.

Homeroom, the official blog for the U.S. Dept. of Education, says this: “This engagement can take many forms and still be successful. Regardless of the form, however, to be meaningful it must be wide-spread, inclusive, ongoing, and characterized by true collaboration.”

A diverse group of organizations from local Chambers of Commerce to national and state-based PTAs to civil rights groups like the National Urban League, National Council of La Raza and others have stepped up to become part of the process. State officials across the country have held listening sessions in multiple regions to gather ideas, feedback and direction from local communities, and task forces with parents, teachers and other leaders have formed to develop state implementation plans.

So while the final decision-making authority may be in question, it’s clear that public consensus and community leaders are a driving force behind how ESSA will be implemented in states. Elected and appointed policymakers should be encouraged to listen to these stakeholders in writing their accountability plans, and putting the interests of students ahead of their desire for political gain.

Curious about how your state is engaging stakeholders? Check out to learn more.