First in a series of blogs on Equity in the Age of ESSA by Almitra L. Berry, Ed.D.

ESSA, ESSA, ESSA! Reading my daily education briefs reminds me of the episode from the Brady Bunch where Jan had her middle sister meltdown and that iconic line, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! Every time I turn around…" (For those of you too young to have schema on that line, view YouTube video https://youtu.be/ICVXf8Vznec.)

Living in the shadow of another one or thing perceived to be more accomplished than the present iteration can be annoying, overwhelming, or leave you feeling like Jan Brady, struggling to find a way to overcome her self-perceived deficit. So is ESSA any better than its antecedents?

After 52 years of ESEA, while much has changed, much remains the same. I was a toddler when Johnson declared A War on Poverty and signed ESEA into law; not too far off the heels of Eisenhower's National Defense Education Act. I argue that the NDEA was an early and first attempt at educational equity. After all, just three years earlier, the Supreme Court ruled racial discrimination in public education unconstitutional. Added point of reference, and food for thought, Katherine Johnson was hard at work as a computer at NASA in 1953. If we were to get a man on the moon, we needed every person with aptitude, demographics aside.

 Every president since, apart from Nixon, has reauthorized ESEA; strengthening it, to some degree, in one form or another. Still… 52 years later:

  • Achievement gaps are systemic, pervasive, and linked to race and socioeconomic status;
  • Dropout rates are highest among Black, Latino, and poor children; and
  • Black, Latino, and poor children have inequitable access to AP coursework.

Rather than just textbooks and buildings now, the new divide is digital. Black and Latino homes are less likely to have internet access. Those same students who suffered inequitable access to instruction 20 years ago are now parents, likely blue and pink collar workers, raising children in lower performing schools, with lesser experienced teachers, in homes without the best tools to support instruction.

Under ESSA, state educational agencies, school districts, and schools now have the flexibility to tailor technology investments to meet the needs of their student demographics (subpart 1 of Title IV, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by ESSA). The level of flexibility in ESSA allows agencies to specifically target the digital divide. Not only can educational leaders now put devices and access into the hands of students that most need it, but they can partner with educational technology companies, like Achieve3000, to deliver age-appropriate, standards-aligned, vetted content into the classroom. While #GoOpen may be trendy, putting unvetted content into the minds of learners most at-risk is unacceptable. It's not just about access, it's about equitable access.

Conscientious content developers and blended learning specialists at companies like @Achieve3000 recognize the difference. The expertise to differentiate learning across up to twelve English and eight Spanish Lexiles in a classroom can't be effectively or equitably accomplished with OER. Embedded formative assessments to auto-level text and make instructional recommendations requires tools using algorithms and interaction with the learner in a controlled setting. #GoOpen will not #CloseTheGap, especially when it comes to the schools with students most at-risk.

So, is ESSA any better than its antecedents? In this one regard, I’ll say yes.

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