This past week, Secretary Devos criticized state education chiefs for not driving more innovation through their state ESSA plans. Are the state ESSA plans perfect? Absolutely not. Many plans didn’t go far enough, for sure, and in some cases the states might not have been innovative enough in how they are engaging all students or maybe not protecting equity well enough in their accountability sections. There are plenty of critiques of ESSA plans to go around. On the flip side, at KnowledgeWorks, we reviewed all of the state plans in their draft, submitted and approved versions. Again, while not perfect, we did find that states are using ESSA to begin to move personalized learning forward.
ESSA plans are important but not the only vehicle to advance innovative educational practices. In fact, we are seeing states move micro-credentials, personalized professional development, social-emotional learning, use personalized learning as a driver for school improvement and pulling key indicators (think dual-enrollment, workforce credentials and multiple pathways) into state accountability indices. Check out how states are using ESSA to drive personalized learning.
It is important to note that ESSA provides just one piece to the innovation puzzle. State policy, whether from the legislature, state board, or state agency and whether in the form of statue, regulation or guidance, plays a significant role in advancing innovative practices. In North Dakota, for example, we are seeing them use state policy, SB2186 specifically, to provide increased flexibility to school or school district to advance personalized learning by improving the delivery of education, improving the administration of education, providing increased educational opportunities for students or improving the academic success of students. Diverse and bipartisan stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce and North Dakota United (teachers’ union), are fully behind these transformative steps. To learn more about the work in North Dakota read North Dakota Comes Together to Personalize Learning Through Innovative Policy.
To advance innovative practices like personalized, competency-based learning it is important that states use all of the tools in the tool box. This includes, but is not limited to, ESSA. This could be a state, like Indiana or Maryland, that is exploring how to use graduation requirements and pathways to advance competency-based education. Or a state like North Dakota, Idaho, Michigan or Utah using competency-based pilots to provide new opportunities for schools and districts. Or a state like Ohio that is using its strategic planning process to advance aligned innovations to move the state forward. The fact is that states are leading innovation in multiple ways on multiple fronts.