Senate HELP Committee Holds Fourth ESSA Implementation Hearing

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing with Department of Education Secretary John B. King June 29 to discuss recent proposals regarding the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). “We want this law to succeed,” Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated at the beginning and the end of the hearing. This was the fourth time that the committee has held a hearing with Secretary King about ESSA implementation.

Senators expressed the concerns that many administrators, school districts and families have about the timeline of the implementation process for states to draft their accountability plans. Current plans require implementation of an accountability system for the 2017-2018 school year and identification of underperforming schools the same year.

In response to the current timeline, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt stated in a letter to the Department that “no state will be able to implement a new system that takes full advantage of ESSA by the 2016-17 school year as implied by USED staff.”

Secretary King told lawmakers that they “are open to comment on the timeline and open to adjusting that timeline.” Their ultimate goal is to guarantee the easy transition into the new accountability system and setting up every school across the nation for success.

Stakeholder engagement was another major concern several senators wanted to clarify with Secretary King. The provision for family engagement in ESSA is a new and much-needed change from previous education law. King addressed the issue by mentioning the resources made available on stakeholder engagement. For instance, there is the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Stakeholder Engagement Guide, which National PTA and 16 other organizations collaborated on to address the concerns many senators have about how to meaningfully involve stakeholders.

The guide highlights that stakeholder engagement requirements provide an “opportunity for state education agencies (SEAs) to not only connect with current education advocates, but to seek out those who feel disconnected or who have not been historically engaged in a public education dialogue.”

Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard in the development of the law and its implementation helps create a plan of action that is holistic and addresses the unique concerns of states and districts. National PTA also has other resources regarding stakeholder engagement, all of which can be found at

As Chairman Alexander said in his opening and closing remarks, the purpose of these hearings is the same sentiment that the National PTA has expressed since ESSA passed: ensuring the law succeeds. As Secretary King said, ESSA’s goal is to provide a “rich, rigorous and well-rounded education.” Senator Murray added that the law is designed to provide “civil rights and opportunity for every child.”

To ensure a rich, rigorous and well-rounded education, it is up to parents and families to get involved with the process. Many states are currently holding working groups and stakeholder engagement meetings. National PTA strongly urges parents to attend these meetings and voice their opinions and concerns. The best way for children to benefit academically is for parents, educators and policymakers to work together. To learn how you can be engaged in the implementation process, visit


Blake Altman is the government affairs intern for National PTA. Lindsay Kubatzky, the government affairs coordinator at National PTA contributed to this article.

New Civil Rights Data Collection Survey Highlights Need for Improvement

CDRCThe U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released the results of the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey. This report features information about how students are treated at school and highlights several key issues that affect a child’s ability to learn, such as chronic absenteeism, restraint and seclusion disciplinary actions and lack of access to college resources. These three topics are important when advocating to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education.

Here are some key findings from the CRDC survey report and what National PTA is currently doing to tackle these issues:

Chronic Absenteeism Plagues Our Children’s Academic Participation

The CRDC survey reports that 18% of students are chronically absent—missing at least 10% of school days in a school year—which is likely to hurt their academic success and social development. National PTA recognizes that millions of students are missing too many school days and so signed on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of their Every Student, Every Day initiative, which addresses this issue that is threatening our children’s learning opportunities. National PTA continues to work with communities across the country to make sure our children attend school regularly.

Disproportional Instances of Restraint and Seclusion 

Restraint and seclusion is a school discipline strategy involving the involuntary confinement or physical restraint of students. The 2013-2014 CRDC data shows that this disciplinary policy disproportionally impacts students with disabilities. Students with disabilities make up 12% of all public school students but account for 67% of students subjected to restraint or seclusion. The use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion methods by untrained school personnel has resulted in the assault, injury, trauma and in some cases death, of students.

At the 2015 National PTA Annual Convention & Expo, PTA members passed a resolution to limit restraint and seclusion policies in schools. In the resolution, the National PTA calls for restraint and seclusion to only be used as a last resort in emergency situations, ensuring the safety and protection of all children.

Minority Groups Are Offered Fewer College Preparation Programs

According to the CRDC report, African American and Latino students have less access to high-level math and science courses in their schools. In schools with high enrollment of African American and Latino children, only 33% offer Calculus, compared to 56% of high schools with mainly white student populations.

National PTA recognizes the importance of offering advanced courses at schools in preparation for college and the skilled labor force. Our association continues to advocate for increasing the federal investment in education to ensure a well-rounded education for all our nation’s children. National PTA launched its STEM education and family engagement initiative in fall 2015 in collaboration with founding and presenting sponsor Bayer USA Foundation with additional support from Mathnasium to magnify the importance that a well-rounded education has on our children’s educational opportunities and future success.

So, what can you do to address these issues as a PTA advocate? The first way you can help is to identify specific issues that your school faces. School data on these issues from previous years can be found at this webpage, with updated info from the current CRDC report available in August. Once identified, you and your PTA can work with the school administration to ensure all students are treated fairly and receive a high-quality education.

You can also make a difference if you:

  • Ask your school’s principal if they have a school counselor and work with him or her to ensure all students have access to counseling. Chronic absenteeism can be addressed by giving students access to a school counselor or a mentor to confide in to get to the root of the issue. Lack of access is a serious issue—over 1.6 million students attend a school where a sworn law enforcement officer is present but not a school counselor. On top of this, about 21% of schools nationwide don’t have access to any school counselors.
  • Work with the local school board to create policies and programs that emphasize the use of positive or non-aversive student behavior interventions, thereby limiting the use of restraint and seclusion on students. In addition, you can advocate for your school district to provide adequate training for all teachers, principals and school personnel on preventative interventions and alternatives to exclusionary discipline.
  •  Get involved with the local or state PTA and help districts and states draft their new education plans. College and career preparation is a focus for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Learn more about the law and how to get involved at

Blake Altman is the government affairs intern at National PTA.