Wisconsin Plans For New National Education Law

Jun 19, 2017

School is no longer in session – but families are encouraged to come to a special lesson in Milwaukee Monday night.

Leaders from the state Department of Public Instruction will be in town to talk about how they plan to implement a new federal education law.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, for short) is the cornerstone for education policy across the U.S. It lays the groundwork for such things as academic standards, teacher training, and standardized testing. ESSA replaces No Child Left Behind, a controversial set of rules from the George W. Bush era. Congress re-wrote that law toward the end of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Want to learn more about ESSA? Read here.

The biggest change is that ESSA shifts more power to the states to determine what’s best for their districts.

The old law followed a top-down approach; the feds laid out a more or less uniform set of requirements for how schools should look and act across the country, and state leaders were in charge of making sure schools were in compliance with those rules.

ESSA is a lot less prescriptive, and it works from the bottom, up. The details might sound a bit wonky, but essentially the law is designed to let local school districts say, ‘this is what works best for our student population.’ and the state’s role becomes one of collaboration – giving them the tools they need to set things into motion.

For example, states will still need to address low-performing schools. As in the past, the state of Wisconsin will still draw up report cards that indicate whether individual schools meet certain performance benchmarks. But, the state won’t tell schools what they need to do to improve. It will be up to the individual districts as to how to intervene.

Maybe it’s a matter of starting a new initiative to boost attendance, or giving teachers different tools for teaching math. If districts consistently earn low marks for performance, they will still have to answer to state sanctions -- but the new law puts the districts in the driver’s seat, as incentive to improve things on their own before state officials come in to help. 

Monday night marks the fifth hearing DPI has held across the state to get feedback on its plan. Parents and educators will get a chance to review it – as well as ask questions, and give feedback.

Following one more meeting in Madison next week, state officials will review and revise its plan with legislative leaders. Gov. Scott Walker must approve the outline in August – before Wisconsin, along with every other state, gives its final plan to the feds by Sept. 18.