The ABCs of ESSA: Agenda
Chicago • October 6–7, 2016

(Unsplash/Eric Rothermel)

Presentation materials and audio recordings are linked in this schedule.

Thursday, October 6

8:00 a.m.

8:45 a.m.

A is for Accountability
9:00 – 10:00 a.m.

The new federal education law hands states far more discretion over accountability, including how the academic progress of schools and students is measured and the consequences for poor performance. Although the outcomes of required annual testing will remain a key tenet, ESSA also stipulates that states use at least one more measure beyond test scores and (in high school) graduation rates in their accountability systems, such as school discipline or student engagement. What direction are states heading as they revamp their accountability systems?  What questions should journalists keep in mind as they cover developments?

Finding Equity in ESSA: A Conversation
10:15 – 11:00 a.m.

Although ESSA was approved with strong, bipartisan support, actions taken by the Obama administration since then to implement the new law have sparked intense debate. Critics, including leading Republicans in Congress, argue that the administration has overreached on key issues, such as accountability and spending federal aid. The U.S. Department of Education shares its perspective on the law’s potential for improving education, particularly around its efforts to promote educational equity.


Intervening in Low-Performing Schools
11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

ESSA calls for states to use “evidence-based” interventions in the bottom 5 percent of high-poverty schools. The prescriptive provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act and federal School Improvement Grants called on states and districts to close schools, fire principals, replace faculty, or take other tough steps. Will states continue the practices shaped by previous education law or will states and districts pursue fresh approaches?

12:15 – 1:00 p.m.

Top Story Ideas to Steal on ESSA
1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

NPR Education Editor Steve Drummond and Chalkbeat Indiana Bureau Chief Scott Elliott offer story ideas on ESSA for national and local reporters alike. They also offer tips on selling the stories to editors.

Small Group Discussions
2:00 – 2:30 p.m.

A Journalist’s Roadmap to ESSA
2:45 – 3:45 p.m.

National journalists explain the ins and outs of the new K-12 law and accompanying federal regulations. They also offer guidance on covering the ESSA rollout, from the federal to state and local levels. How do you find the gems in 392 pages of law and hundreds of pages of regulations to inform reporting? How do you monitor what your states are doing to fulfill the law? A journalist offers practical tips of the trade.


Speed Dating With Experts
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Small-group discussions dive deep into additional ESSA topics, including early childhood education, English language proficiency, testing, parent and “stakeholder” engagement, and social and emotional learning provisions.

Friday, October 7

8:00 a.m.

ESSA and Reframing Accountability
8:45 a.m.

  • Sara Ray Stoelinga, Urban Education Institute

What Is an Effective Teacher?
9:00 – 10:00 a.m.

ESSA requires states and districts to report on how many “ineffective” educators teach in low-income schools. The law also provides funding to encourage the training, recruitment and retention of “effective” teachers and encourage equitable access to such educators. In addition, ESSA frees states from using student test scores as part of their teacher-evaluation systems. What will states do with this newfound freedom, and how will they define ineffective — and effective — teaching?

Dollars and Cents: New Reporting Mandates
10:15 – 11:15 a.m.

Under ESSA regulations released by the Obama administration, states must include school-level, per-pupil spending on state, district, and school report cards. These expenditures must be reported by funding source (federal, state, and local), and include personnel salaries, not district or state averages. Are states equipped to handle this, and what are the implications of providing this type of detailed information on spending? What is the current state of Title I spending before the law changes?

Tracking the Data Under ESSA
11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

The new law requires states and districts to collect and report all sorts of new data they didn’t have to before, such as the number of inexperienced teachers and school-by-school breakdowns of funding. The Data Quality Campaign explains the information states will have to produce and how journalists can tap that data for their own stories.

12:15 p.m.

Planning Your Stories
1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Map out your next-day, next-month and long-term stories about ESSA.