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The Most Important Takeaways from the Department of Education’s ESSA Guidances

The Most Important Takeaways from the Department of Education’s ESSA Guidances

The U.S. Department of Education has been busy releasing a series of guidances intended to help state leaders and school officials best interpret the new education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, for the benefit of all students. So far, pages and pages of recommendations have been released that focus on benefiting homeless and foster youth, including English Language Learners, and elevating the teaching profession. Here are a few of the most important takeaways from the four guidance released thus far.


Schools, Including Preschools, Are Now Required to Identify Homeless Youth

For the first time this year, schools are required to identify homeless youth to ensure they stay in school despite living a transient lifestyle.

The Department of Education’s guidance clarifies what defines homeless youth, emphasizing that homeless students are defined as more than just students without homes.

Rather, under the guidance’s definition, homeless students are defined as any students without a permanent residence, whether this means sharing housing, students who use a nighttime residence "that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings,” or as students who live in cars, abandoned buildings or generally substandard housing.

The new provisions designed to support homeless students went into effect October 1, 2016, making the provisions the first of ESSA to go into effect. 


Schools Must Ensure the High Mobility of Foster Youth Does Not Interfere with Educational Achievement

The first guidance released by the DOE addresses one of the most vulnerable group of students in the education system—foster youth.

The guidance recommends ways for schools to ensure that foster youth persevere despite barriers that too frequently lead to “troubling outcomes.”

The recommendations focus on ensuring that foster youth experience educational success despite their tendencies to be highly mobile.

"Due to the high mobility of children in foster care, State guidance is crucial for consistency across school districts,” the guidance says.

This can best be accomplished, the guidance continues, by training school staff.

"Possible areas for training include understanding the importance of maintaining children in their schools of origin, understanding the process and factors involved in making a best interest determination, coordinating transportation plans, protecting student privacy, and maintaining accurate education records for children in foster care.”

States Must Adopt Statewide English Learning Proficiency Standards that Align to Academic Content Standards

A third guidance released by the DOE focuses on how states can make changes in the fall and winter months to best support English Language Learners (ELLs).

One of the biggest takeaways from the guidance is the pressure it puts on states to make sure their respective English language proficiency standards are aligned with state academic content standards, a measure intended to ensure that ELLs do not fall behind their peers.

"A State’s English language proficiency standards should reflect research on the process of language acquisition and, based on this research, reflect the elements needed for EL students to acquire the English language skills necessary to meet academic content standards,” the guidance says. 


Expressing Support of a Diverse Educator Workforce

The DOE expresses its support of “promoting a diverse educator workforce across the career continuum.”

In its fourth guidance dedicated to specifically to elevating the teaching profession, the DOE emphasizes the importance of increasing diversity within the profession and expresses how funds can be used to support such efforts.

"This guidance suggests that when considering how to better support educators, states and districts should consider supporting a diverse educator workforce as a critical component of all strategies across the career continuum. States and districts may use Title II, Part A funds to improve the recruitment, placement, support, and retention of culturally-competent and responsive educators,” the U.S. Department of Education said. 

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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