What’s Next?

ESSA, testing, the Kirwan Commission, and organizing for the 2018 elections with GO Teams

This year, educators were extremely well informed and engaged on preventing privatization and reducing testing,” said Sean Johnson, MSEA’s chief lobbyist. “Our mobilization of partners like the PTA and civil rights groups, plus con­cerned community members, led to in-person and online activism that propelled the Protect Our Schools Act (POSA) and More Learning, Less Testing acts to become law.”

Now, as Maryland implements the new federal education law — the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA — MSEA’s more than 73,000 members will continue to lead the way in shaping the new school accountability system outlined by POSA that prohibits privatization and rewards schools more for providing equitable learning opportunities and less for standardized testing.

“It’s time, “Johnson says, “to build on the activism we see growing across the state and work locally to implement a better accountability system through POSA, reduce testing, advocate for increased funding through the Kirwan Commission, and elect pro-public education candidates in 2018 at the state and local levels.”

We protected Maryland Schools

Passage of the Protect Our Schools Act means Maryland’s system for gauging school success will be the least reliant on test scores in the nation. That means more attention on ensuring high attendance rates, safe and supportive learning environments, and effective administrative leadership — mea­sures that more accurately explain a school’s performance.

But the Protect Our Schools Act gets its name from a more urgent mission: blocking the Betsy DeVos school pri­vatization agenda in Maryland. After Gov. Hogan’s appointees on the State Board of Education began discussing ways to use ESSA to convert public schools to privatively operated charters or handing over operations to for-profit manage­ment companies, we worked with legislators to prohibit such privatization schemes in the law. We also stopped efforts to label schools on the disparaging A–F scale, a common meth­od used by anti-public education advocates trying to paint our schools as failing. Maryland has always made a strong commitment to strengthening our neighborhood schools, and now with this big win, we blocked one of Secretary DeVos’ paths to erode that public commitment to our kids.

Maryland’s POSA is a national model for ESSA

That’s why the Protect Our Schools Act is being held up as a national model for ESSA implementation. Diane Ravitch, a prominent researcher and public education defender, wrote, “Congratulations to the educators and parents and students of Maryland for defeating Governor Hogan’s effort to impose the DeVos agenda on the state’s public schools.”

Monty Neill, founder of FairTest — the leading national advocacy group working to reduce standardized testing — wrote in The Washington Post, “The challenge for testing reformers across the nation is how to follow Maryland’s lead in mobilizing the grassroots and building the powerful coalitions needed to win meaningful assessment and accountability reforms.”

Where do we go from here?

While the Protect Our Schools Act handles much of ESSA im­plementation work, it leaves many important decisions to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and state school board. For example, what long term goals should we set in measuring progress as a state? We know No Child Left Behind set completely unrealistic expectations of 100% pro­ficiency in math and reading and that mistake created many problems for schools. We can’t make similar errors again.

MSEA is monitoring how state officials finish the work we started in the legislature. We will make sure educators across the state have a chance to weigh in on the final draft before it is finalized, approved, and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

“We lived with No Child Left Behind for more than a decade. To make sure we don’t relive it with ESSA, we need to get it right for our schools and our kids,” Johnson told members at a series of local representative assemblies. “The Protect Our Schools Act was a huge step forward, and now we need to finish the job over the summer and next school year.”

When educators come together to fight for our students, our schools, and our profession — we win.

We saw that during this legislative session. Because of our advocacy, the General Assembly passed the Protect Our Schools Act and the More Learning, Less Testing Act, defeating the Betsy DeVos school privatization agenda and cutting back the time and emphasis placed on mandated standardized tests.

When we work together, we have incredible power. As the state develops and works to fund a new school funding formula through the Kirwan Commission over the next year, we need to keep building and using our power so all of our students get the resources they need. And, we’ll need to remain vigilant to keep the DeVos privatization agenda out of Maryland and ensure that over-testing truly becomes a thing of the past.

That’s why we’re organizing Grassroots Organizing (GO) Teams of MSEA members who focus on statewide political, communications, and legislative campaigns. GO Team members get training for this important work and have access to association staff support, grants, and innovative campaign technologies.

Want to make a difference? Learn more and apply today! Contact [email protected] for more info.