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Making the Every Student Succeeds Act an opportunity for all students in NC

Last week, Congress along with President Obama approved the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, most recently known as No Child Left Behind. Under its new title, the Every Student Succeeds Act, we see some significant changes that push for greater local control and state authority, with several additional shifts in how Federal accountability will be managed. As we embark on this next chapter of national education reform, it will be critical that we continue to hold ourselves accountable for all children and to use data to monitor our equity for doing so. While change is difficult, this new strategy in the Federal Government’s role in local education does offer some hope in how we as North Carolinians take our state forward in support of all children.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, we will see some shifts in the Federal mandates around academic standards, highly qualified teachers, and assessment processes, as well as increased flexibility for states and districts in deciding how to best serve their students. While these shifts serve as the most referenced changes in the law, there are also some additional opportunities that seek to encourage the engagement of evidence-based strategies for serving students in support of long-term success. An example of this effort is found within one of the law’s programs, referred to as Title 1, which seeks to provide critical resources in support of educating some of the most impoverished children in our communities. In the revised Title I program, it now provides for more diverse opportunities to engage services and interventions to remove academic barriers for students living in poverty. One such opportunity is the inclusion of Integrated Student Supports, or sometimes referred to as wrap-around services, which are designed to target those barriers to school success, often related to hunger, homelessness, and access to basic needs associated with impoverished circumstances.

As noted by Child Trends, Communities In Schools has been a national leader in providing Integrated Student Supports, by engaging research-supported and evidence-based practices in its schools. As a 27-year partner with the state, Communities In Schools of North Carolina is a homegrown network serving more than 400 schools each year, using Integrated Student Supports to remove educational barriers for students living in poverty. Our team members partner with schools to target supports and interventions aimed at improving school attendance, student behavior, and academic outcomes in their coursework. Our strategy also includes an intentional approach to engaging parents and families in this work as we seek to support students and help them to accelerate their success in school and in life.

While we are proud of the impact that is being made in schools across the state, we do recognize that there are still too many students struggling in school due to external factors that must be addressed in order for teachers to teach and for students to learn. Our belief is that our task, as practitioners of Integrated Student Supports, is to remove the barriers associated with poverty so that our educators can provide the critical instruction needed for long-term academic achievement. We are hopeful, that through the newly crafted Every Student Succeeds Act, that schools and communities across the state will consider this new law as an opportunity to evaluate the needs of their schools and utilize the new flexibility provided to do all that they can to meet the diverse needs of all students. In North Carolina, we have amazing educators and school leaders doing great things for children. Let’s use this opportunity to go deeper into the challenges facing our students and to engage strategies proven to work, which can place North Carolina as the premier state focused on comprehensive school transformation.

As a former educator and administrator, I recall living through the vast accountability measures of No Child Left Behind, and while uncomfortable at times and challenging, it did force us to pay attention to the diverse groups of students that our schools served and to accept responsibility for the education of all children, regardless of their racial, ethnic, or socio-economic backgrounds. We know that all students can succeed, given the right support and interventions, in conjunction with high expectations for learning and achieving. Now it’s time to make change happen.

Eric Hall

With nearly 22 years of experience in the education sector, Dr. Eric Hall serves as the President and CEO of Communities In Schools of North Carolina. Eric and his wife of 12 years, Lissette, and their two children moved to North Carolina in January 2013.