Over the past several years, higher ed and K-12 in Utah have sought ways to work more closely to better serve students in transitioning from high school to college. The recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides a unique opportunity for higher ed and K-12 to ensure a seamless experience for students as they prepare for college.
ESSA is a bipartisan revision to No Child Left Behind that was passed in December 2015 and takes effect next academic year (2017-18). The legislation was co-sponsored by Utah’s senior-ranking US Senator, Orrin Hatch, and is supported by state education leaders:
- David L. Buhler, Commissioner of Higher Education
- Brad Smith, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (retired)
- Lane Beattie, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce
- Utah State Board of Education
- United Way of Salt Lake
- Utah PTA
- Utah Technology Council
A primary component of ESSA is to ensure that any decisions about standards Utah or any other state want to use is made at the state level. In addition, this new legislation explicitly focuses on improving the college and career readiness of all students, including requiring states to set high standards that are aligned to state higher education requirements.
At the time of its passage, Commissioner Buhler commented, “The Every Student Succeeds Act will provide necessary tools to state and local education leaders that can help Utah students to graduate from high school ready for college. Similar to our involvement in Governor Herbert’s review of K-12 education standards, Utah’s higher education leaders support efforts that ensure accountable, rigorous results in K-12 that lead to greater success in college, which then ultimately leads to a more successful talent force for the state.”
The primary national executive officer associations for higher education and K-12 recently released a joint letter reaffirming support for ESSA, these groups include the National Association of System Heads (NASH), the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Together, these associations support Higher Ed for Higher Standards, to elevate the voices of higher education leaders in support of more ambitious K-12 standards—standards that are aligned with the expectations students face in college and careers.
The joint letter outlines four specific areas in which higher education leaders should focus in working with K-12 leaders in establishing their ESSA strategic plan in the coming months:
- Alignment of K–12 and higher education goals;
- Validation of college-and career-ready standards and assessments;
- Strategies to support student transitions to postsecondary education and training; and
- Strengthening of educator preparation programs and professional development.
Utah’s higher education leaders enjoy a robust working partnership with state K-12 leaders and, together, ESSA provides a solid platform to build on the progress that has been achieved in improving graduation rates, reducing dropout rates, and ultimately helping students better succeed in college. At a time when 99% of all jobs filled since the Great Recession were filled by those with some type of post-high school education, primarily 4-year college degrees and higher, it is more critical than ever that state education leaders ensure students succeed in college.