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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

ESSA: Influence on Collaboration with Paraprofessionals

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives paraeducators, referred to as “paraprofessionals” in the bill, a voice in key decision making and professional development opportunities at the federal, state, and local levels—a major improvement over No Child Left Behind’s one-size-fits-all approach to educating students.

Key Provisions

  • Moves decision-making to the people who know the names of the students they educate while maintaining supports that ensure ZIP codes do not determine the quality of education. Last year paraeducators stopped attending PLC meetings due to a coverage issue. I hope this will change since their voices are integral to the work we all do with students together. This is one way that we can represent the ESSA law with strength. 
  • Incentivizes supports and interventions that are tailored to local needs while preserving the historic federal role in protecting the most vulnerable: children in poverty, students with disabilities, and English language learners. I wonder how the paraeducators would respond to this aspect of the law. In many cases it's the paraeducators who work directly with many of our most challenged students--what do they think we need to do to do a better job in this regard?
  • Maintains paraeducator standards and qualification requirements in Title I that were existing in state law on December 9th, 2015.I am unaware of these laws, but I do know that our system offers some financial support in this regard. Again, I would have to ask the paraeducators about this requirement. 
  • Promotes respect for the profession and acknowledges the critical role it plays in education by adopting the NEA-endorsed term “paraeducator“. At present our "paraeducators" are called "teaching assistants." I wonder how they would feel about this name change. It seems like it's a good idea since they are recognized under the Union with the term "paraeducator," however the law denotes their role as "paraprofessionals."
  • Calls for committees of practitioners where paraeducators, teachers, parents, and community members can work together to improve their local schools. Currently we have a school council where all of the above except paraeducators attend. An easy remedy to this is to now include a paraeducator and pay the paraeducator for their time on this committee. It would also be good if the members of this committee reported to the faculty and families in general by posting their notes each month in the school newsletter. 
  • Requires paraeducator voices in multiple places, including sections on professional development, needs assessment, and the use of some grant funds. It could be that our local grant source opens its doors to paraeducator' grants. It could be that they are open to this and I don't know about it, but this could be a valuable source of good support for students and development for paraeducators. We need to think about including paraeducators in all decision making efforts. 
  • Expands the reach of collective bargaining to cover:
    • Targeted school supports and improvements in Title I;
    • Professional development, pay based on professional growth, the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program (formerly called TIF), and all other provisions of contracts impacted by Title II;
    • Community schools in Title IV.
    • It's important that paraeducators understand these laws well and negotiate in line with the intent of the new law. 
  • Requires consultation with organizations representing educators in multiple places, ensuring that paraeducators and their local unions have a say in decision-making.
    • If a district-wide ESSA implementation team is formed, it's important that there is paraeducator representation. Also with regard to any decision making group in school districts, paraeducators should be invited to take part. 

Decision Making

  • A state department of education must consult with a number of education stakeholders, including paraprofessionals (Please note: Because the bill text uses “paraprofessionals” instead of “paraeducators” and because the following pages is making direct reference to the bill, we will use “paraprofessional“) and other staff when developing the state plan to receive Title I funds.
  • A school district must engage in “timely and meaningful consultation” with education stakeholders that include paraprofessionals in the development of a local plan to receive Title I funds. It's important to understand how all stakeholders will be involved in Title 1 decision making? Does this start this year? I will have to find out more about this particularly since my school receives these funds and I have good ideas about how they can be used. 
  • In Title I, a local plan must have a description of how educators, including paraprofessionals, working in a targeted assistance school program will identify eligible children most in need of services. I imagine that this will happen through our PLC's at the elementary level since we spend a lot of time discussing students with multiple measures. That's why it's important to find ways to let our paraeducators attend these events. 
  • A Title I school-wide program plan must be created with educator consultation, including paraprofessionals present in the school. I want to learn more about this. I think this holds very strong potential for good work in schools. 
  • State committees of practitioners must now include a paraprofessional. Certain topics, regarding assessments and supplement vs supplant, under Title I were submitted to the negotiated rule making process, which included paraprofessional representation.I wonder what already exists in this regard or what is planned. 
  • The Title II Part A application for formula grants to improve instruction must be drafted with the consultation of stakeholders, including paraprofessionals and the organizations representing them.How will our system change this process to include all stakeholders. How will they advertise and share processes like this? 
  • Title I provides professional development (PD) opportunities for paraprofessionals in sections pertaining to Title I provides professional development (PD) opportunities for paraprofessionals in sections pertaining to school-wide programs. The school-wide program plan will describe activities that will improve instruction which may include professional development for educators such as paraprofessionals.Will there be paid time for pararprofessionals to engage in these activities? I know some of this exists now, and I'm wondering how this will develop.
  • Title I targeted assistance programs may use funds to improve instruction, including professional development to “… paraprofessionals, and, if appropriate, specialized instructional support personnel, and other school personnel who work with eligible children in programs under this section or in the regular education program”. It seems this will be part of the overall Title 1 plan for the school. Again, this holds good potential for what we're able to do with and for students. 
  • Title I Section 1010 Parent and Family Engagement allows for funds to be spent on professional development for family engagement strategies. The list of educators for this section includes paraprofessionals. This is exciting--I can imagine creative ways to use this funding. 
  • In Title II, states may use funds for establishing or improving routes to alternative teacher certification. Emphasis is given on aiding some groups to alternative certification. Paraprofessionals are one of the specific groups. It would be great to help paraprofessionals who want to become teachers to find an affordable, doable path towards this. 
  • Additional Title II paraprofessional professional development opportunities include:
    • Recognizing and preventing child abuse; This is part of our State/district training.
    • Working with children transitioning from early childhood education to elementary school; I'm not sure if this exists, but I can see how valuable it could be. 
    • English proficiency literacy at several grade levels. Again, valuable.
  • Title III PD opportunities for language instruction for English learners and immigrant students: “personnel, including teachers and paraprofessionals…” I would have to explore this more. 
  • Title III provides an opportunity for collaboration with institutions of higher education for ESP professional development. Sec 3131 National Professional Development Project provides grants “(1) for effective preservice or inservice professional development programs that will improve the qualifications and skills of educational personnel involved in the education of English learners, including personnel who are not certified or licensed and educational paraprofessionals, and for other activities to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness in meeting the needs of English learners”. I have often felt it could be positive for our school system to align with one or more institutions of higher learning. If we did that, the efforts above could be part of that. 
  • Title IV 21st Century Schools PD for technology and school safety:
    • Paraprofessionals, librarians, and media personnel are listed as those who may be trained in technology usage with these funds. See additional Title IV opportunities below. It would be interesting to survey paraprofessionals to see where their needs are in this regard. I believe that our one-to-one training is currently available to paraprofessionals. I'm not sure how many take advantage of this or if it really exists, but this would be a good avenue for this. 
  • Title VI Indian, native Hawaiian, and Alaska native education offers PD opportunities for paraprofessionals working with native populations as well as allowing funds to be spent to develop educators, including paraprofessionals, within the Indian populations.

Special Programs

  • Title IV Sec 4103 Formula Grant to states allow for funds to be used for a variety of student programs such as violence and drug prevention, student discipline, mental health awareness, and safety, to name a few. These programs often involve paraeducators.
A New Name and an Important Definition:
  • Title VIII General Provisions introduces the preferable term “paraeducator” into federal statute for the first time.
  • Additionally, Title VIII defines professional development to mean activities that provide educators, paraprofessionals specifically included, with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to meet academic standards. It's important to survey paraeducators about the areas that they need or want further professional training to enable students to meet academic standards.