At the start of the school year, btw brought you a story of this country’s history of education reform. Last week, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This legislation will replace the unpopular No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Law that went into effect in 2001 (which was a reauthorization of the Education and Secondary Education Act of 1965). ESSA had gained overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House (359-64) and the Senate (85-12).
- Shift in Responsibility. Under the NCLB, the federal government played a larger role in education; under ESSA, accountability is left almost entirely up to the states. After several states failed to meet particular NCLB standards, they were granted waivers, but were often required to adopt Common Core. The new law will allow states to decide how to evaluate schools and fix them.
- Testing. The new law reduces the burden of testing, encouraging a better approach that moves away from cookie-cutter standardized testing and does not overshadow teaching and learning. Schools will be able to utilize multiple tools to determine and indicate success. Common Core will become an option instead of a requirement. ESSA also ends the requirement that uses student test scores to evaluate teachers.
- Resources and Protections. Provisions in the bill will support districts that serve America’s “most vulnerable” students (low income, those with learning disabilities, neglected children and immigrants). These will be called “flexibility agreements.” School districts will have the ability to implement appropriate interventions in schools that continually underperform.
- Preschool. Studies prove that children who attend preschool enter Kindergarten significantly better equipped (both academically and socially) than those who do not. ESSA will provide opportunities to expand or establish access to state-funded, high-quality preschool for qualifying families.
The 2016-2017 school year will be considered a transitional time between NCLB and ESSA. This will allow for a shift from federal to state authority.
While the bill is being considered a bi-partisan triumph, Conservatives are claiming victory because the new ESSA law reduces the control of the federal government, a major component of the Republican belief system. Some critics, however, say the new legislation is “more of the same,” and does not do enough to lessen the burdens of educators and students. For example, annual testing for students in grades 3 through 8 will continue (instead of grades 4, 8 and 11, as was the standard prior to NCLB). There will also be limited consideration for disabled or non-English-speaking students.