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Every Student Succeeds Act Signed Into Law

By Dan Mangan
 | Dec 16, 2015

essa-signing-bannerNo Child Left Behind (NCLB), the troublesome George W. Bush–era education initiative that sought to hold state school systems accountable for student performance by means of a national testing regime, is finally gone. NCLB, which distorted classroom teaching and resulted in most states applying for waivers after failing to meet their Adequate Yearly Progress goals, was supplanted by a major new enactment.

In a White House ceremony last Thursday, President Barack Obama signed the bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill into law, capping a yearlong effort to find common ground on federal support for the education of the nation’s children. Dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), the new law passed in each chamber with huge majorities, a testimony to the stalwart efforts of the leadership of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and their staffs.

With the stroke of President Obama’s pen, the transition to a new era began, one that will be marked by a dramatic shift of oversight back to the states while maintaining—it is hoped—a strict level of accountability for the lowest performing schools and districts. Above all else, ESSA is aimed at ending, once and for all, the testing impasse that ran NCLB aground and frustrated the higher goals of improving student learning.

Most important for the International Literacy Association (ILA), the new act includes the LEARN (Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation) provisions that authorize specific funding for improved instruction in reading and writing, a commitment sought by ILA and the other associations in the Advocates for Literacy coalition since the ESEA reauthorization effort began in earnest last January.

What’s changed

ESSA is more flexible, placing the responsibility for fixing underperforming schools and closing the achievement gap squarely on the states. ESSA retains the testing requirements of NCLB but grants states more discretion in determining how the tests are administered.

Concerning accountability, NCLB required school districts to break out test scores for certain subgroups. ESSA, by contrast, requires states to submit their accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education (USED). Test scores and graduation rates are accorded greater weight than other more subjective measures, such as student class work portfolios.

The mandated interventions have changed as well. Under NCLB, states had up to five years to remedy underperforming schools before more severe consequences came into play, including closure. ESSA identifies three categories for mandated intervention—schools at the bottom 5% on test scores, high schools with graduation rates below 67%, and schools where subgroups are consistently underperforming—but leaves the nature of the intervention for states to decide.

Common Core was introduced as a controversial part of the USED’S NCLB waiver program. ESSA permits states to adopt Common Core but does not require it, instead prohibiting the U.S. Secretary of Education from influencing, incentivizing, or coercing the states to adopt any academic standards.

What LEARN does

The LEARN provisions of ESSA provide federal support to states to develop and implement state-led comprehensive literacy instruction plans to ensure high-quality instruction and effective strategies in reading and writing from early education through grade 12. LEARN allows states to use targeted federal investments to assist local education agencies with providing appropriate interventions to help all students—birth through grade 12—graduate with the literacy skills necessary to be successful in the 21st century.

What’s ahead

Of course, like any major enactment, ESSA is not self-actualizing. Implementing the new act’s provisions will be as complex a task as getting the legislation passed, and perhaps somewhat less transparent. For starters, USED will need to issue new regulations to clarify and define key provisions of the law. Stakeholders will await the notice of proposed rulemaking with keen anticipation and will forward detailed suggestions during the comment period. At some point, USED is likely to conduct public hearings and promulgate official Q & A guidance.

Of particular interest will be the rules pertaining to schools at the bottom 5% of student performance. The civil rights community has advocated against any diminution of accountability where the nation’s neediest students and school districts are concerned during the entire course of ESSA’s movement through the House and Senate.

John King, who will soon take over for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said Dec. 11 that “with added flexibility for states comes great responsibility.” He also noted that “the law preserves the right of the department to withhold federal funds and place states on high risk if they’re not doing their jobs.”

Dan Mangan is the Director of Public Affairs at the International Literacy Association.


1 comment

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  1. lafseo | Jun 16, 2016

    The new law went in every chamber with tremendous greater parts, a confirmation to the stalwart endeavors of the administration of the senate committee on health, education, labor, and pensions.

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