President Barack Obama signed into law Dec. 10 the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ (ESSA). The bipartisan legislation replaces the ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB) legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Every Student Succeeds Act shifts control from the federal government back to the states in evaluating their schools.
The bill includes provisions that would allow states to set up new degree-granting academies for teachers outside of traditional higher education systems and would also encourage the creation of residency programs, in which teacher recruits are paired with veterans for a year of in-classroom training in addition to their coursework.
“Now the hard work begins,” Obama said at the signing. “Laws are only as good as the implementation.
What ESSA sets out to do is strike the right balance between the respective roles of the federal, state and local governments in formulating education policy. The consensus over the past few years was that No Child Left Behind was heavily tilted toward the federal side. Critics say that the emphasis on ensuring equity and opportunity was brushed aside while new rigid, punitive mandates dictated to states how students and schools should be evaluated.
“The Every Student Succeeds Act goes a long way in defanging NCLB’s grinding test and punish regime, lays a path for new flexible pillars of school accountability and reaffirms the original law’s vision that ZIP code shouldn’t determine the quality of a child’s education,” said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García.
For the first time, state-designed accountability systems must include at least one indicator of school success or student support to determine where holes should be filled. These indicators might include lack of school counselors, or inadequate access to advanced coursework or a richer curriculum.
Additionally, the ESSA provides funding for states to audit and streamline assessment systems, eliminate redundant and inefficient assessments and improve them. The new law also creates a pilot program for state-designed assessment systems that are driven by teaching and learning, rather than accountability, that best inform instruction. And where states allow, ESSA maintains the right of parents to opt their children out of statewide academic assessments and allows states to limit the amount of time students spend taking annual tests.
The new law also prohibits the federal government from mandating teacher evaluations or defining what an ‘effective’ teacher is and calls for many decisions for local schools and states be determined by collaboration between educators, parents and other community members.
Of the act, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said:
“We are unleashing a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement—one that recognizes that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is classroom by classroom, community by community, and state by state—and not through Washington, D.C.
We have reversed the trend toward a national school board, repealed the federal Common Core mandate, and enacted what the Wall Street Journal called ‘the largest devolution of federal control to states in a quarter century.’
With his signature, the president has joined the Senate and the House in sending a Christmas present to 50 million children and 3.4 million teachers in 100,000 public schools across this country—something they’ve been eagerly awaiting.”