This afternoon, the White House announced a new bipartisan victory: President Obama has officially signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. On the heels of the House of Representatives favorable vote of 359-64 last week, the Senate voted 85-12 in favor of the Act on Wednesday. The ESSA is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a replacement of the dated and universally unfavored No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Both Democrats and Republicans were in agreement that although No Child Left Behind was built on a foundation of good intentions, it has become ultimately impossible for government to enforce uniform standards across the nation's highly diverse system of schools. With that in mind, ESSA moves away from the one-size-fits-all model and balances a smaller federal footprint on our nation’s schools while also maintaining some level of accountability to ensure that states work to close the achievement gap. Below are the notable changes that will be in place for the 2017-2018 school year:
Power to the States
The ESSA restores local power and authority to states and districts to develop benchmarks to measure student success. This is the first time since the 1980s that the government has scaled back federal involvement in schools.1 Each individual state will now be in charge of making decisions surrounding teacher evaluations, school turnarounds, and assessments of student success. The Department of Education won’t be able to enforce universal mandates such as the Common Core standards, and the new bill significantly lessens the power of the Secretary of Education. Though annual standardized testing will still be required for math and reading for grades 3-8, the standards for academic achievement and how much the standardized testing will matter will ultimately be up for state education officials to decide. Schools will still be required to publicly report on scores based on student demographics, in order to continue monitoring the widening achievement gap.
Advocating for Education Technology
The bill elaborates upon certain key buzzwords such as ‘blended learning’ and ‘digital learning,’ and several subdivisions of different learning technologies. Various grants for student services from the Department of Education will include an education technology category. The ESSA advocates for the states to harness these new methods, reinforcing a change in federal recognition of the effectiveness of using technology and new models of learning in the classroom.2 It is clear that states will now have the much more freedom to test new models of learning in the classroom, as teachers, schools, and unions have recently expressed excitement over. Also worth noting is new funding that will be available for state initiatives to implement blended learning for teachers’ professional development. In order for teachers to begin using new technologies and platforms in the classroom, they too will need opportunities for empowerment in order to learn and to develop new modes of professional collaboration, classroom management, and reporting.
Although the ESSA mandates that states must still report on standardized test scores by student demographic, including race, family income, and disability, there are still many unanswered questions as to how the federal government will ensure that underperforming schools will better serve its students. Interventions for underperforming schools will now be reserved for the lowest-performing 5% of schools in each state.3
The question remains now whether underperforming schools will have the opportunity to turn a new leaf under the new law. While federal grants will still be available for school districts, it will ultimately be up to each state to ensure all districts, including the underserved and underperforming, are steadily improving and have the knowledge, resources, and funding in order to implement new models of education.
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Resources: Photo credit (1) NCLB no more: House passes Every Student Succeeds Act (2) Revisions to No Child Left Behind Attempt to Define Education Technology (3) ESEA Rewrite Passes Senate, Heads to President's Desk (4) How schools would be judged under ‘Every Student Succeeds,’ the new No Child Left Behind