Last week, President Obama signed a new law on education called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This bill succeeds No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and will help improve the nation's current educational system. Educators, teachers, parents, and citizens are now asking the same question, "Now what? What will this accomplish?"
According to the most recent report by the White House's Office of the Press Secretary, the bill will help schools in the following ways:
Ensuring that states set higher standards of achievement
Making sure children graduate from high school and are college- and career-ready is the bill's top focus. The NCLB, which emphasizes standardized testing, has been met with varying criticism throughout the years. The Every Student Succeeds Act will require annual testing but administration may do so under their own advisement. This means administrators may test once annually or break up the test into a series of smaller tests. In addition, the new act says that states may "evaluate teachers any way they see fit." This means teacher evaluation and coaching may improve, leaving less anxiety about teaching to the test and more focus on preparing students.
The official White House report also describes how "...states target resources towards what works to help them and their schools improve...particular focus on the lower-performing five percent of schools, high schools with high dropout rates, and schools where subgroups of students are struggling..." Under NCLB, states were required to offer services such as tutoring, summer school, or after-school programs, and allow students to transfer to other schools if their local schools had not made progress. The new law does not require schools to offer these services if the services don't work, but rather leaves them to make their own decisions about improving low-performing schools.
Empower state and local decision makers
This specific strategy also emphasizes that school improvement be based on evidence rather than the "imposition of cookie-cutter federal solutions."
The other specific goals that are targeted in the act are the preservation of annual assessments and the reduction of unnecessary and ineffective testing, access to high-quality preschool, and empowerment of state and local decision makers.
Among other specific goals, the ESSA guidelines stipulate that:
- Each state's plan shall provide assurance that the state has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned achievement standards that include no less than three levels of achievement. These must be applied to all public schools and students in a state, and are required to have standards for math, reading, or language arts, and science and any other subject determined by state. These standards must be aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework at state higher education institutions and with relevant state career and technical educational standards.
- Assessments must involve multiple measures of student achievement, this includes measures that assess higher-order thinking and understanding. Administrators must also provide appropiate accommodations for children with disabilities.
- A state will not be required to submit any standards to the Secretary for review or approval. The Secretary cannot mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision over any of the challenging academic standards adopted of implemented by state.
- The federal government is prohibited from: mandating states or subdivisions to spend any funds or incur costs not covered in ESSA, endorsing any curriculum, and developing incentivizing, pilot testing, implementing, administering, or distributing any federally sponsored national test in reading, mathematics, or other subject if not specifically and explicitly authorized by law.
(Find the entire Every Student Succeeds Act summary here)
One thing we know for certain is that this new act will give states a significant amount of accountability for their own progress, which means that the impact on education will be varied. We can only hope that the goal of "a world-class education" can be met by more students as we strive to replicate and build upon what works and what does not.