Hello, Every Student Succeeds; Bye, No Child Left Behind: A Power Shift to the States, an Opportunity to Improve Education

President Obama today, as expected, signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, replacing No Child Left Behind. The new education law is seen as tilting influence over education policy back to state governments. Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn called in a statement hailed the bipartisan cooperation that led to ESSA and welcomed the increased state role.

When President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law this morning, he put states back into the driver’s seat when it comes to education. ESSA replaces No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) enacted in 2002. And it was long overdue. I applaud Senators Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander for their bipartisan efforts to do what’s best for students.

…Under ESSA, states can set their own goals and decide how to intervene in schools that need more support. State plans still must be approved by the Department of Education, but they have been promised more transparency in the process.

Melissa Santos reports in The News Tribune on the significance of the ESSA to Washington state.

The No Child Left Behind rewrite also eliminates pressure on Washington lawmakers to mandate that teacher evaluations be tied to student scores on statewide tests. The state Legislature’s failure to approve such a policy last year led to Washington becoming the first state to lose its waiver from the most stringent parts of the federal law.

More than 40 other states have continued to operate under waivers that exempted them from many of No Child Left Behind’s requirements. Yet Washington’s loss of its waiver resulted in school districts having to redirect about $40 million in federal funding last year, according to state officials.

Everett Herald reporter Jerry Cornfield also noted the new law may be especially important to Washington.

For Washington, one of the biggest changes is the erasure of a provision that had required every public school student to be reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.

Nearly 90 percent of the state’s 2,300 public schools didn’t meet that bar the past two years.

In U.S. News, Lauren Camera provides additional perspective

But the overhaul has some in the education community, including civil rights advocates who lent tepid support to the effort, worried that the new, hands-off approach by the feds will allow states to shirk the responsibility of ensuring equal education for underprivileged students.

Camera describes the tradeoffs and compromises that led to the legislation, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. And,

Some provisions of No Child Left behind are staying put.

The federal testing schedule will continue to require states to test students annually in grades three through eight in reading and math, and once in high school.

The new law will maintain the requirement that schools annually report student achievement scores and disaggregate that data by subgroups like race, economic status, disability and English-learner status. The data collected by No Child Left Behind was the only universally touted aspect of the law, which succeeded in shining a spotlight on achievement gaps.

The law will also preserve the requirement that a school district test no less than 95 percent of its students, but it gives states leeway in deciding how to handle schools and districts where large numbers of students opt out of annual testing.

Readers interested in ESSA may also want to consider FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of “How Arne Duncan Lost The Common Core And His Legacy.”

The new reforms offer new opportunities. The ultimate objective of all good education reform, as we’ve written before, aligns with our Achieve objective: Provide a high-caliber education and workforce development system geared to the demands of the 21st century. We are confident Washington lawmakers, educators and education advocates can make ESSA work to expand opportunity for the next generation of Washingtonians.