President Barack Obama signed last week a bill to replace the much-maligned No Child Left Behind act. Formally referred to as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the law was supported by a strong bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate.
This iteration of the Act has been dubbed the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” and outlines the way the federal government will interact with local school districts across the country. The bill, while not perfect, makes a deliberate and admirable effort to return decisionmaking authority to the states, while preserving the Federal Education Department's vital role in promoting equity and protecting civil rights.
Academic Goals: States, not the federal government, are now required for setting both short- and long-term academic goals for schools, but the goals must be approved by the feds and address academic proficiency, English-language proficiency and graduation rates.
Testing: The bill retains NCLB’s requirement for states to test students in reading and math once each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school. States are required to continue to disaggregate data by subgroups (race, income, etc.), a key victory for civil rights groups.
Accountability: States must develop accountability systems, and those systems must continue to use academic factors including proficiency on state tests (e.g. the FSA), English-language proficiency and graduation rates. States must add one additional academic factor, as well as one non-academic indicator, such as student engagement, school climate, or something else. (The CORE Districts in California are already exploring how to include these types of indicators in their accountability system.)
Intervention: States are required to intervene in the bottom five percent of schools, and high schools with low graduation rates, but states have some flexibility in how they work to turn those schools around. Districts and schools have to develop a turnaround plan, and states can monitor that plan for up to four years, before more significant interventions take place.
Standards: The ESSA requires states to adopt rigorous academic standards (such as Common Core), but the federal government is prohibited from endorsing any specific set of standards.
The new law takes effect in the 2017-18 school year, and should be in place for at least the next four years.