The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015

On December 10, 2015 President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law.  The ESSA reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 and replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  The law passed the House and Senate with significant bipartisan support.  The intent of the ESSA was preserve the standards-based reform intent of NCLB (e.g., high standards, accountability for results, standardized testing, and transparency) while doing away with many of its unpopular, unworkable, and overly stringent requirements.  Additionally, the ESSA rolls back federal involvement in education and moves authority to the states.  In fact, the ultimate success or failure of this law will depend very much on the states.

In this blog and future blogs I will comment on various aspects of the ESSA.  First, a little history is in order.

As part of the war on poverty, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law in 1965.  The purpose of the ESEA was to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged students by provided federal money to assist states in improving educational opportunities for these. (Click here to hear and see an interested recording of President Lyndon Johnson’s ESEA  bill signing ceremony and speech at an old schoolhouse on the LBJ ranch in 1965).

The law had been reauthorized a number of times, including the Improving America’s School Act of 1994 and the NCLB of 2002 (Click here for a recording of President George W. Bush’s NCLB signing ceremony and speech in 2002).  In NCLB Congress sought to improve the academic achievement of students by requiring states to (a) establish clear standards or expectations for students; (b) test students in reading and math on an annual basis, (c) promote transparency by requiring states to disaggregate and publicly report the results for schools and school systems, (d) set steadily increasing goals for student proficiency on these tests, called adequate yearly progress (AYP); and (e) hold low performing schools accountable for improving by setting a series of corrective actions for these schools (e.g., developing technical assistance plans, offering public school choice, providing supplemental educational services, restructuring the school).  Although NCLB had lofty intentions many elements of the law were overambitious and unworkable.

The No Child Left Behind Act was due to be reauthorized in 2007.  Nothing was accomplished in Congress, however, because of the lack of bipartisan cooperation.  During this time the administration of President Obama granted waivers from some of the requirements of NCLB to states that submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education

In 2014 Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, the Chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) and Senator Patty Murray, Democrat from Washington, the ranking member of the HELP Committee wrote a bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESEA that was intended to pass the Republican-controlled Congress and be signed by President Obama.  At the same time, Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, developed another reauthorization bill.  The House and Senate conferees then had to negotiate a single bill to send to President Obama.  Bobby Scott, Democrat from Virginia, the ranking member of the House Committee proved to be very important in this process.  In early September most of the differences were ironed out.  When Speaker of the House, John Boehner, the negotiated bill seemed to be in trouble but the new Speaker, Paul Ryan was supportive.  In December the House and then the Senate passed the bill, which was sent to President Obama.  President Obama signed the bill into law on December 10th (Click here for a video of President Obama’ ESSA bill signing ceremony and speech in 2015).

In the next post I will examine the major provisions of the ESSA and how they are different from NCLB.

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