A new national education law — the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — was signed into law, setting a new course for our schools.
Every Student Succeeds Act Photos
It’s sobering to think—painful, actually—that a U.S. high school student graduating in the spring of 2016 would have spent his or her entire k-12 school career under No Child Left Behind. Ending this woeful, 14-year chapter in U.S. education history has been a long time coming, but we finally got there. The NCLB era has officially come to a close!
First, a big thank you goes out to our elected representatives in Congress for getting the job done, but let’s be clear: Ending NCLB would never have happened without the inspiring and herculean efforts of educators across the country. As the real experts, they knew before anyone else that NCLB and its corrupting, excessive testing culture of blame and punish was a disaster for our students. Parents jumped on board, but politicians—holding on too tightly to misconceived notions of “accountability”—were slow to come around. But the evidence that NCLB was broken was overwhelming and getting rid of it became practically the only thing Republicans, Democrats, and Independents agreed on.
So everyone knew the law wasn’t working, but what would take its place? Or would Congress keep kicking the can down the road? This past year, educators were relentless in lobbying and persuading their representatives to actually take action and create a new and better ESEA. And guess what? They listened.
Is the Every Student Succeeds Act perfect? No; no law ever is. But it represents a historic step, not only because it closes the NCLB era, but because it also kickstarts the original ESEA’s commitment to providing more opportunity for all students.
Throughout this long reauthorization process, educators focused on three priorities: 1) including student and school supports in state accountability; 2) reducing the amount of standardized testing in schools and decoupling high-stakes decision making and statewide standardized tests; and 3) ensuring that educators’ voices are part of decision making at the federal, state and local levels.
On each count, Every Student Succeeds delivers.
ESSA empowers educators as trusted professionals to make school and classroom decisions while keeping the focus on students most in need. Educators who were shut out during the past decade are going to be heard again—not after the fact, but as participants in the policymaking process. The law also reduces the amount of standardized testing in schools and, most importantly, decouples high-stakes decision making and statewide standardized tests so that so students have more time to learn and teachers have more time to teach. Last, ESSA begins to close the opportunity gaps for students by providing a new accountability system that includes an “opportunity dashboard” with—for the first time—indicators of school success and student support.
Now, after all that educators have accomplished in 2015, I wish I could say our work is done and we can sit back and watch ESSA sweep away the rubble left by NCLB and rebuild something new and better. Because states now have more flexibility in creating assessments and a greater responsibility in closing opportunity gaps, how the new law is implemented by legislatures across the country in 2016 will to a large degree determine if it succeeds or fails. So we will be watching closely and working with lawmakers, devoting as much time and energy to ensuring the new law’s success as we did in ensuring its passage.
But that’s next year. As we close out 2015, let’s savor this historic victory and look forward to 2016 knowing that the next generation of students, regardless of their ZIP code, will have all the good things—resources, supports and the time they need to learn—that schools should be providing them.
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