After several years of failed efforts, Congress recently passed a new education bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The bill, signed into law by President Obama today (Dec. 10), replaces the controversial No Child Left Behind policy. Lizanne DeStefano, professor emerita of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, spoke about the law with News Bureau education editor Sharita Forrest.
Proponents of ESSA hail it as ending federal overreach into education, although it retains the annual testing requirements of No Child Left Behind, which was widely criticized for being unduly burdensome and for skewing instruction. Is ESSA a radical departure from NCLB?
ESSA is remarkable in a couple of ways. There’s been quite a bit of bipartisan support and cooperation on this law, as opposed to the gridlock that we’ve seen in Congress over the last several years. Lawmakers cared enough about education, or disliked NCLB enough, that they came to agreement.
ESSA significantly reduces the federal government’s role in education. We’ve seen a steady upward trend in what federal lawmakers felt they had authority to do in terms of local and state education agencies. Now we’re seeing a significant backing off.
Under ESSA, testing in reading and math in grades three through eight and high school would continue. However, the U.S. Dept. of Education would not be able to tell states how or when to assess, and the role of assessment in evaluating teachers and schools would be gone. That is a significant change, and I think it will really affect the way that state education agencies and school districts behave.
What are this policy’s implications for students and teachers?
NCLB had onerous expectations. School districts and agencies were asked to do many things in terms of accountability, but we did not see concomitant changes in student achievement.
Easing those mandates will allow states and localities more freedom to tailor their teacher evaluations and improve schools. Whether states will be able to respond to that remains to be seen. They haven’t had that authority for a long time, and many states’ education budgets are very limited.
ESSA also removes the mandate that all students meet achievement standards. That was an unreachable goal. ESSA changes the criteria to every student making progress. People both inside and outside education see that as a more reasonable approach.
The law repeals the adequate yearly progress provision of NCLB and the penalties imposed on schools and teachers when students failed to meet achievement standards. What provisions does it contain for states and schools to ensure that students, especially at-risk students, are learning; that teachers are properly trained; and that failing schools are being addressed?
ESSA requires states to develop intervention plans for their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, so states still will have to specifically address their most challenged schools.
States will be required to publicly report assessment results and disaggregate them by race, socioeconomic, disability and English language status. There’s still a monitoring provision, perceived as one of NCLB’s most powerful components, that many people are glad to see retained.
However, ESSA disallows what are called supersubgroups. Some states and school districts that didn’t have enough of any one category of student, such as minorities or students with disabilities, combined all these groups into a supersubgroup for reporting purposes. Many advocacy groups were troubled by this practice, and ESSA prohibits it.
ESSA includes $250 million in funding for a new federal preschool program, along with increased support for magnet and charter schools. What does the research suggest on outcomes, especially for disadvantaged children, who attend Head Start, magnet or charter schools?
Unlike NCLB, ESSA emphasizes early child education through a grant program that would increase access to preschool.
The historic Head Start research indicated that early intervention programs boost disadvantaged students’ academic performance so they’re more on par with their peers when they enter school. However, if the quality of education is not maintained, the benefits disappear within three years.
The research on charter schools is mixed. There are certainly examples of successful charter schools and successful use of these schools within districts, but some research shows that charter schools have high rates of failure and closure, and that there isn’t a recognizable benefit from them.
How charter schools are implemented and administered is a big predictor of whether they’ll be successful in the long term.
Would enacting ESSA sound the death knell for Common Core?
The Common Core curricula was the U.S.’ attempt to have a recognized curriculum that was endorsed by many states. However, there was a lot of resistance to it because people perceived it as federal overreach.
ESSA specifically prohibits the U.S. Dept. of Education from mandating or giving incentives to adopt or maintain a set of learning standards. Race to the Top was viewed by some as the federal government incentivizing states to adopt Common Core.
ESSA seems to be a strong movement away from Common Core.