July | August 2017


Transitioning to the Every Student Succeeds Act

by Elizabeth Whitehouse
State officials are closely watching as the U.S. Department of Education releases more information on what the Every Student Succeeds Act changes in accountability system requirements and funding mechanisms. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, and replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, is the product of bipartisan efforts in Congress to give states greater control of accountability and academic standards.
“Congress provided within the new law time and authority for the U.S. Department of Education to work with state and local partners to ensure a smooth and orderly transition from the No Child Left Behind and Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility agreements,” said Adam Honeysett, managing director of state and local outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
ESSA empowers state and local decision makers to develop their own systems for school improvement based on evidence, rather than imposing the cookie-cutter federal solutions set forth in the NCLB act. The greater power given to states and districts is a positive change from the prescriptive federal requirements of the past several years. It had been 13 years since Congress approved the reauthorization of ESEA in 2002. The bill originally passed in 1965, designed by President Lyndon Johnson to address student achievement gaps and fund elementary and secondary education.
States have been given the opportunity to apply to the U.S. Department of Education for waivers to utilize their own systems for school improvement since 2011. Forty-three states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico successfully requested waivers from certain requirements of federal law by showing a commitment to rigorous state-developed plans for improving educational achievement for all students. The ESSA now provides all states with the ability to develop their own accountability systems and provides the opportunity for state-level funding decisions.

So What Happens Next?

States will not be expected to transition to new requirements all at once.
“States are not required to have new accountability plans in place and fully implemented until the 2017-18 school year,” said Honeysett.
The transition from NCLB to the newly reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act doesn’t mean immediate changes for states. The U.S. Department of Education has communicated to states that there will be a transition period over the next year and a half, rather than an abrupt end to NCLB.
States will still have to report their progress and maintain accountability under the new law. The ESSA requires that any action taken to support school improvement is driven by student outcomes. This act also replaces more than 50 of the grant programs under NCLB with a block grant, the Local Academic Flexible Grant, to provide states and school districts the funding flexibility to support initiatives based on their local needs. It is also of note that this act consolidates programs under one area of the bill while maintaining separate funding streams. These programs are currently located in different parts of Title I and in Titles III, VI, and VII of the ESEA and include the Migrant Education, Neglected and Delinquent, English Language Acquisition, Rural Education, and Indian Education programs.
Looking forward, the ESSA’s flexibility in the funding decisions for states will provide opportunities for innovation in the classroom and at the state and district level. States should look toward the successes of their peers and find opportunities to work together to best meet the needs of their students.
President Obama highlighted the successful work of New Mexico and Tennessee in his ESSA Progress Report in December 2015. New Mexico has shown great progress in identifying struggling students and providing them targeted supports needed for school success. Tennessee’s First to the Top legislation created conditions for improvement in the state’s public schools, setting clear education priorities and improving the state’s teacher evaluation system. This focus helped Tennessee become one of the fastest improving states in the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Learning from the successes and missteps of others is an opportunity provided by the states that were granted waivers under NCLB and creatively developed their own policy solutions.
The Department of Education is listening to state and local partners. They held two public hearings in January 2016 to provide advice and recommendations on issues related to the ESSA. The department also accepted written comments through Jan. 21. The department will now decide whether to proceed with negotiated rulemaking after considering the feedback.
State education leaders can expect open lines of communication and offers of assistance from the department during this time.
“There will be regular communication from the department on the transition timeline, and we will be providing guidance and technical assistance to support all states, school districts, and schools during this period,” said Honeysett.