What’s Next in Education Reform?

Today President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (#ESSA) into law.  Earlier this month, this bipartisan compromise version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (#ESEA) passed overwhelmingly in the House and in the Senate.  This new law ends the era of the much-criticized No Child Left Behind Act (#NCLB).  This is good news, right?  So what’s missing?  What’s next in education reform?

By Pamela Kondé, Director, Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions, PLLC

Updated December 10, 2015 after signature by President Obama

Almost fourteen years after the last reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (#ESEA), called “No Child Left Behind” (#NCLB), Congressional leaders developed a new framework for federal oversight of our nation’s schools.  This new compromise version is called the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (#ESSA).

On November 19, 2015, the new ESSA framework passed the Conference Committee by 39-1. On December 2nd, the House passed ESSA overwhelmingly 359-64. On December 9th, the Senate passed it 85-12.  Today, December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law!

Kudos to the leaders, members, and staff of the Senate HELP Committee and the House Education and Workforce Committee.  This #bipartisan compromise shows that Congress can put #problemsolving over politics, even on complicated issues. Equal congratulations to the education policy experts, the reformers, and the membership-based education organizations who have worked tirelessly to bring Congress to this bipartisan point.  This bill represents the culmination of over a decade of informed #dialogue and effective #grassroots advocacy.

ESSA maintains testing and disaggregating the data, but it eliminates some of the most onerous provisions of NCLB, like “Adequate Yearly Progress” and “Highly Qualified Teachers,” as well as the very restrictive list of sanctions for schools that failed to satisfy those requirements.  Additional protections to ensure accountability were added during negotiations, but education reformers are concerned that states and local educational agencies will slide back into old habits.  Time will tell whether “local control” is the panacea that Congressional leaders describe.

ESSA also consolidated a number of programs into a block grant.  Some programs, such as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (#21stCCLC), which supports after-school programs, will retain a separate pot of funding.  Plus, there will be a new early education program, however, it will be housed in the Department of Health and Human Services, not in the Department of Education. Watch for education policy conversations about the merits of different programs.

Now signed into law, ESSA’s new framework can begin to move our American educational system away from the unintended consequences of NCLB.  Missing in the new law, however, is a fully comprehensive approach to education reform — Education Reform’s Final Chapter — Comprehensive Reforms.  That will be for state and local leaders to develop.