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A Legacy of Improving Education
The first line of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reaches back to its origins:
"An Act to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to ensure that every child achieves."
That 1965 bill was passed during President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" to:
"Strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunities in the Nation's elementary and secondary schools."
Over the ensuing five decades, Congress has tweaked and reauthorized the law.
This latest update of the 1965 law replaces the previous update known as No Child Left Behind, or NCLB.
The new law was the result of extensive collaboration between the leaders of the Senate and House education committees from both parties, including Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA).
In December, Congress passed the new law by overwhelming bipartisan margins—the Senate passed it 85 to 12, the House passed it 359 to 64.
A Shift to the States
"Previously, the federal government had an oversized role in educational reform," says Claire Voorhees, Director of K-12 Reform at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. "And it was not as effective as all of us would have liked."
"Assessments are still required and schools are still held accountable," Claire says, "but states have more flexibility in testing and the targeting of funding."
"This new law means more flexibility for states to innovate around school improvements for learners,"says Jessica Cardichon, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy for Comprehensive High School Reform at the Alliance for Excellent Education.
"We're most pleased with how this new law identifies high schools where one-third or more of the students aren't graduating," Jessica says. "They're targeted for intervention and support instead of being 'shamed and blamed.'"
"This is one of the biggest wins we see in this bill for kids," she says.
States Rising to the Challenge
"We hope to see all states rise to the challenge," says Jessica about progress to improving learner outcomes.
Claire Voorhees adds: "But we want to make sure that every state has the leadership and capacity to do everything we want to see for kids."
In December, Senator Lamar Alexander explained on C-SPAN why the law had such bipartisan support:
"We kept the tests so we'll know how people are doing, those are state-designed tests. But what to do about the tests now moves to the governors, the chief state school officers, the classroom teachers. That's why it had such support."