Taking Time to Celebrate Before Rolling Up Our Collective Sleeves to Get to Work

Topics: Early College High School, Education Policy, ESSA

Yesterday, the United States Senate passed a reauthorized version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). And today, President Obama added his signature, making the reauthorized version the law of the land.

The new version called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced the now dearly departed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. The bill passed the Senate 85 to 12, mirroring the overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 359 to 64 in the U.S. House of Representatives late last week.

I first want to commend the leadership of Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) in the House of Representatives and Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) on their tremendous leadership and determination to not only see the process through to a positive conclusion but to do so in such a bipartisan way. Watching the last week has been a fascinating example of how our government can work when people take off the partisan blinders to move the important work of the country forward. In a time when politics feels more partisan and hateful than ever it was a beautiful reminder of our best selves.

Now, is it a perfect bill? Nope. But the bill does take a large step forward to allow states and districts to develop more innovative systems. It allows for greater flexibility to improve schools and scale innovation. It allows for fundamental game-changers for personalized learning and, in particular, competency education to better grow and prosper without as many structure impediments. The bill is a critical step forward – and a much needed step forward – to transform our system of education in this country.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act makes significant improvements to the assessment requirements. These improvements will lift the barriers in current law to systems of assessments that can support personalized learning and competency education and support our ultimate shared goal of college and career readiness for all students.
  • A growing number of states are developing new, student-centered systems of assessments designed to support competency education. These systems include statewide, standards aligned banks of performance assessments, entry and exit benchmarking, and annual summative validation. Federal law should provide a clear path to approval for these states, and ensure rigor and quality of these new, innovative systems of assessments. We are excited that ESSA establishes an Innovative Assessment Pilot to allow states to apply for permission to develop rigorous systems of assessments that better align with student-centered, competency-based learning models.
  • I am pleased that ESSA permits all state systems of assessments to measure individual student growth; use multiple measures of student learning from multiple points in time to determine summative scores; and use adaptive assessments that can measure students where they are in their learning.
  • ESSA provides more flexibility to states and local education agencies to implement innovative strategies like early college high schools and other dual enrollment programs that improve rigor in secondary schools and help students effectively transition to post-secondary education. For example, states and local education agencies will be able to use some federal Title I funds to support college-level coursework in schools in need of improvement and can use some Title II funding for professional development to promote early college high school and dual enrollment. The bill also incorporates student access to college-level coursework in local school system plans and report cards. Early college high schools and dual enrolment programs are also allowable uses of funds through a new consolidated grant program to states called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant. Finally, the bill includes, for the first time in federal statute, a definition of early college high schools and dual enrollment programs to establish a quality standard for this work.

Lots of work lies ahead on developing the regulations to support the implementation of this law. There will be significant work done by states to develop new systems and calibrate current, effective systems to this new law. There will be key questions around issues such as turning around our lowest performing schools, how to effectively evaluate teachers, and how to pilot and scale new, more innovative approaches to education. These are important and essential questions.

But before we collectively roll our sleeves up, let’s first raise a glass to the leadership demonstrated by our Congress. Cheers.

Top photo by Amanda Tipton.