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January 11, 2016

Understanding key changes as NCLB evolves into ESSA.

When President Obama signed the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, into law, we had two reactions: 1) Finally! Congress and the President Obama have at last replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and 2) Holy cow! ESSA significantly changes key aspects of our work.Pres signs ESSA - photo by Amanda Lucidon

Like most educators, though, we embrace both responses. And we’ve been busy working through what ESSA means for our work and our clients. In doing so, we have come across multiple summaries and commentary worth sharing, which we’ve summarized below.

If you prefer the long version, you can find the full text of the new law here. But our primary takeaway is that ESSA provides targeted resources and tailored prescriptions designed to return accountability and decision-making for student success to state and local leaders. Furthermore:

  • ESSA builds on the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top initiative to encourage rigorous standards and better assessments for all students.
  • The law rejects federally determined Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and encourages multiple measures of student learning and progress, along with other indicators of student success, to drive state and local level accountability models.
  • Annual, comparable, and publicly reported statewide assessments will still be required of students in grades 3-8 in math, language arts and science (as well as once in high school).
  • Technology and innovation are strongly supported in ESSA by continuing grants like Investing in Innovation (i3) that are designed to:
    • promote effective use of technology,
    • encourage high-quality preparation and professional development for teachers and school leaders,
    • boost STEM initiatives,
    • experiment with blended and personalized learning, and
    • enhance digital opportunities for rural and other under-served areas.
  • Continuing the legacy of ESEA as a civil rights law, this new reauthorization focuses on protecting and serving all students, particularly those from disadvantaged groups (e.g., low-income and homeless students, students of color, Native Americans, disabled students, migrant students and English language learners), by prescribing reforms to remedy underperformance. For instance:
    • “Portability” provisions from NCLB have been excluded and a pilot program that provides for weighted student funding is expected to lead to a more equitable distribution of state and local resources. (In exchange for demonstrating that they are committed to equitable per-pupil expenditures, districts will be given greater flexibility in how they spend Title 1 and other federal formula funds to support comprehensive school improvement.)
    • State assistance, via the redirection of resources toward tailored interventions, is mandatory for students and schools that are otherwise being left behind (e.g., the lowest performing 5% of Title 1 schools, high schools with low graduation rates, and schools with populations of high-need subgroups).
    • ESSA reinforces State Plans to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators to reverse the trend of students of color and students from low-income families being disproportionately taught by ineffective teachers.
    • The new law also builds upon the Promise Neighborhoods grant program to support wrap-around services in high-need communities.
    • Continued support is provided for magnet schools and via High Quality Public Charter School Replication and Expansion grants to better serve high-need students.
  • Preschool services have been expanded based on the Preschool Development Grants program to ensure that all children have access to high-quality academic preparation.Source -

Specific questions about the new law can be addressed to In the meantime, we’re investigating particular programs, such as migrant education services and Title II, that will directly affect our clients, and we also welcome your comments or questions.

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