by Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed.
How It All Began
President Lyndon Baines Johnson believed “full educational
opportunity” should be “our first national goal.” In 1965, he
signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
into law. From its inception, ESEA was a civil rights law. This
law provided state educational agencies with new federal
grants to improve the quality of elementary and secondary
education in districts needing textbooks, library books,
funding for special education, and scholarships for lowincome
No Child Left Behind and Accountability
Fast forward to 2001 and the creation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). President George W.
Bush’s appointed team of education leaders exposed achievement gaps among traditionally
underserved students and their peers, therefore spurring an important national dialogue on
education improvement. A focus on accountability was critical in ensuring a quality education for
all children; however, this focus on accountability also revealed many challenges in the effective
implementation of this goal.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, enacted in 2002, represented a significant step forward for
our nation’s children in many respects. It shed light on where students were making progress
and where they needed additional support regardless of race, income, zip code, disability,
home language, or background. NCLB was up for revision in 2007. Over time, its prescriptive
requirements became increasingly unworkable for schools and educators. Many states found
NCLB goals to be unrealistic and got around them by either creating “super subgroups”
that lumped all disadvantaged students together, or changing to more subjective measures
like parent/teacher involvement. Recognizing this fact, in 2010, President Barrack Obama’s
administration joined a call from educators and families to create a better law focusing on the
goal of fully preparing all students for success in college and careers.
In 2012, the Obama administration began granting flexibility to states regarding specific
requirements of NCLB in exchange for more rigorous and comprehensive state-developed plans
designed to close achievement gaps, increase equity, improve the quality of instruction, and
increase outcomes for all students. On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every
Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Lawmakers tout the new law as a more flexible approach to
student testing and school accountability, once again making states responsible for fixing underperforming
schools. This bipartisan measure reauthorized Johnson’s 50-year-old Elementary and
Secondary Education Act, the nation’s national education law and longstanding commitment
to equal opportunity for all students. ESSA builds upon key areas of progress made in recent
years by the efforts of educators, communities, parents, and students
across the country. The new law leaves accountability goals almost entirely
up to the states. States must submit their accountability plans to the
Department of Education, which still has a limited oversight role. Today,
high school graduation rates are at all-time highs. Dropout rates are at
historic lows, and more students are going to college than ever before.
These achievements provide a firm foundation for expanding educational
opportunities and improving student outcomes under ESSA, including
provisions to help ensure success for students and schools. The new law is
much more specific about which schools need intervention but much less
specific on what those interventions should be. Schools at the bottom 5%
of assessment scores (as defined by the state), high schools that graduate
less than 67% of students, or schools where subgroups are consistently
underperforming would be considered failing and could be subject to state
takeover — although the law doesn’t say what the state needs to do.
Below are just a few of the changes included in ESSA:
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – 2015:
- Advances equity for America’s disadvantaged and high-need students.
- Requires—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.
- Ensures that vital information is provided to educators, families, students, and communities through annual statewide assessments that will measure students’ progress toward those high standards.
- Helps support and grow local innovations—including evidence-based and place-based interventions developed by local leaders and educators.
- Sustains and expands increasing access to high-quality preschool.
- Maintains the expectation of accountability and action to affect positive change in our lowest-performing schools, where groups of students are not making progress, and where graduation rates are low over extended periods of time.
U.S. Department of Education. December 11, 2015. Every student succeeds act (ESSA). Retrieved February 2016 from http://www.ed.gov/