Special Report
Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA’s Growing Pains Evident Amid Progress

By Mark Bomster — April 02, 2019 2 min read
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If the Every Student Succeeds Act were a schoolchild, it would be a preschooler—not much more than 3 years old, making steady progress, but still stumbling a bit along the way.

The first major rewrite of the nation’s main K-12 law in more than a decade, ESSA was signed into law at the end of 2015, replacing and updating the groundbreaking—but problematic—No Child Left Behind Act.

In theory, the last couple of school years should have been enough time for states and districts to begin making good on ESSA’s promises. Chief among them: a loosening of the federal reins in favor of greater local and state leeway over setting K-12 policy and satisfying the law’s demands for strict accountability, school improvement, and public transparency.

In reality, it’s not so simple. The practical and political challenges of ESSA’s shifts are playing out in stages as the law is phased in and as local and state education leaders start to face tough choices about federal compliance, poorly performing schools, vulnerable students, and more.

This latest Education Week special report recaps what’s been achieved by states and districts in meeting key milestones under the law, how it’s beginning to transform the relationship between federal oversight and state autonomy, and just how innovative and willing states have been in adopting ESSA’s new flexibilities.

It looks at the challenge states face in finding research-based solutions to improving schools that are failing overall or falling short when it comes to such students as racial minorities, English-learners, and those with disabilities, along with state-specific examples aimed at solving that puzzle.

The report examines one state’s experience as part of an ESSA-driven pilot program that aims to help states try out student assessments that go beyond the standardized tests that educators have long seen as limited and constraining, with the hope of eventually scaling up district-level tryouts statewide.

And it takes a deep dive into the promises and pitfalls of ESSA’s sweeping new data-disclosure requirements, which are intended to put powerful new tools in the hands of parents, the public, and advocates in areas including academic achievement and school-by-school spending.

The report also offers a sampling from Education Week‘s online “Answering Your ESSA Questions” series, in which federal policy reporters on the Politics K-12 blog hear from educators, advocates, and the public about what they need to know in grappling with the intricacies of the law’s implementation.

ESSA’s rollout remains a work in progress. To keep up with its twists and turns, be sure to sign up for our online summit “Living With ESSA’s Changes,” taking place May 14 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time on edweek.org. The summit will feature Education Week reporters and guests who will unpack how states and districts are using ESSA to transform and customize their education systems.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 2019 edition of Education Week as ESSA’s Growing Pains Evident Amid Progress


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