Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Is Today | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends today, Feb. 23. Register now.
Every Student Succeeds Act

House Approval of ESEA Overhaul a Bipartisan Move

By Alyson Klein — December 08, 2015 3 min read
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., walk to the chamber as the House votes on a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that aims to roll back the federal role in K-12 education and to return much authority to the states.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Almost 14 years ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted by a huge, bipartisan margin to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, which put the federal government front and center when it came to how K-12 schools measured student performance and fixed struggling schools.

But last week, the House approved the Every Student Succeeds Act—the latest effort to update the main federal K-12 law—by an almost as overwhelming margin, 359-64.

The bill would scale back the federal role in education for the first time since the early 1980s, handing greater control over accountability and school improvement back to states. It also would keep in place the NCLB law’s signature transparency requirements—including annual testing—and focus on helping traditionally overlooked groups of students and failing schools.

ESSA’s political prospects appeared rosy from there on out. A similar piece of legislation passed with big bipartisan support in the Senate earlier this year, and the bill was expected to sail through that chamber in the coming days. And the White House has said it strongly supports the bill.

Setting the Template

The bill would direct states and districts to turn around their lowest-performing schools, schools with high dropout rates, and those where so called “subgroups” of students—like English-language learners, students in special education, and racial minorities—are struggling.

It would consolidate some 50 programs into a big block grant, and seriously curtail the U.S. education secretary’s authority, while maintaining the Education Department’s important enforcement protections, one sponsor says.

And, in a nod to concerns that the NCLB law placed too much emphasis on a single test score in rating schools, the measure calls for states to consider other factors in gauging school performance, such as school climate and teacher engagement.

Cross-Aisle Backslapping

The debate on the House floor Dec. 2 was full of bipartisan backslapping and a sense from lawmakers across the political spectrum that ESSA strikes the right balance between flexibility for states and civil rights protections.

“Parents, teachers, superintendents, and other education leaders have been telling us for years that the top-down approach to education isn’t working,” Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee and a co-author of the bill, said during the debate. “Yet some still believe that more programs, more mandates, and more bureaucrats will help get this right. Well, those days will soon be over.”

For his part, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., another architect of the legislation, said the bill offered much-needed leeway, while maintaining the civil rights legacy of the underlying law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“It maintains high standards for all children, and requires states to put into place locally designed evidence-based strategies that meet the unique needs of schools,” he said.

The tone was a big departure from July’s debate over a version of the bill backed only by Republicans that barely squeaked through. And a similar bill was pulled from consideration when it failed to garner sufficient support among Republicans back in February—in part because of opposition from the conservative Heritage Action fund. (Heritage also is not a fan of ESSA.)

Since then, however, the legislation was merged with a bipartisan Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

And U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a sunny statement after the passage of a bill that many say would cut his successors off at the knees.

“We are encouraged that the bill passed by the House today would codify the vision that we have long advocated for giving a fair shot at a great education to every child in America—regardless of ZIP code,” he said. “The bill that the House passed today reflects more of that vision than nearly any observer expected.”

A broad coalition of civil rights, education redesign, and disability groups said in a statement last week that the legislation isn’t exactly the bill that they would have written. But overall, those groups offered a measured endorsement.

For their part, state chiefs were jubilant—and clear that they won’t drop the ball when it comes to ensuring progress for disadvantaged students.

“We welcome accountability,” said Thomas Bice, Alabama’s state superintendent, in a recent interview. “We believe in assessment. But one size doesn’t fit all. What we need in Alabama may look different than what they need in Montana.”

Teachers’ unions and school administrators are also big fans of the bill.

Staff Writer Daarel Burnette II contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 2015 edition of Education Week as House Approval of ESEA Overhaul Marks Rare, Bipartisan Agreement


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Every Student Succeeds Act Opinion 20 Years Ago, NCLB Kinda, Sorta Worked. That's the Problem
NCLB's political success gave rise to a more complicated reality of lax academic standards and public cynicism.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Every Student Succeeds Act Biden Education Department Approves One Request to Cancel State Tests But Rejects Others
Officials will allow D.C. to cancel tests. They denied similar requests from two other states and approved less extensive waiver requests.
6 min read
Image of students taking a test.
Every Student Succeeds Act Republicans Tell Miguel Cardona His Plan for ESSA Waivers Seems to Violate the Law
The Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't permit the education secretary to seek certain data he's asking for, the two GOP lawmakers say.
4 min read
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Every Student Succeeds Act How Will ESSA Hold Up During COVID-19? Pandemic Tests the Law's Resilience
Lawmakers designed ESSA to limit mandates covering issues like how tests are used. Will that affect how well the law survives the pandemic?
6 min read