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Every Student Succeeds Act

The Every Student Succeeds Act Is Working, Education Leaders Tell Congress

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 10, 2019 3 min read
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Exactly four years after the Every Student Succeeds Act became law, a group of state and local education officials, teachers’ unions, and others are telling Congress that they’ve made great progress under the law and that it could lead to significant advances in addressing the achievement gap between different groups of studnets and in improving schools.

The coalition’s letter to Congress, dated Tuesday, emphasizes that while major changes ESSA initiated are just now beginning to take root, K-12 leaders have worked hard to make sure more people have been engaged in the shift to the new law and that schools have the support they need from districts and states. They also say ESSA is being reflected in the new focus schools are putting on “improving student well-being” and giving them greater opportunities for achievement. Schools are changing what it means to be ready for life after high schools, and moving beyond traditional data based on outcomes to focus more on what can be done to improve learning opportunities for students.

“Collectively, we believe we’ve built a stronger foundation for American education under ESSA and are eager to continue to build partnerships among our constituents resolutely focused on elevating our education systems toward equity and excellence,” states the letter.

The letter’s signatories include AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Education Association, the National PTA, and others.

See Our In-Depth Coverage: The Every Student Succeeds Act, Four Years Later

The message to Capitol Hill represents a clear signal that key supporters of ESSA when Congress wrote and passed the bill that became law in 2015 remain behind it. Both Democrats and Republicans, as well as teachers’ unions and state and local administrators, pushed to craft a compromise that returned more power over decisions involving school improvement, teacher evaluations, and more. And even though ESSA’s authorization technically expires Tuesday—the same date as the letter—no one expects that lawmakers will take up reauthorizing the law any time soon.

Need a refresher? Check out our ESSA explainer here.

Not everyone has been on board with this relatively rosy take on how ESSA’s going, however. During the Trump administration, for example, many congressional Democrats and civil rights groups have repeatedly expressed their acute concern that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has approved several state plans that flout the law. They’ve said DeVos has let states off the hook by not holding them accountable on issues such as identifying the right schools as needing improvement, and ensuring that schools are sufficiently transparent on mandated annual report cards.

In the same vein, some have also worried that DeVos simply isn’t interested in monitoring states’ work under ESSA. Early in 2017, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed legislation revoking ESSA accountability rules put in by the Obama administration that would have put notable requirements on states under the law.

Tuesday’s letter was addressed to the four principal federal lawmakers for K-12 policy: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee; Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate committee; Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the House education committee; and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the top Republican on the House committee.

Read the full letter below:

Photo: President Barack Obama, flanked by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, and the committee’s ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., signs the Every Student Succeeds Act on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)