The following post was written by Lexi Barrett, America Forward’s Policy Director.
On December 1, 2015, the House made significant progress towards a historic reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by approving the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by a vote of 359 to 64. With that vote, Congress is just one step away from final approval of the first update to ESEA since No Child Left Behind was passed more than 14 years ago. ESSA will now head to the Senate for a vote early next week.
The America Forward Coalition has long advocated for a bipartisan law that supports our network’s efforts to ensure that all children, whatever their background, receive a first-class education. Earlier this year, our Coalition’s Education Task Force finalized its ESEA Policy Platform outlining its priorities for ESEA reauthorization, including the inclusion of language to encourage effective external partnerships, rewarding results by investing in what works, promoting innovative solutions, supporting learner centered systems that personalize learning, pushing forward on accountability and transparency, and ensuring all students have effective teachers and leaders. Our Coalition has worked closely with Congress to shape key elements of the Every Student Succeeds act and there is much to be applauded in the final legislation. Although more work is necessary to ensure that the legislation is implemented effectively, there are several elements worth highlighting.
Before the Senate votes next week, here’s a closer look at how the legislation aligns with the priorities of the America Forward Coalition and its Education Task Force:
- Supports Effective External Partnerships – Effective external partners can help schools fill gaps and provide supports that remove barriers to learning and build educators’ capacity in ways that are critical to improving results for all children. ESSA includes several important provisions related to advancing partnerships that will allow organizations in the America Forward Coalition to maintain and expand their innovative work in schools and communities, including support for the 21st Century Community Learning Center Program and expanded learning time.
- Rewards Results through Evidence-Based Programming – It is critical in a time of limited resources that we invest in a variety of approaches that focus on rigorous data, evidence and better results. ESSA includes a comprehensive definition of “pay for success” in education and allows for major funding streams to support pay for success initiatives. In addition, the legislation includes strong language supporting evidence-based programing focused on demonstrated outcomes for students.
- Expands Investments in Innovative Practices with a Proven Positive Impact – To incentivize innovation in our nation’s schools, ESSA includes the Education Innovation and Research program (similar to the current i3 program), which creates a multi-tiered system of evidence for awarding grants to support innovation.
- Supports Learner-Centered Systems that Personalize Learning – ESSA makes significant progress to allow states to focus on systems that personalize learning and consider multiple indicators of student success, such as social emotional learning. New state-designed accountability system will include at least one additional measure of school quality or student success, beyond academic indicators. School districts must assess student access to personalized learning experiences, and can use funding to support increased personalization. ESSA also creates a Comprehensive Literacy Center for parents and educators to better support children who are at-risk for challenges with reading, writing and language processing due to dyslexia or other disabilities. And for the first time, ESSA allows states new flexibility to move forward on competency-based learning models through a pilot innovative assessment program.
- Pushes Forward on Accountability and Transparency – While ESSA does depart significantly from many of the federally-determined mandates of No Child Left Behind, the new law will continue to ensure transparency of yearly test results and asks states to focus attention on lowest-performing schools and schools with low-performing subgroups of students. In addition, ESSA makes the connection between high school and college by requiring, for the first time, that state report cards include information on the number of high school graduates in the state who enroll college.
- Promotes High Quality Professional Development for Teachers and School Leaders – ESSA strongly supports professional development for teachers and school leaders, to help ensure that all students develop the full range of knowledge, skills, and capacities to achieve success.
The Senate will take up ESSA next week, and may pass the final agreement as early as Tuesday, December 8. It will then be sent to the President for his signature. Be sure to follow America Forward on Twitter for legislative and coalition member updates throughout the week.
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