The Every Student Succeeds Act significantly improves upon No Child Left Behind by, among other things, giving more power back to states and local schools. We’re working to help policymakers and educators take advantage of the law’s new flexibility, especially when it comes to creating smarter school accountability systems, prioritizing the needs of high-achieving low-income students, and encouraging the adoption of content-rich curricula.


Our many ESSA-related blog posts are listed below.

Fordham's ESSA experts:

As everyone knows, the Department of Education released its latest package of proposed regulations today. Among other issues, this round addresses the heart of the Every Student Succeeds Act: its accountability provisions.

The law, as you may recall, represented a major departure from No Child Left Behind, sending significant authority back to the states. It didn’t give them carte blanche, but Congress certainly intended them to have lots more sway over key education policy issues, including the design of their school rating systems.

Apparently Secretary of Education John King and his colleagues didn’t get the memo. While they're not a total disaster, the regulations proposed today miss opportunities at every turn to provide important flexibility to the states so that they might design systems that work.

Here are a few of the issues that state officials, and members of Congress, should complain about:

1. The regulations set an arbitrary standard for the “other indicators of student success or school quality”—and then make sure those indicators won’t matter anyway. One of ESSA’s key innovations was the allowance of non-test indicators in state accountability systems. While some accountability hawks saw this move as a way to water down expectations, others viewed it as a...

  • At the same time we wrapped up our Wonkathon on parental choice under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews published a column on the new law’s implications for school accountability. With authority ostensibly withdrawn from the Department of Education, he wonders which measures—particularly non-academic ones—state-level officials will use to determine whether schools and districts doing right by their students. It’s a question that we originally asked in our accountability system design competition this February, yielding novel proposals for student satisfaction questionnaires, school climate surveys, and the tracking of chronic absenteeism, among others. Mathews’s take is no less rewarding.
  • Meanwhile, developments in Denver are also providing a real-time examination of issues we’ve been exploring this month in our national commentary. District officials there have unveiled a new, three-phase framework for initiating the shuttering of underperforming schools, echoing the recent debate between Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and the University of Arkansas’s Jay Greene on the utility—or futility—of relying on test data for closures. (Jay struck a deeply skeptical note on “distant authorities” using such information to overrule parental demand, while Mike was more bullish on what regulators can learn from test scores.)
  • ...

Last week, we received eleven responses to Fordham’s third annual Wonkathon prompt on ESSA and parental choice:

Many observers credit No Child Left Behind with contributing to the significant expansion of parental choice in American education over the past fifteen years. It wasn't necessarily the school choice provisions contained in the law (which were limited and poorly designed), but what its passage did to shine a spotlight on school failure and create a sense that better schools were desperately needed.

Likewise, some in the school choice movement are disappointed that the new Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't do much legislatively to promote choice. But are they overlooking the law's potential? What do you think are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity?

This year’s posts offered a wide range of great ideas from some of the wonkiest wonks in education reform. The competition was close, but there can only be one Wisest Wonk.

Without further ado, the winner of Fordham’s 2016 Wonkathon is Christy Wolfe, whose “School choice and Section 1003(b): It's in there!” came in with 19 percent of the...

M. René Islas and Joy Lawson Davis

It is disheartening that, in 2016, the recognition of gifted students of color may be more dependent on the race of their teachers than their demonstrated abilities. But for those of us in the trenches of gifted education, it is clear that students’ race or socioeconomic status far too often dictate whether they will be identified and served as gifted learners. Of students enrolled in gifted programs, only 9 percent are black, whereas more than 60 percent are white. This is unacceptable.

For decades, our nation has done a poor job of prioritizing the identification of gifted students across the board. As the 2015 State of the States in Gifted Education highlighted, too few teachers receive any substantive preparation in working with gifted students before entering the classroom, and professional development support focused on gifted education strategies is minimal. If few teachers are trained to recognize the signs of giftedness, high-ability students are at a disadvantage. This is particularly true of black and Hispanic students and those of modest means, who may lack the academic and psycho-social supports to aggressively pursue the necessary services.

This study raises some interesting findings about the value of a teaching corps that reflects the diversity of...

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into law by President Obama in December, has been hailed as a bipartisan effort to fix the most problematic provisions in NCLB.

Two oft-repeated criticisms of the old law were that it forced unfunded mandates onto schools and that its focus on reading and math achievement narrowed curricula. Congress responded by rolling dozens of federal grants into one block grant program called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant.

The SSAE grant is billed as a flexible funding source intended to empower states to improve student academic achievement by increasing capacity. In order to receive SSAE funds, states are required to submit applications to the department and then distribute the majority of funds to local districts through another application process. The activities that local districts are entitled to use SSAE funds for fall into three categories: efforts to promote a well-rounded education, safe and healthy students, and the effective use of technology. (These were also the areas of focus of the preexisting federal programs that were rolled into this block grant.)

The amount allotted to each state will depend on annual appropriations. According to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, if the...

On May 5, the Congressional Research Service released a report on proposed U.S. Department of Education spending regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The nonpartisan group concluded that the deparment's regulations could be in violation of ESSA's "supplement, not supplant" edict, which prohibits federal Title I dollars from replacing state and local spending on K–12 education. On May 11, Senator Lamar Alexander addressed the report in this speech on the Senate floor.

I have come across an embarrassing situation. The United States Department of Education has apparently earned an F from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in its first attempt to write a regulation under the new law fixing No Child Left Behind that passed this body with 85 votes last year, that passed the House overwhelmingly, and that President Obama signed into law in December, calling it a “Christmas miracle.” Most of us will remember this law. I know the senator from Pennsylvania had a major role in some provisions in it. This was a law to fix a law that everybody wanted fixed. It was eight years overdue.

The law that needed fixing was called No Child Left Behind. Over the last several years, the U.S. Department of...

Alex Medler

Editor's note: This is the final post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehereherehereherehereherehere, here, and here.

I nominate one of the smallest pieces of the ESSA as a potential high-leverage point for choice. Hidden in the Charter School Program (CSP) amid language shaping the grants administered by State Education Agencies (SEAs) is a little provision that could eventually lead to big changes regarding school choice. States can now spend 7 percent of their grants on system-level changes to support charter school expansion and quality.

Most everyone in the charter world knows that the CSP received more than $330 million this year. The biggest portion of that money goes to SEAs in the form of grants (which underwrite the sub-grants the SEAs themselves award to would-be charters in order to meet start-up costs). Let’s consider how a small bit—if people are smart about how they use it—could drive big change.

The SEA grant program traditionally allowed...

Brian Kisida

Editor's note: This is the tenth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

There isn’t much in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that explicitly addresses school choice. Still, there will likely be indirect effects from some ESSA policies. Specifically, I think there are two key areas where ESSA will have important implications for school choice. First, both the weighted student funding pilot program and the new requirement to report school-level expenditures will further solidify the idea that dollars should follow students, which will likely lead to increases in school choice funding levels. Second, the requirement for more diverse measures in state accountability systems aligns with school choice’s focus on innovation and specialization. With academic success defined across a broader set of outcomes, the ability for choice schools to pursue broader academic outcomes will be less constrained.

School-level spending transparency and student-based budgeting

Under ESSA, states will be required to report expenditures at the school...

Jordan Posamentier

Editor's note: This is the ninth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

ESSA provides states with the opportunity to incentivize school districts to expand parent choice. States now have the freedom to relax their NCLB-driven state laws while incentivizing local authorities to go about improving choice in their school systems.

ESSA replaced NCLB, but the law of the land leading up to reauthorization was shaped by the Obama administration’s waiver program. The Department of Education used those waivers to compel states to pass a number of rather prescriptive laws, which tied the hands of districts in some policy areas. Perhaps the most onerous requirement was performance-based teacher evaluations, which—while well intentioned—were also highly constraining.

ESSA cleared the regulatory deck established by the waiver program, but by and large, the state laws that passed because of those waivers are still on the books. To unbind districts from those laws, states can now do one of three...

Christy Wolfe

Editor's note: This was a submission to Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Of the eleven submissions, this was selected as the winner by a poll of our readers.

One of my biggest concerns about ESSA has been its lack of a meaningful “safety valve” for kids in failing schools. There is no getting around the fact that this version of ESEA does not spell out parent-directed education options the same way No Child Left Behind did, with its explicit provisions for supplemental educational services and school choice. When ESSA eliminated the “cascade of sanctions” for schools deemed “in need ofimprovement”, explicit references to closing schools and reopening them as charters also disappeared. There are no requirements (let alone incentives) for choice and transportation.

What we learned from NCLB, though, is that unwanted mandates don’t usually lead to much real access to seats in better schools. Washington can tell a district it must offer school choice regardless of capacity, but in the real world the absence of high-quality...