ESSA Passes Final Hurdles, Signed by Pres. Obama

36107229Last week, the Senate passed and President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – sweeping education legislation that replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Most notably, this legislation sends significant power back to the states and local districts, while still maintaining some limited federal oversight over policies.

NCLB created a national system that judged schools based on math and reading scores, and had significant requirements to raise test scores every year or face significant penalties. ESSA, on the other hand, shifts power to the states and locals while providing flexibility. This legislation seeks to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education and close student achievement gaps.

Still, this legislation is not perfect by any means. We wish stronger accountability measures were included, but in the spirit of compromise and collaboration, it is a strong step forward in ensuring a balance between federal, state and local governments. It has an emphasis on challenging academic standards and accompanying assessments and accountability plans; it also institutes changes to funding for innovative programs – including Preschool Development Grants, a competitive one-year grant program to develop, update or implement a strategic plan that facilitates and improves coordination, quality and access for early childhood education, which will now be administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and U.S. Department of Education.

A special thank you to Congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer for their tireless work on ESSA while sitting on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Common Core Kept in Place

House Bill 1427 preserves the state’s Common Core academic standards and allows for continued implementation.

The Indiana General Assembly rejected the attacks on Common Core and allowed the standards, which the State Board of Education adopted in August 2010, to continue to be implemented. (Only the elements of the program not already adopted – such as testing and science standards – would be paused under HB 1427).

In another strong move, the Legislature mandated standards that include Common Core as the foundation and require college and career readiness criteria. By those standards still being based on Common Core, that should assure that Indiana keeps its federal waiver (that removed us from the federal No Child Left Behind program) and Title I funding for our schools.

It was also critically important that the ultimate decision-making on Common Core remain with the State Board of Education (as it does), which has adopted all previous Indiana standards (including Common Core) and doesn’t face the same politically-charged environment that exists at the Statehouse.

While we don’t agree that actual new adoption procedures are necessary, several positives could result from that. Further review of the Common Core standards would hopefully provide the general public with a better understanding of what Common Core does and doesn’t do. Plus it will give the state the opportunity to determine which, if any, additional standards we should adopt. (The Common Core multi-state agreement permits Indiana to add up to 15% of its own standards to the program.)

The Indiana Chamber advocated for the Common Core standards to be left in place, both for the merits of the program and the consistency of the rulemaking process.