The 2017-2018 school year has been a key year for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The impacts of the ESSA are just now being seen, and many educators find themselves asking “now what?” ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2015 but it’s taken several years for the new legislation to be enacted fully. In fact, full ESSA implementation will not occur until the 2018-19 school year. One of the main changes from NCLB is the flexibility ESSA gives to each state to create education plans for their schools. Or does it?
ESSA is a complex law that is supposed to give states more of a say in how their schools account for student achievement; within a framework provided by the federal government. A key component to ESSA is the focus on disadvantaged students, including: minorities, special education students, ELL students, and any student in poverty. With the number of students falling into these categories consistently on the rise each year, it is challenging for any public school to keep up with the demands placed on their budgets and personnel.
Under ESSA, parents are encouraged to play a role in their child’s education and, in fact, the law requires states to involve parents in the accountability of their students. The downfall to this is often times, the disadvantaged students do not have sufficient parental support, thus requiring schools to step in and fill the gaps to ensure all students have what they need to be successful learners. This will be a challenge for states and districts to fund the personnel, programs and supports necessary to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.
Personalized learning is another hot topic that ESSA incorporates. Schools and teachers are encouraged to differentiate curriculum based upon student’s strengths and weaknesses, thus creating a personalized learning experience for each child. As personalized learning expands, one might argue so do the demands placed upon teachers to create and alter curriculum for their students, in addition to all of their other job requirements. In fact, some curriculum companies offer varied instruction within their lesson plans, and ought to keep doing so, with an increased variety of instructional supplements, etc. for teachers to utilize. Technology is also key to implementing truly personalized learning but, again, this requires funding for hardware, curriculum and professional development for educators to implement effectively.
ESSA strives to improve outcomes for all students, which is a positive and admirable goal — and one that every educator shares. The requirements under ESSA could be very positive and result in improving literacy, providing more flexibility, creating student-centered approaches, increasing parent involvement, and better supporting students with learning issues. Or, ESSA could be another flawed government plan that requires more work from public educators and still leaves learners behind. Time will tell.